Beyond the debate at the recent The Nation’s First Summit on Agriculture and Food Security, Assistant Editor NDUKA CHIEJINA revisits the issues thrown up at the event.
BESIDES widening the tax net and eliminating leakages in the revenue accruing to it, the Federal Government is banking on the non-oil sector to diversify the economy.
Prior to the introduction of diversification policy by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, the Federal Government was running a mono economy, earning more than 80 per cent of its revenue from crude oil exportation. But things are changing. The government is looking the way of solid minerals and agriculture.
The summit on Agriculture and Food Security organised by Vintage Press publishers of The Nation was to agriculture on the front burner and stimulate national discourse on the sector as an alternative to oil, the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy.
The consensus at the summit, which drew players from the public and private sectors of the economy, was a call on the federal and state governments to pump more cash into agriculture.
Participants at the summit displayed their products during the video exhibition session. The participants included: some state’s chief executive officers, heads of government agencies and private sector players.
They are: governors Akinwunmi Ambode (Lagos), Kashim Shettima (Borno); Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun); Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa); Sani Bello (Niger); Simon Lalong (Plateau); Godwin Obaseki (Edo); Samuel Ortom (Benue); Tanko Al-Makura (Nasarawa); Willie Obiano (Anambra); Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi) and Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto).
Others are: Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Managing Director Nsima Ekere; Agriculture Minister Audu Ogbeh; Bank of Agriculture Managing Director Kabiru Adamu; Dangote Grouo President Aliko Dangote and Olam Group Managing Director Venkataramani Srivathsan.
According to the governors, the development of the agricultural sector would not only save the country capital flight, but fast-track the diversification policy and guarantee food security.
In his opening remarks, Vintage Press Limited’s Managing Director Victor Ifijeh explained the summit’s objective. It was to ensure that government at all levels and Nigerians in general, participate in agriculture to ensure food security, Ifijeh noted.
According to him, the organisation offered the platform of the summit for a cross-fertilisation of ideas to enhance the production of food so that the country can become not only self-sufficient in food production but reverse the food importation trend.
Reminding Nigerians of experts’ consistent verdict that “a country that cannot feed itself is at great risk”, Ifijeh said: “The essence of the summit is to ensure that the country is not at risk in terms of food. Nigeria must be able to feed itself.”
In their submissions at the summit, promoters of state-sponsored agriculture, governors Abubakar Bagudu (Kebbi), Kashim Shettima (Borno) Simon Lalong (Plateau), insisted that the country has not given sufficient funds for the development of agriculture.
They argued that this was evident in the banks’ toxic loans inherited to the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON).
Bagudu said: “When the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) took over from the banking system, of the over N4 trillion debt it inherited, only less than a billion was owed by the agriculture sector.
“We have not been putting money into agriculture. Let’s start from there. When AMCON was created in 2010, it took over from the banking system about N4 trillion worth of bad loans but less than a billion naira was related to agriculture out of it,” the governor lamented.
He said that the Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) that lends money to the agricultural sector for specific crops had, as at the last count, given about N54 billion to develop the sector. The figure, he said was less than $200 million.
In comparison, Bagudu said that the Federal Government has invested about $9 billion for oil production, thus exposing the gap in the funding for agricultural development.
He went on: “There is no state, including the oil producing ones, that does not have about three crops, which with the right investments, cannot produce food for Nigeria including the states bordered by large bodies of water from which fish can be harvested in large commercial quantities.”
He insisted that inadequate funding is the number one factor that is missing from the development of the sector.
Citing the Brazilian example, Bagudu said that “a country that produces the same volume of oil as Nigeria is leading global production of maize, sugar, soya beans and other commodities.”
He believed that the efficient funding of the agriculture sector its attendant value chain would bring about maximum benefits that will surpass oil.
“We have a very dynamic, entrepreneurial and hardworking populace and they are ready to work. There are opportunities. We have to mobilize them,” he said.
Also speaking, Shettima said: “A country that is not independent of its food needs cannot be said to be truly independent.”
He lauded the Buhari administration for creating an enabling environment for thriving entrepreneurial agriculture.
Entrepreneurial agriculture, he explained, provides jobs and opportunities for people so it deserves to enjoy government’s intervention like other sectors such as aviation and power.
Going forward, Shettima urged the government to embrace change and modernity to improve output and coalesce for a common purse.
Lamenting that Nigeria has become a dumping ground for all kinds of garbage, the Borno helmsman said: “Kebbi and Sokoto states can meet the cereal needs of the nation. Benue to Taraba he said can meet up with the tuber needs of the nation, while the coastal states can meet our protein needs, especially fish.”
Shettima, who described Nigeria as a rainbow nation, insisted “that the hope of the black man lies with Nigeria and the future of Nigeria is bright.”
Lalong said that he and his team attended the summit to demonstrate the significance the Plateau State government attaches to agriculture.
He declared that the days of oil were gradually becoming history, adding that there was no doubt that President Buhari has laid the foundation for increased agricultural production in the country.
The Plateau governor insisted that the country must diversify, especially “when nobody is talking about petrol any longer.
He restated his administration’s determination to improve the fortunes of the Northcentral state through agriculture.
The high point of the summit was the lecture presented by Prof. Adebiyi Daramola, a one-time Federal University of Agriculture Akure (FUNAB) and World Bank consultant. The lecture touched on the sensitive topic of ranching.
The professor said: “Ranching is the way to curb the incessant herdsmen and farmer’s crises in the country.”
“Ranching is more profitable and leads to the production of healthier livestock with greater returns on investment from increased milk and meat production and the accompanying benefits of ranching which are not possible with the nomadic or pastoral cattle rearing.”
In the lecture entitled: “Sustainability of growth and the future of agriculture in Nigeria”, Daramola said that small holder farmers should be encouraged to transform from their subsistence level to agroprenuers.
His argument elicited strong contributions from the audience some of whom argued that the government was not doing enough to encourage agroprenuers, especially with funds at low interest rates for agriculture value chains.
Prof. Daramola noted that the old practice of farming with hoes and cutlasses was no longer fashionable to young graduates.
To make agriculture attractive to young graduates, he advocated new approach that would encourage less-tasking and technology-driven agriculture methods driven by the private sector with demonstrable evidence of profit.
According to him, “subsistence farming is recipe of poverty”, explaining that a farmer that consumes about 70 per cent of his produce is a subsistent one but going forward, “young graduates can only go into agriculture if they are convinced that the methods and are attendant benefits are in lock-step with their desires as graduates.
The state-sponsored intervention agencies like the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), Bank of Industry (BoI), the department at Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that is in charge of the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) and NEXIM bank, institutions with a track record of funding, mixed the opportunity of the summit. They were absent.
It is believed that their contributions would have enhanced and enriched the debate at the summit and allowed the audience to leverage on their interventions and encouraged more individuals and firms to buy into the much-talked about agroprenuers initiative.
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