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Bridging gaps in federal government’s agric policies

By Itunu Ajayi, Abuja
03 February 2017   |   3:05 am
Out of a total budget of N6, 077,680,000,000 in 2016, agriculture sector got an allocation of N76, 753,672,273 representing 1.26 per cent of the entire budget.

Out of a total budget of N6, 077,680,000,000 in 2016, agriculture sector got an allocation of N76, 753,672,273 representing 1.26 per cent of the entire budget. This is an improvement from the 0.90 per cent allocation for 2015 but both are still a far cry from the 10 per cent agreement signed in Malabo in 2014.

A breakdown of the allocation to agriculture showed that N28,052,924,405 representing 36.54 per cent was planned for personnel costs, N1,699,622,233 representing 2.21 per cent proposed for overheads and N47,001,125,634 representing 61.23 per cent was proposed for capital expenditure.

The Malabo collaboration targeted at least 10 per cent public expenditure on agriculture, at least 6 per cent agriculture sector growth, a move towards ending hunger in Africa, doubling agricultural productivity, halving post-harvest losses, reducing stunting and underweight incidence among children to 10 per cent and five per cent respectively, using agriculture to account for 50 percent of the reduction in poverty and halving poverty. All these are to be achieved by 2025.

Other targeted hopes include tripling inter-African agricultural trade, creating agricultural jobs for at least 30 per cent of the youth, public private partnerships in five priority agriculture value chains, at least 30 per cent of agriculture households are resilient to climate and weather related risks and the use of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) results framework to monitor progress every two years starting from 2017.

Apart from paltry budgetary allocations to the sector over the years, stakeholders at a two-day high level consultation on the Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) of the federal government held in Abuja recently itemised other challenges which included poor demand strategy among Non-State Actors (NSAs); weak and compromised oversight structure from Parliamentarians; poor investment in agriculture; inappropriate benefits to Small Scale Farmers (SSFs); women and youth poorly focused, low climate change investment, poor connection to the rural communities; lack of local government actions and interventions on agriculture; poor processing facilities to turn around the raw materials and underutilization of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) and regional trade opportunities.

The meeting, organized by the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) in conjunction with the Africa Lead and USAID, urged the government to go beyond rhetoric, scale up food security and address the looming food shortage in the country.

Making a case for Improved Investment on small scale farmers and climate change adaptation, the president of NANTS, Ken Ukaoha said the policy thrust of the Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) of the federal government is to diversify the economy through job creation and import substitution which would achieve the desired food security. He said for the APP, which replaced the Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA) of the past administration, to work, agriculture must be seen as business and not a mere vocation. Adding, he said, it must be the key to long-term economic growth and security and provision of food. Ukaoha said the value chain approach from the former policy (ATA) must be sustained while crops related issues must be prioritized due to limited resources.

He canvassed capacity building for farmers, especially on market orientation in order to increase their productivity, while issues of climate change and environmental sustainability must be properly factored so as to increase their understanding of the phenomenon and its impact on agricultural activities.
He said government should consider putting in place agriculture infrastructure like silo complexes, farmers’ markets, agro-industrial estates for rice, cassava, palm oil, groundnut etc. He also advocated for one stop shop agro input centers, warehouses and aggregation centers and staple crops processing zones (SCPZs).

Ukaoha said the consultation sought to consider the APP and its relevance to Nigeria development especially within the context of economic recession.
His words, “Given that government has been good at churning out beautiful policies that are many times left to collect dusts on the shelves, all hands must be on deck to continually remind government of the promises spelt out in the policy especially in view of the fact that diversification using agriculture has become a slogan for all political sectors.

“We also seek to underline the alignment of the APP with regional policies such as the ECOWAS Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP) and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) for more effectiveness.”

He listed some “pertinent questions’’, insisting should be directed at the federal government, while urging state and local governments to adapt the APP at their respective levels in order to give effect to domestic ownership that would galvanize successful implementation.

The posers, according to him, include, “Would there be a direct linkage between the 2017 budget and the APP? Would the budget speak the same language with the policy? What level of the share of such investment is targeted at the small scale farmers who form over 70 per cent of the sector’s demography? Would the budget for once wear a gender face to recognise women farmers who had over the years been at the receiving end of lopsided agriculture investment and policy outlook? Would there be enough allocation to agriculture to bring the economy out of the woods?”

The regional Director of Africa Lead, Carla Denizard observed that post-harvest waste has also become a major challenge for farmers in the country. She said for agriculture commercialization to prosper in Nigeria, government has to live up to expectation and put policies to practices. She said a situation where small holding farmers are not able to transport their produce for commerce purposes due to lack of feeder roads would no longer be acceptable.

Denizard said Nigeria is not over populated and can therefore leverage on its numerous resources both human and natural to turn the fortunes of the country around in the area of agriculture.

The representative of the ECOWAS commission Ernest Aubee said the commission recently approved the ECOWAS Agriculture Policy (ECOWAP) on food adding that if Nigeria can get the issue of food and nutrition right, then the ripple effect will be felt in the sub region. Aubee said Nigeria should utilize APP to build on the achievements of ATA, identify gaps in the former policy and improve on it. He said the regional agriculture policy has the goal of promoting food security and sovereignty in the 15-Member states of ECOWAS.

His words, “The policy seeks to promote the transformation of the agriculture sector in order for the region to be able to meet its food needs and to be less dependent on outside sources. The benefits of the ECOWAP is to promote a uniform development of the sector in line with the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Policy (CAADP) and the Malabo Declaration of 2014. The ECOWAP will promote the development of various agricultural value chain that would result in food and nutrition security, employment generation, promote intra-regional trade, conserve foreign exchange and alleviate poverty. For the implementation of the ECOWAP, the ECOWAS Commission has developed the Regional Agriculture Investment Plan for Food and Nutrition Security and the National Agriculture Investment Plan for Food and Nutrition Security.”

For the APP to work, the chief executive officer of Noaz international Innocent Azih posited that production and productivity incentive and empowerment must be deepened, investment in rural feeder roads to farmlands that will reduce cost of logistics and bring the farm-gate closer to the consumer market which is the public sector and a deliberate implementation targeting for value chain optimization.

He added that simple on-farm mechanized and motorized tools should be given to smallholder farmers for multiplications of farm produce and vertical and horizontal agro-information systems should be facilitated in order for farmers to be well informed while local governments and faith based organizations should be involved in agriculture processes.

Giving an insight into some of the challenges of agriculture policy of the immediate past administration, a development consultant Chukwuemeka Ngene explained that weak farmer registration, poor data capture, insufficient access to improved inputs, weak credit access for small holding farmers, low investment in infrastructure, limited growth in food production and poor monitoring and evaluation were some of the things that militate against the policy.

Ngene however said all these challenges did not translate to zero impact by the policy. He said the Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA) was able to achieve increase in food production, decline of food import, expansion of agriculture export, created jobs, increased fertilizer and input distribution and improved private sector participation.

He said for the current agriculture policy of the federal government to achieve its objectives, some of the weaknesses in the document must be addressed as a matter of urgency. The gaps, he said, include low budgetary investment level for the sector, seriousness with gender, unrealistic timing for the implementation of the policy, non-inclusion of monitoring and evaluation matrix.