Stakeholders in the agriculture sector have commended President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for its agricultural policy, saying that agriculture is gradually regaining its position as the mainstay of the nation’s economy.
They said this in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Monday in Abuja.
They noted that the innovations, initiated by the Federal Government in the agriculture sector, had been having multiplier and linkage effects on the nation’s economy, security and industrial development.
Prof. Olawale Ogunkola of the Department of Economics, University of Ibadan, said that before the presentation of the “Economy and Recovery and Group Plan 2017-2020’’, there was an agenda called the “Green Alternative’’, which specified the roadmap for the Buhari-administration’s agricultural development strategies.
“The priority areas of the plan include stabilising the macroeconomic environment, boosting agriculture and food security, expanding energy infrastructure capacities, improving transportation infrastructure and driving industrialisation — principally through local and small business enterprises.
“The `Green Alternative’ is a four-year programme (2016 to 2020), aimed at reviving the agriculture sector in order to boost food production in the country and diversify its economy from mono-economy,’’ he said.
Ogunkola said that the Federal Government’s Agriculture Promotion Policy was a good and worthwhile policy, as it had facilitated the efforts of key stakeholders to build an agribusiness economy which could deliver sustainable prosperity.
He added that plans to achieve sustainable prosperity involved meeting domestic food security goals, generating exports as well as supporting sustainable income and job growth.
Ogunkola said that within the overall set of policy principles, the Federal Government had been able to provide an enabling environment for stakeholders at the federal and state levels to play distinctive roles in the agenda.
He said that in the policy implementation, emphasis was placed on providing purposeful legislative and agricultural knowledge framework, macro-policies, security-enhancing physical infrastructure and institutional mechanisms for coordination and improving access to adequate inputs, among others.
He said that the programme had been able to achieve some of the key targets which it planned to achieve within the specified period and beyond.
“The targets include doubling agricultural household income within six to 12 years and growing the agriculture sector annually from six per cent to 12 per cent.
“Others are driving job and wealth growth, integrating agricultural commodity value chains into the broader supply chain, as well as ensuring enhanced capacity for foreign exchange earnings,’’ he added.
Ogunkola said that most of the programmes identified in the policy, including the recapitalisation of the Bank of Agriculture (BoA), had been implemented.
He said that the roadmap for the development of agriculture, tagged “Green Alternative”, had been yielding the desired results, adding that agriculture was now more attractive to the youth.
He said that the Federal Government had made appreciable efforts to promote, develop and improve the value chain aspect of agriculture, while promoting the participation of women and youths in agricultural ventures.
The professor said that the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agriculture (NIRSAL), as part of efforts to take business-driven agriculture to the grassroots, had developed an innovative, nationwide field structure to support 225,000 farmers under the Anchor Borrowers Programme of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
“The structure, known as the Project Monitoring Reporting and Remediation Office (PMRO), with offices in 36 states and the FCT, is ensuring adequate management of the finances and other provisions,’’ he said.
Besides, Ogunkola said that the government had been able to reduce to a reasonable level the importation of essential agricultural commodities.
He stressed that if the momentum was sustained, Nigeria would soon become Africa’s agriculture hub.
Also speaking, Dr Idu Edwin, the Head of Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Abuja, said that the Buhari-administration had done very well in the agricultural sector, particularly with regard to the development of the rice value chain.
He said that Nigeria was now witnessing a revolution in rice production and processing, while the rice value chain was being developed and standardised.
He said that Nigeria had, over the years, tried various methods to revamp agriculture by adopting different approaches to boost production.
Edwin said that the recent development of the value chain approach was geared towards maximising income, not only from crop production but also from crop processing and other areas.
“The Buhari-administration has, through the value chain programme, enhanced the effectiveness of the agriculture sector by creating the enabling environment via national policies, regulations and supporting institutions, with a view to increasing private sector participation and improving institutional, financial frameworks.
He said that the government’s intervention, particularly in the area of crop processing, had been very encouraging, while attracting more rice farmers.
“Farmers are now producing between four and five tonnes of rice per hectare and rice mills are springing up here and there. Some of the mills are working at 70 to 80 per-cent capacity utilisation.
“This is a good encouragement from government and in a short time, agriculture will be making remarkable contributions to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP),’’ he said.
Edwin urged the government to sustain the tempo of its activities in rice production and expand the activities to other crops and agricultural services.
“If one area is doing fine, there is need to focus on it so that other crops can take a cue from it.
“Government is also working on other crops and their utilisation but rice farming is the in-thing now but the feats we recording in rice production should be a challenge for other crops to pick up,’’ he said.
Mr Ahmed Matane, Assistant Country Representative (Programme) of Food and Agriculture (FAO) in Nigeria, said that agriculture, under the aegis of the Buhari-administration, has attained tremendous feats, particularly in the production of rice, maize and other crops.
He said that the government’s policies such as the Agricultural Promotion Policy (AAP) and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) had stimulated the growth of the agriculture sector.
Matane said that if the objectives of AAP and ERGP were well pursued and executed, the import substitution policy as well as the export of farm produce and livestock products would, with a few years, record appreciable gains.
He said in spite of the vast human and natural resources of Nigeria as well as the nation’s comparative advantage in agricultural production, the country was still a net importer of essential food items and industrial materials.
“As part of efforts to rectify the situation, the infrastructure problems in the country must be addressed so as to stimulate industrialisation and economic development because without good infrastructure, there will be no sustainability and engine to drive agriculture,’’ he said.
The FAO official said that Nigeria had the capacity to produce many crops but unfortunately, there was no sufficient focus on the cultivation of some crops.
“We have sorghum, millet, maize, cassava, beans and many other plantation crops; we also have high resource base for livestock and fish production but emphasis has always been placed on one crop, thereby affecting other crops,’’ he said.
Matane underscored the need for the government to look at the larger dimension of agriculture and see how agriculture could be developed on a larger scale in the country.
“By now, we ought to have developed irrigation infrastructure such that agriculture would not solely depend on one pattern of planting season.
“The nation’s population growth is escalating and we need to respond at the level of agriculture, and we can only measure up by doubling our food production,’’ he said.
Matane said that the time had come for Nigeria to produce certain crops twice or thrice within a year, adding the country’s rich natural resources should be well-managed to boost agricultural production for the benefit of the population.
Alhaji Aminu Goronyo, the National President, Rice Farmers Association (RIFAN), commended the ingenuity of the Buhari-administration for improving agricultural production in the country.
He said that the Federal government had introduced various policies in the agricultural sector, which clearly defined the roles of the each tiers of government and other sectors of the economy in agricultural production.
Goroyo commended the Federal Government for its agricultural initiatives and for the release of over N25 billion for rice production in the country under the ABP.
He said that under the ABP, more than 1.5 million smallholder rice farmers were provided with farm inputs in kind and cash so as to boost their production, while efforts were made to stabilise inputs supply to agro processors and improve the country’s capacity in rice production.
“The benefits that have accrued to rice farmers from the provision of improved seedlings, farm inputs and extension services include the increase of rice yield per hectare from 2.5 tonnes to between 10 and 11 tonnes.
“In 2015, Nigerians spent not less than N1 billion daily on rice consumption, the spending has reduced drastically and rice consumption has increased significantly because of the revolution in local production of rice,’’ he added.