Assessing the agric sector in 2017

The agriculture sector in 2017 witnessed a lot of strides and investment, thus contributing considerably to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, this is not without its shortcoming, especially as the Ministry couldn’t accomplish some of it’s goals, JOHN OBA, reports.
For many in Nigeria, 2017 was the year of Agriculture revolution, especially for the big time farmers as most of them benefited from the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative (PFI) and the Anchor Borrowers Programme.
Though N103.7 billion was allocated to the section out of a total of N7.441 trillion budgeted for 2017, representing an increment of N12 billion over the N92 billion earlier proposed for the sector in 2016, but not up to 30 per cent was released.
Despite the low releases, data obtained from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that GDP from agriculture increased to N5,189,365.99 million in the third quarter of 2017 from N3,745,091.59 million in Q2 of 2017. NBS further revealed that agriculture GDP averaged N3,736,080.83 million between 2010 and 2017, reaching an all time high of N5,189,365.99million in the third quarter of this year and a record low of N2,594,759.86million in the first quarter of 2010.
These improvements were traced to the personal efforts of Nigeria farmers and high investments from the private sector.

Failed promises
However, many farmers believed that the agric sector would have witnessed more heartwarming results but for the many failed promises of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh. They say he is quick to make promises with no viable efforts at seeing it through.
Citing his acclaimed low rice promises for the year. Ogbeh had after meeting with rice farmers and producers assured that a bag of rice would be sold for as low as N6,500 but finding shows that local rice is still being sold for over N17,500 for a 50kg bag.
“The price of rice would soon crash in the markets,” he assured Nigerians.
Ogbeh in an interaction with newsmen in Abuja also disclosed that efforts were on to see how millers could procure paddy at lower price, adding that following federal government’s intervention, including negotiation with the millers, the price would drop to about N13,000.
Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), was however, quick to add during the meeting that such a venture would be possible if the government is willing to support the farmers.
According to Ogbeh, “We will support local farmers across the country with rice milling equipment such as destoners and threshers, this will further assist the farmers to reduce the cost of production and consequently the local price of rice will drop tremendously,” he had promised

Burden of imported food
Another significant promise made by the Minister was that the government was set to intensify research and marketing of food as a way of reducing the import burden of food which he put at almost $32bn a year. “I don’t know how somebody can explain importing bananas to the country or Irish potatoes from South Africa or vegetables from South Africa into our shores,” he lamented, but much has not changed, as various agric products are still being imported on a daily basis, while tens of thousands of tons of agric products are smuggled into the country through various land borders.
Another promised was the need to intensify efforts at improving research by funding the research institutes, but the 2018 proposed budget shows that allocation for research is nothing better than it has been. More disappointing is the fact that even the amount allocated to the research sector in the 2017 budget not up to 10 per cent was released.
There was so much talk about mechanised farming but no action from the minister as smallholder farmers who mostly need light tractors are yet to see anything. Most local government areas in the country cannot boost of viable farm implements despite the clamour for mechanised farming and the launch of tractor hiring centres to make it easy for farmers to hire some of these implements.
360 lakes, dams, and Aso Saving
Earlier in the year, Ogbeh declared that the federal government had conclude plans to construct 360 lakes and dams across the 36 states of the federation to enhance irrigation farming.
He disclosed this while discussing some of the 2017 plans to boost agriculture in the country with the promise that the government would also distribute fertilisers and chemicals to farmers to aid the dry season cultivation.
“This year, we will work on dams, we are also going to start improving the breed of cows to improve the quality of meat, milk and cut down grazing and conflicts between herdsmen and farmers”, he had promised, but at the last count, much of these promises have not been fulfilled.
As at the time of going to press, not a single lake or dam was built, even though some of the projects were captured in the 2017 budget. They were not executed neither were they awarded for construction.
He also said: “We intend to launch a youth in agriculture programme, a piece of land was acquired by Aso Savings, we are entering into partnership with Aso Savings to clear and lease out the land to young farmers. The whole area is 15,000 hectares, there are about 17 rivers and streams there, which we are going to dam, creating lakes and providing facilities for irrigation for all year round farming. We shall develop it into small agriculture city providing accommodation, processing and security.”
The Minister added that young farmers who get farming plots can engage in fish production, poultry, livestock management and grains production among others. He also stated that the Ministry will subsidize the land acquisition and also engage in buy back clause of products produced from the farms, in the process creating market for the products. Meanwhile, he said about 42 investors will flood the agricultural sector soon from the European Union (EU) to do business in the country. The Minister also said that some of the investors have expressed interest in investing massively in the Nigerian agricultural sector. Not one of the promises by the Minister materialised in 2017.

Lack of fertilizer
Also, lack of fertilizer was one of the bane of farmers this year. Despite the federal government’s revitalization of the fertilizer blending plant and Ogbeh’s many promises of fertilizer provision to farmers, smallholders farmers could not access this input. The farmers rather bought most of these inputs at exorbitant prices thereby limiting the output from the farm.
Experts say there was bumper harvest in the year but it was due largely to the farmers’ efforts as they invested their savings with the hope that there would be market for their products. Many were however disappointed. Rural farmers that went into ginger cultivation lamented low yields and fall in price.

Funding and research challenge
There is no doubt that access to agricultural credit has a positive impact on agricultural productivity. However, many small farmers in Nigeria do not have access to any forms of government funding due to the activities of corrupt officials. Findings showed that when issuing loans, a key role is played by personal relationship or the existence of a special arrangement. Such an approach was widespread in most part of the country. To many, the CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme was politicised with man-know-man syndrome playing a major part.
The participation of the private sector in agricultural research has remained insignificant up till now. The low level of government spending on research of branches of agriculture related to a low increment of growth in agricultural productivity in other areas. When research is poorly financed, agricultural technologies cannot be improved, and there will be no increase in farmers’ incomes, no creation of jobs in rural areas, no decline in food prices, no creation of agro-industries, and no economic growth. But under this administration, this important sector is still being neglected like under previous administration despite the minister assurance that his administration will be give priority to research.

Abandonment of GES programme
The GESS programme under the previous administration had a tremendous impact on farmers as it helped to revive the sector with farmers enjoying subsidies on inputs. It was one of the few policies of the previous administration, that President Muhammad Buhari promised to continue and this promise was reechoed by the minister, but in 2017, there was no traced of GESS implementation. With this, the hope of many smallholder farmers was dashed. A major policy that encouraged them to be committed to farming was abandoned by this APC administration.
Also the one stop shop input center projects located across the 6 geopolitical zones appears to be comatose. But it is expected that the minister will redeem himself in the 2018 as many farmers are already discouraged.

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