Boosting food production; a private initiative to the rescue

A non governmental organisation involved in boosting food input in the country is also stepping up the effort in Kogi state as OYIBO SALIHU reports.

For decades, food production in has remained at subsistence level as farmers inputs have been without commensurate output, but they remained undaunted despite the traditional tools used over the years.Government’s efforts at enhancing mechanisation to boost food production for subsistence and export has achieved less, as over 70 per cent of the rural farmers could access credit facilities, inputs and equipment.
According  to experts, there have been systemic challenges on how to develop realistic budgets that would impact on government public investments in the sector in order to create an enabling  environment for the implementation of government policies.

The challenges include dwindling budgetary allocations ranging from non implementation of the 2003 Maputo Declaration and Malabo Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) targeting minimum allocation of 10 per cent of annual budgets.
Another key noticeable  challenge aside the budget gap is that actual releases of the budgetary allocations to the sector do not meet up to effect development, hence performance is abysmal. 
Also, there has been a wide gulf between rural peasants where over 80 per cent of the population is engaged in agriculture, policy makers and implementing agencies.
These can be attributed to lack of or inadequate information available to small holder farmers, corruption, inadequate extension services issues, mutual mistrust and poor management, among others.The major intervention
To build trust and enhance capacity of state and non-state actors as well as farmers in agriculture, a non-governmental organisation, Synergos Nigeria, supported by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is intervening in some states in the country by engaging critical stakeholders.

Principally , Synergos works to reduce global poverty by creating, promoting, and sustaining trust and collaboration among business, government, civil society and marginalised communities. 
According to the country director of the organisation, Mr Victor Adejoh averred that the organisation’s intervention in the country, has adopted Bridging Leadership Concept.
The concept, according to him, entails the ability to build trust, adding that the concept represents a shift in the approach to leadership, away from hierarchy control and fear towards shared responsibilities, openness and cooperation.
He further described it as a movement from a world in which power is monopolized to one in which power is diffused, enabling more and effective interventions, lasting impact with genuine inclusiveness. 
He said, “Bridging Leadership has helped to build synergy and address issues of mutual mistrust, distrust in and among institutions, communities, groups and various sectors of the nation’s economy. 
He said, “From our works in Nigeria, our experiences have continued to show that working together across divides realises more and better solutions to complex problems than working alone.
“All our works are done in collaboration in Nigeria. We are aware, given the nation’s diversity that we are a people who are increasingly polarised and disconnected.
“So, Synergos has been operating in various countries in the last 30 years transforming how people across sectors come together to develop deeper understanding, create shared vision and take collective action to solve deeply entrenched problems in our society. 
“These problems that we solve bring about social changes. So, our approach which is bridging leadership has trust as an essential ingredient for building coalitions that address the challenges we face on a systemic level. 
“So, to buttress this point further, I want to narrow down to the kind of work we did in Kogi state funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) in agric sector.”

He pointed out the fact that stakeholders, both state and non-state actors had been working in different directions, working in silos until 2016 when Synergos stepped into the  state.
Regrettably, he noted the state Agriculture Development Project (ADP), agencies’ intervention programmes like FADAMA and the state Ministry of Agriculture were working at cross purposes rather than coming together to articulate their programmes for a cohesive implementation to move the sector forward.
Adejo revealed that when Synergos got into the state, the organisation started with identifying the strategic state and non-state leaders in the state and brought them under a platform called the Agriculture Vision Group (AVG), saying that the platform helped to build collaboration in the state in a way that the efforts and investments of government in the sector saw the stakeholders working together to address the common issues of how to increase farmers income, improve their livelihood and ensure food security. He said, “By reaching across divides in the state, we were able to work with bridging leaders who used their credibility, self-awareness and facilitating skills to cultivate inclusive partnerships that addressed the systemic problems in agriculture.
“Our approach to addressing these challenges centred on extending trust across all levels of the system. Here we had the commissioner for agriculture having engagements and discussions with the state Agriculture Development Project (ADP) general manager.”
Country director speaks further
The country director further disclosed that through the initiative, Synergos supported the government to set up a Core Delivery Team (CDT) to organise all critical policy development and implementation stakeholders. 
The stakeholders working in the agric ministry including the permanent secretary, the commissioner, the ADP GM as well as other critical non-state actors from financial institutions, farmers group and the state economic team. 

This he said led to one of the first successes the organisation recorded in the state with the open governance process that also led to the development of a state Public Private Partnership Strategy Policy Document.
“That document today seats in the Ministry of Agriculture defining how government can work in the private sector and the role is to bring about a shift from agriculture as subsistence and development to agriculture as business,” he stated.
Speaking on the direct effect of Synergos Intervention on farmers, Adejoh said that farmers had not, until the organisation started work, come to realize that they were critical stakeholders in the transformation of the agric sector. 
He said that farmers had the veil removed and have now come to realise that they are part of the private sector drivers in a way that they now engage their agricultural activities as business. 
“We also work in academic institutions notably, Kogi State University, for instance. We were able to look at how academic or research institutions were adding value to the development taking place in agriculture sector.
“One good thing that happened in Kogi was the state acceptance of the first commercialised project of conversion of cassava peels to livestock feeds outside the International Livestock Research Institute in the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) at Ibadan.
“The state welcomed it and Kogi State University picked it up as a matter of research and I think we had one doctoral student that took up the study. The student, among other things, is expected to looked at how the conversion of cassava wastes (peels) to livestock feed could address issues around the gap between animals and humans in the consumption of maize and other crops.
“The research also involved consideration of critical challenges posed by cassava peels to the environment including the pollution of surface water, burning of the cassava peels that adds to global warming and climate change issues and general environmental pollution”. 
Adejoh noted that from Synergos Intervention in Cassava Value Chain, farmers have now become kings.
“Prior to our entry, farmers suffered glut in the cassava value chain but because of our engagement in the state, today, cassava farmers are kings in Kogi state based on their ability to determine volume of production and price.

According to him, aside the state, Synergos is intervening in Benue, Kaduna, Niger and Kano states. “For instance, in Benue state that is regarded as the ‘Food Basket of the Nation’ Synergos helped to develop their first agriculture policy. 
“That policy has created an enabling environment, brought about a deeper understanding of critical investment areas and also supported and protected foreign direct Investments into the state.
“We are working currently with funding from Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in Niger and Kaduna states. 
“In Kaduna state that ranks first and top-most in the production of maize and tomatoes for instance, investors are coming in because the space has been opened and the state is acting in transparency in the engagement of private sector investors. 
“Our focus in these two states in the last one and a half years has been on increasing coordination in the agric sector and promoting open governance while working with stakeholders to identify the gaps and proffer solutions,”  he said.
State govt applauseThe state commissioner for agriculture, Mr David Apeh, while speaking at the inauguration of the High Quality Cassava Peels (HQCP) Centre in Ejule, Ofu local government area of the state, called on the women to utilise the facility to enhance their livelihood support and better their lives instead of idling away.

Apeh represented by Ichaka Okolo, director, agric services, also called on AfDB, Synergos, ActionAid, other partners and agencies to increase their interventions in agribusiness initiative for overall development of the state.Apeh while also speaking  when the executive council members of National Cashew Association of Nigeria (NCAN) and Stakeholders in ashew value chapaid him a courtesy call in Lokoja, stated  tht Kogi has comparative advantage in the production of cashew nuts, saying it currently produces 54 per cent of Nigeria’s total cashew production of about 200,000 tons while other states together, produce 46 per cent.

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