By Gabriel Ewepu
As Nigeria celebrates diamond 60th independence anniversary, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN, and the Nigeria Agribusiness Group, NABG, Friday, scored performance, productivity and impact of the agricultural sector, which they expressed their expectations to improve agribusiness.
Speaking with Vanguard on the journey so far of the agricultural sector, the National President, AFAN, Arc Kabir Ibrahim said, “Some mileage has been covered but we should do more by getting focused and competent drivers for the various government programmes.
“The various windows of intervention should be institutionalized for sustainability. Good or veritable seeds, other inputs and mechanization are necessary to upscale production.
“There must be consistent policies and implementation strategies to really impact the sector. These have been the bane of agriculture over the years.
“The farmers need support and access to credit to really enhance productivity and thereby impact their lives and livelihood.
“AFAN will be better placed to impact the food system if its members are directly involved in the implementation of well thought out policies to galvanize the farmers to produce more, be able to add value to their products and get the ready market as well.”
Also, the Vice President, NABG, Emmanuel Ijewere, speaking with Vanguard said that “The past 60 years for me is more of history. At the beginning of the 60 years, we talking about that is 1960 was the time when here was absolute and total food security in Nigeria to the extent that we were exporting a lot of our commodities, and we were top in the world.
“Unfortunately, as we travel around we discovered oil and it started manifesting in the early 1960s and late 60s. The money started coming in a larger quantity than we ever envisioned but then the military took over. The military was not responsible and accountable to anybody rather to themselves. They gave the impression that we have rather more money we could spend and gave the impression that agriculture was a waste of time.
“By the end of the 60s, 70s we went into a civil war which was disastrous, and at the end of the civil war, we now try to recover from agriculture but doing it half-heartedly because there was no need for them to spend so much energy or plan for agriculture because money was coming in from oil, easy money. During that period all the infrastructure that supported agriculture, especially the rail line, roads were destroyed.
“From then on all kinds of attempts were made but the corruption that oil brought to Nigeria had already entrenched itself in corruption which agriculture was not protected.
“So agriculture was not a serious issue every government both civilian and the military took agriculture they said until we now had a gentleman called Dr Akinwunmi Adesina.
“He came in with a new and refreshing outlook on agriculture. He started by saying first and foremost agriculture should be a business. Secondly, nobody should be looking at agriculture from the supply end but from the demand end. Because if you want to do any business you supposed to find out who is buying your goods. Ask yourself what kind of good d they want, what quality and quantity?
“What we have always done before that time was we want to produce. There was a time we produced cassava so much and we never worked it out on how we are going to export it to China; there was nothing on the value chain that prepares cassava chips for the world. So that created a problem.
“The lesson we have learnt is that agriculture is business. This has been coming up slowly into peoples’ head, and I will say I am lucky to have been in this business since the year 2000 and I have seen the entire history, and have seen what happens I have noticed that a number of people who are well educated are coming in because before then all the villages where agriculture is practised have been abandoned by young people. They have gone to the city looking for work.
“Now, the traditional training they would have gotten was lost. It would have been a hopeless situation because these old people in the villages who despite all the disadvantages continue to feed the country and the country never suffered any food lack.
“But they are getting older and older and are dying out, therefore, we need to bring new technology and those that can drive technology are the educated people who abandoned their various villages to go to the cities must find their way of learning how to do modern agriculture because the population has risen tremendously and the case of the people, unfortunately, has been changed.
“In the 60s rice Nigeria was not Nigeria’s staple diet but today rice and we cannot change this overnight so we need to grow more rice, more yams, cassavas, and others because the population has increased.
“So the food security situation in Nigeria, God has been kind to us; every piece of land in Nigeria you can grow something on it. So where we are today is because God has been kind to us but we need to take over now by complimenting much-structured work in agricultural space.
“What is happening in the past 24 months has been encouraging thing led by the Central Bank of Nigeria. They came up with Anchor Borrowers Scheme, and a number of other Commercial Agricultural Schemes, those are fantastic schemes and the latest which is Anchor Borrowers Scheme gives us great hope.
“My conclusion is that agriculture has a great future. We may have a setback though because of this unfortunate flooding that is taking place but nevertheless is already on the right scale. More of the private sector people are coming and are having their position and are begging the government to change their mindset.
“When you do anything for agriculture the civil servants are being warned that don’t think you are doing the farmers a favour but do the work. Those who do the work are actually to be in the field; the farmers, transporters, preservationists, and others. All these people in the value chain are the ones at the forefront. The government should listen, discuss and assist them to achieve their goal.
“Finally, the rail system is going to be vital if we are going to be successful in the agricultural space.
“On research, what has happened is that research in the past has been based on civil service mentality; they call money to do research and they pile it up; go to international conferences and write reports and pile it up. They are not working with the players, the players are the private sector.
“Those are the people who should be relating to our research institutions. Our research institutions should be dealing with them and not going to the government who has no farm and agricultural business. Government supposes to help fund them to research and improve quality and quantity of the produce that comes out at the end of the day.
“So research institutions need to be reoriented, they are too civil service-minded, they are supposed to be seen as businesses; a number of big companies supposed to enter contracts with them and say help me research on how I am going to improve on this item and they can pay and subsidized that research. They should be working in the private sector.
“The research institutions as presently put together and why do we have so many proliferated all over the place and most of the monies spent on overhead than real research work, why don’t you bring them together as the Brazilians did?
“They did that 22 years ago and that is why is working for them. Nigeria needs to bring the research institutions together and they all work together under one umbrella in various departments, and they should tell us whatever they have discovered be made public not to be kept in the cupboard of the research institutions because they don’t research for themselves but research for Nigeria, private sector and those in the agricultural space. That is what needs to be done.”