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Buhari’s agric policy fails as unemployment, agribusiness failures rise

By Femi Ibirogba
03 December 2018   |   4:24 am
The Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) of the federal government, with the objectives of attaining food security, import substitution...

As the year gradually comes to an end and the Muhammadu Buhari-led government winds down, Head, Agro-Economy Desk, FEMI IBIROGBA writes on how the country has fared in food security, import substitution, job creation and economic diversification.

• Economy mainly oil-based as 2017 agric GDP was 24.44%
The Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) of the federal government, with the objectives of attaining food security, import substitution, job creation and economic diversification, has been described as a policy without the political will to execute, and hence, a failure.

The policy, spelt out in The Green Alternative, states, in part, that, “In 2016 to 2020, Nigeria’s policy now needs to be readjusted to solve the aforementioned challenges. The go forward federal priorities (in partnership with the state governments) will be the following four: food security; import substitution; job creation; and economic diversification.”

Food security
Production figure of the most consumed food item in the country, rice, has been a subject of controversy in recent time. The United States’ Department of Agriculture’s World Markets and Trade recently dropped a bombshell, saying that more than three million metric tonnes of rice had been imported into Nigeria this year. Its report also stated that Nigeria’s local rice production dropped from 2016 to 2018 compared to the situation in 2015.

In view of this, the Country Representative and Regional Coordinator of Africa Rice Centre (AfricaRice), Ibadan, Dr Francis Nwilene, cleared the air by revealing to The Guardian that Nigeria’s demand for rice per annum hovers around 7.8 million metric tonnes, while production still hovers around 5.8 million metric tonnes.

Though this has generated hot arguments, it points to one fact, that Nigeria is far from being food self-sufficient, let alone being food-secure.

The Regional Coordinator of the Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (C:AVA), Professor Kolawole Adebayo, while explaining how the government policy has failed, said he would not rate the government high either in diversification of the economy, in creation of opportunities in agriculture or in food security.

He admitted that the government has done some things, but has not done as much as one would have anticipated from a government that has, as one of the cardinal objectives, the aim of diversifying the economy through the sector.

“I think, as soon as the government saw that the oil price was getting better, it turns its face to the oil again rather than invest in the agricultural sector. Have they done any major investment in agriculture? No. All that this government has done is tapping from the existing projects or ideas rather than creating a conscious set of investment ideas to drive agriculture as an alternative economic opportunity. I would not rate them high,” said Professor Adebayo.

“If you want more money, then you have to invest,” says an adage. That is an area that we have not got it right as a nation. The agricultural sector has been in a shambles for too long. And we have not made deliberate investments in extension services and rural infrastructure that would make the areas more attractive to young people. We have not put in place a marketing system that would encourage those who dare to go into agriculture to have certain markets for their produce,” he added.

Without those investments, Adabayo insisted, there is no way any serious-minded government would say it has achieved diversification of economy from oil to agriculture.

Also explaining the inability of the government to make progress in the agro-economic sector, Professor Femi Mimiko, a former vice chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, said: “There is no question about the fact that attaining food security is desirable. That the incumbent federal government has that aspiration is noteworthy. It is an indication that the government itself knows that the country is indeed in the throes of a food security crisis…”

Food security, Mimiko said, is part of the contradictions of the system that makes the federal government that has no farm anywhere to be superintending food production.

“That is the nature of the crisis of the unitary system we run, which will never be productive, because it runs against the grain of logic. I am a Comparative Political Economist, and I can tell you that the trend across the world is for countries to move more in the direction of sub-national autonomy, without which, it has become obvious, you cannot get the best from the people,” Mimiko added.

Post-harvest losses in the country are traceable to non-induatrilisation of most of the crops. These losses are estimated to be nearly 40% per cent of the agricultural products, especially in vegetables and fruits.

Poor financing and too complex funding schemes have also been identified as a barrier to food security, for almost all small-scale farmers are excluded, on the ground of process complexity of the facilities.

The Managing Director of Dizengoff West Africa, Mr Antti Ritvonen, had made this known on several occasions that without the services of financial lawyers and accountants on the side of the farmers, the requirements and processes are too complex.

Import substitution
Tomato paste, egg powder, exotic fruits and vegetables (from South Africa to Shoprite), vegetable oil, maize for industrial and animal feeds production are still being imported. Industrial tools and machinery that local fabricators in the country are capable of producing are still imported in large quantity, because the government has failed to organise and empower the local fabricators to deliver local contents despite the Executive Order Five on local sourcing.

Prof. Mimiko said import substitution must be clearly articulated, adding, “this is not a new model of economic development. Indeed, it was in place in much of the 1970s. The hope then was that Nigeria was becoming what development practitioners were quick to dub as Newly Industrialising States (NISs).

“But it soon became clear, by the time we had a burst in the crude oil economy, that import substitution industrialisation (ISI) was only possible on the basis of high, stable, and sustained earnings from crude oil. You’ll agree with me that we are hardly in any position to guarantee all of that now.”

Professor Samuel Olakojo, a maize breeder at the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Ibadan, said importation of rice has reduced because of the presence of some large-scale rice farmers.

However, he said importation of maize and wheat would continue to augment the local production because the majority of the maize farmers are small-scale farmers, and they are restricted by some factors.

The factors, he said, include stoppage of 50 per cent fertilizer subsidy emplaced by the last administration and planting of maize grains as seeds resulting in low yields.

Job creation
Pastor Reno Omokri had claimed that based on the last report on the unemployment figure by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), 7.9 million Nigerians were unemployed in 21 months of this government, and therefore, has failed.

NBS’s failure to release data on the current unemployment figure has also been interpreted as hoarding of the information to avoid revealing the alarming figure and the failure of the government.

More firms are closing operations in Nigeria and banks sack workers every quarter in the last three years, an Ibadan-based regional agric credit manager in one of the oldest banks in the country, who preferred anonymity, told The Guardian.

Olakojo said in term of job creation, the government has not done much. “The little I can credit to the account of this government is that some multinational companies have come into the country and they are taking agriculture to a higher level, and they are able to employ some experts working with them. But a lot of their work is highly mechanised. That suggests they would not need many workers,” he said.

Mimiko added that job creation, too, is so much of a challenge now, saying, “But sincerely, why it is so is quite some surprise to me. I mean, in a country where you have so much needs – deficit in housing, a horde of uneducated youths, gaps in maintenance of public infrastructures, extensive arable land, and one huge population of about 200 million! Why on earth should there be unemployment in the midst of these realities. I think what is required here is ability to think outside of the box.”

The government, he suggested, has to be creative in finding the requisite harmony among all of the listed variables to create the environment conducive to job creation. The interest rate, at double digits, can also not propel economic growth and job creation.

“These, I think are structural issues to address, rather than the spectacle of a whole Vice President gallivanting all over the place distributing five thousand naira to Nigerians,” he said.

Economic diversification
Crude oil still remains the mainstay of the economy. The 2017 GDP of the sector was 24.44 per cent. Agro-industrialisation has been crippled by deteriorating power supply, with agro-allied firms folding up, relocating or producing below capacity.

On this Professor Mimiko said that while the goal of economic diversification is laudable, “let me venture an opinion here. It is that shifting focus from hydrocarbon (i.e. crude oil and gas) extraction and export, to mining of solid minerals, does not amount to much of economic diversification. This is because ultimately here, you are still talking of expanding the parametres of an extractive, largely enclave sector.”

He suggested that what should be done is a complete broadening of the scope and base of the economy, saying much of these things are not achievable in the context of the over-centralised governance system being operated.

“That is why the economy is not performing. It is why there is so much insecurity, and general disillusionment,” he explained.

Olakojo said though the government appears to be making efforts to diversify the economy, the efforts have not yielded positive results to the gross domestic products.

The herder-farmer crisis is a major issue preventing significant contribution of the sector to the economy. Some farmers have shifted to planting of cashew that could not be destroyed by cattle. A good number of youths needed on the farm are motorcycle riders and politicians are not helping matters by empowering them with motorcycles and pepper grinding machines instead of helping them to farm and contribute to food production.

The fall army worm infestation since 2016, Olakojo said, has added to the failure of agriculture to shoot up contribution to the economy. This is further aggravated by the climate change.

The way forward
Professor Mimiko said except and until the country de-centralises or restructures, the type of spurt of creativity – individually and corporately – that is requisite to massive expansion of the economy, is not going to happen.

“You are also not going to be able to have in place the structures of a strong, developmental state. What at best you’ll continue to deal with would be this rickety state system that is weak, lacks capacity and hegemony, and with little or no chance of getting anything accomplished,” he added.

If the country must successfully create jobs, expand the productive capacity of the economy, diversify from the restrictive extractive industry, and bring about general state of well being for the people, the government must start by addressing the structure of governance.

“If we do not, I assure you that Nigeria will only continue to do what Fela [Anikulapo] called perambulation – motion without movement forward. Unfortunately, time is not on our side to continue on this journey to nowhere. The country is hurting, and our frustrated youths are becoming implacable,” Mimiko advocated.

Whereas, Olakojo advocated investments in agricultural infrastructure, research and extension services, describing them as game changers in the sector.