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‘Nigeria can’t boast of reliable farm production data’

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Handy and accurate agricultural production data is hardly available in Nigeria as a result of poor or absence of collation structures, grossly inadequate extension system and lack of aggregation or commodity boards. In this interview, Mr Fatai Afolabi, Managing Consultant, Foremost Development Services, explains the way forward, suggesting that like Malaysia and Thailand, coordination and collation of production and information, respectively, with adequate government support for the private-sector-led initiatives in agriculture, are essentials of making the sector a problem solver. FEMI IBIROGBA presents excerpts.

Currently, what is the quantity of crude palm oil produced in Nigeria? And what is the deficit?
That is an aspect I don’t want you to ask me because I don’t want to stimulate responses of criticism. If you need that one, you go to the official agencies. I am not an individual to keep statistics or data for the country, but would advise you that over the years, I know either the figures are not available or when they give you the figures, you might not believe the figures. So, that is another area of concern for crude palm oil.

At POFON, what is your template for tracking actual production figures in Nigeria?
We need data and figure for development planning; to know our deficit in production and how do we evaluate and collate this production figure if we become exporters of crude palm oil.If you put that one to me, I will tell you that unfortunately, we don’t seem as much as we claim our level of production. We still don’t seem to know or appreciate the essence of data. Why should we collect data? You will be shocked when you ask questions relating to figures, facts and how reluctant the other person is to give you. Then you ask, is it that you are not keeping it and if you are, why is it that you cannot give it? So, the other person is looking at you with skepticism or fear or with suspicion.

It’s not only the local farmers that are afraid to give you data of what they produce because what is running in their mind is that the government people are coming to tax them. Each time, they feel you want to use the data against them. So, if the government will not know what you have or what the other person has, and we cannot aggregate them, then the government will not be able to know how to budget and what to deploy to every sector of the economy. So, unfortunately, we just use the rule of thumb.

Today, if you ask me, I will say I don’t have sources to know how much crude palm oil we produce. And everyone throws up their own figure depending what they need it for and what they want to achieve. Those who want to import crude palm oil will tell you there is shortage of crude palm oil and would want to project it that there is about 1 million-tonne deficit, because that is what they are trying to import. But those who are producing it will tell you there’s enough quantity and there’s no need to import and when you ask them to supply, unfortunately they are not able to supply you.

Are we suggesting that commodity boards perhaps may help in this because when they existed, they collated production data?
If you will recall, in terms of agricultural data and statistics, the last time we had agricultural statistics, credible information, data or record keeping was the time we had marketing boards because it was its specific function. One, to assist in production, they keep data of what was produced. Part of what was produced was bought over and exported. And because they want to export more and more, they had to stimulate more production. It’s a chain which had to function, but the moment they no longer existed, individuals became their own marketing boards and they are not giving out the data.

So, there’s no collective roadmap, say five-year or 10-year development plans for palm oil sector in the country?
No one that I am aware of, but I am aware that the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investments, is trying to come up with a palm oil policy. They have held one or two consultative fora, and they have held stakeholders’ meetings and POFON participated

But since you brought in the need for a plan, I can inform you that POFON has participated in the scheme out together by the Federal Ministry of Environment. The position of POFON is for a stakeholder-based plan or policy. POFON does not believe that it is the government that should formulate a policy, and invite stakeholders to participate. POFON believes in the contrary; that stakeholders should determine that status of the industry and determine what to be done and what to do, and what to give the government to do their own part. So, if we are talking about inclusiveness of all the actors in value chain, the government itself will be one of many players involved; the government would want to be told their roles instead of the government determining what their role is.


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