Friday, 1st December 2023

Stakeholders highlight ways to revive Agric sector

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
25 June 2023   |   3:01 am
The country’s agricultural sector has, over the years, faced lots of challenges like poor farming conditions, lack of technical know-how, poor seedlings, insecurity, and absence of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), among others, impeding the gains that would have been recorded in the past.

A farmer in her maize farm

The country’s agricultural sector has, over the years, faced lots of challenges like poor farming conditions, lack of technical know-how, poor seedlings, insecurity, and absence of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), among others, impeding the gains that would have been recorded in the past.

Successive administrations have done little or nothing to change the narrative. Even the immediate past administration, reported to have invested massively into the sector, had little to show for the huge investment.

As a new administration comes on board, sector players, stakeholders and farmers have called on President Bola Tinubu to embrace steps that will enhance agro productivity and improve livelihoods beyond resilience to sustainable development.

The Chief Executive Officer, Green Sahara Farms, Jos, Plateau State, Suleiman Dikwa, said that there are clear steps the president could take to enhance the fortune of the sector.

He noted that with post-pandemic and existential climate-related environmental challenges that bedevilled the sector in the last two decades, there is need to formulate policies that would have direct correlation with all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“This has led to the interception of various sectors of the economy, the environment, energy, agriculture, water with overlapping responsibilities, which needs to be made whole and holistic. They are all tied to the management of natural capital, which 90 per cent of our population is dependent on while all of us rely on its output for modern life. That is from the big-picture perspective.

“On the current agricultural policy and strategic approach, we have to start from where we are, and according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and other sources, our post-harvest losses are put at $7b per year, which implies that the more production, the more the waste. So, investment should be made in reducing post-harvest losses and converting it to value, automatically improving food security and livelihoods,” he said.

Continuing, Dikwa said: “The second issue is about the manner of intervention. We have to move to direct intervention in geographies and coordinated and proven entrepreneurs to drive a holistic approach at the upstream sector, while inputs are retailed in communities rather than through banks and offices, which is a disconnect with the reality of the beneficiaries – rural or peasant farmers.

“While this is a low-hanging fruit on the medium term, the long-term and sustainable form is to implement Nigeria’s commitment to the Great Green Wall and other climate-related commitments through a boot, on ground approach, which through direct investments can make Nigeria number one in the carbon regenerative agriculture and reversal of trend as one of the most defrosted nations in the world.”

He added that the agro-forestry approach would enable the creation of jobs through the establishment of nurseries and targeted economic clusters to improve household incomes by 3,000 per cent in four to five years.

Dikwa added that the strategy, for instance, can leapfrog Nigeria to number one in cashew, gum and other produce, as well as related value chains, such as housing, nutrition and bio-resources like gas, fertilisers, pesticides and others.

The former chairman, Agric, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) and CEO, Bama Farms Limited, Prince Wale Oyekoya, who said the sector has long been neglected, leading to the ongoing food crisis, noted that addressing the challenges facing the sector will require multi-dimensional approaches.

Oyekoya said: “The sector needs holistic overhauling. The president needs to bring all the stakeholders to a round table to discuss the way forward and to appoint technocrats and experienced professionals into the sector.

“He needs to ensure availability of land for real farmers and not speculators; give land titles to make it easy for farmers to access soft loans; provide mechanised equipment to open up land for cultivation; empower field officers to visit farms and educate farmers; introduce modern technology into the agric business such as small modern equipment to till, plant, fertilise, weed, harvest and store farm produce.

“The government needs to provide storage facilities for all the farm settlements or congregation of farmers; provide grants or soft loans; and export the country’s farm produce to generate foreign exchange.”

He opined that if the suggestions were taken, the youth and women would be gainfully employed to reduce relocation of citizens to Western countries.

“The same thing applies to the states as the 1978 land use act entrusted all the lands to state governors. The states and local councils are in the best position to revamp our agric sector and provide more jobs for the citizens.

“The president should mandate the governors to build food processing centres in all their senatorial districts, thereby adding value to their farm produces. The president should ban importation of any food that can be produced in Nigeria.

“We should grow what we eat and eat what we grow. Why import rice, palm oil, maize, vegetables, oil and others when we can grow and produce them in our backyard. Most of the so-called intervention funds were given to portfolio farmers instead of real farmers; the funds should be scrapped,” he said.

On its part, Oxfam – a global movement of people working together to end the injustice of poverty, advised the new administration to, as a matter of priority, allocate at least 10 per cent of the national budget to agriculture and encourage youth and women in agricultural businesses with farm inputs.

It also called for the development of a national agricultural investment plan that is gender-sensitive and climate-proof, which seeks primarily to support small-scale farmers in non-cash crop sectors.
According to the Country Director of Oxfam, Dr. Vincent Ahonsi, “government should commit more to non-violent conflict resolution to solve the farmers versus pastoralists conflicts that is threatening food security and making Nigeria more dependent on food imports.

“The government should commit to implementing universal and adequate social protection measures to support the people, ensuring that the poorest and most vulnerable people have social protection,” he said.

Ahonsi, who noted that in 2022, allocation to Nigeria’s agricultural sector represented just 1.8 per cent of the budget, said that nearly 25 million Nigerians were at risk of facing hunger this year.

“The good news is that the country has an expanding economy with abundant human capital and the economic potential to lift millions out of poverty. The incoming government needs to take urgent steps towards ending hunger, reducing inequality, and reducing the number of Nigerians living below the poverty line.”

Ahonsi posited that the new government needs to realise that Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are key to building an economy that is fair and just, as they constitute a sustainable approach to tackling the development challenges that the economy is facing.

He said: “The SME sector has proven to be the backbone of major developed and emerging economies as an important contributor to employment and economic growth. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in Nigeria, SMEs contribute 48 per cent of national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), account for 96 per cent of businesses and 84 per cent of employment (not the big corporations).

In his contribution, the founder of Triune Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, Pastor Jeremiah Akinsele, advised the president to ensure improved investments in the sector.

He recommended improved incentives for youth and women to promote skill acquisition in agricultural production and to stimulate entrepreneurship in supporting agro-allied industry.

Akinsele also recommended utilisation of carbon credit to stimulate finance of the agricultural sector, adding that the Federal Government should provide incentives for local (smallholder) farmers to stimulate contribution to food value chain and curtail food insecurity.