The Executive Director, Rural Environmental Empowerment Initiative, Sola Kolawole believes the agriculture sector is not properly funded by government at all levels.
He bares his mind on other issues in this interview with JOHN OBA
What is your organisation into.
Our organisation, Rural Environmental Empowerment Initiative, is an advocacy organisation focused on climate change mitigatigation and seeing to addressing deforestation and desertification in the north.
We are concerning about the challenge of food security in Nigeria and the other aspect of sustainable livelihood and how climate change affects the three.
Also, our focus at the end of the day is to able to bring people around the causes and the consequences of actions that result in these issues.
For instance, in the south, we have deforestation going on at a commercial scale for charcoal; the charcoal industry is being fueled by deforestation.
Then in the north you have a natural phenomenon which is desertification, the gradual approach of the desert into the Sahel and you have situations where communities are being dislodged, means of livelihood are being affected and food security is now an issue.
And by the way we all know that we don’t have a food reserve in this country that can last us not even for a week in case of any disaster or whatsoever.
But the base line is that afforestation is central to all these because when climate change experts begin to talk, they will talk about the vegetative cover of the earth and that is why we have C02 emissions all over and the best way to absorb these emissions is to have greens and when you are talking about greens you are talking about TREE.
The acronym TREE actually came from the idea of afforestation but eventually it is focus at the environment and economic aspect of empowerment and you know empowerment is not only in terms of finances.
It can come also in the form of education; it can come in the form of timely information to farmers and to those that are connected to the climatic conditions in the means of livelihood.
So generally, what we are looking at is a platform that gives us the capacity to communicate creatively to people who are affected by climate change.
Under our food security team, we are part of a campaign right now to have food as a right in the Nigerian constitution because until we have food as a right in chapter four of our constitution we cannot have food security.
You did talk about food, what do you mean by food as a right? The means of getting food, the means of production, the means of access, all those things have to be in place and until these things are put in place you cannot have a regime where people have access as a right; what we have now is just a regime of need where government or food authority feels that food is some kind of charity, they are not under obligation to make sure that all conditions are put in place to make sure that production is escalated and that there is security generally when we talk about food.
The federal government is spending a lot on agriculture, so what do you mean by conducive environment? When you say to policy maker don’t forget that Nigeria is a signatory to the Maputo declaration of 2003, where government of countries of member states agreed in principle that 10 per cent of their annual budget will be allocated to agriculture over an initial period of five years which will now be reviewed.
But till now Nigeria is not even performing beyond the threshold of 4 per cent.
The current budget is just about 3.2 per cent to agriculture.
So when you have such meagre allocation to a sector that should be our area of competitive advantage, that means you are not doing well.
We are not doing well in terms of funding that sector.
So to the ordinary politician they should also understand that there is an ordinary agreement that budgets of countries in the AU based on that declaration should allocate 10% to the agricultural sector.
Was the Maputo declaration brought about by the need to see food as a right? It came about as a result of a peer review across countries.
When government begins to see food as an obligation, the citizens having right to food as an obligation, they would devote more resources or better put agriculture will be a priority of government and not just one of those sectors.
For instance some countries may put industrialization as the priority but when we look at our environment, we look at the abundant resources; agriculture remains one of the key areas where we can compete favourably with any country on earth.
You can see that even in some instances, Nigeria is number one in terms of cassava because our soils are good for cassava.
I also believe that when you are talking about yams globally, our soil is the best for yams.
So why don’t we make a lot of efforts in areas where we have strength or potentials rather than just spreading our budget, we want to cover every area and at the end of the day we are not even performing well in any particular sector.
Don’t forget also that it is the agricultural sector that employs the highest number of Nigerians; so when you take care of that sector, there is every possibility that you are taking care of some other ancillary or connected sectors.
Recently the federal government just announced the cancellation of GES and introduced AIMS.
Is it the right decision? Recently we paid an advocacy visit to the Emir of Argungun and sadly one of the points he noted was that we have policy inconsistency in this country.
When one government starts a good thing, when another government comes they cancel it.
The Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES), I would say from my own experience on the field as a rural person, interfacing with rural communities across the country, would have been one of the best social investments of government in the agriculture sector.
If we had allowed it to go into maybe the fourth and possibly the fifth circle before it was truncated.
But you see generally from the feedbacks we have gotten GES was not meant to be cancelled because in the history of social investments in agriculture, we can single out that model that if we block the loopholes and we improve and increase efficiency by putting in place monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, GES still remains one of the best ideas that has happened to Nigerian’s agriculture.
That also I would in line with the fact that the GES scientifically inclined.
You are talking about the capturing of data of real farmers not political or paper farmers but farmers in their various communities that wild have given this country a solid data base of farmers.
And don’t forget also that we are now transiting again from the older generation of farmers to a younger generation of farmers and farming is also changing because in the past the idea has always been that of crop production but we have seen diverse kind of farming now, we are talking about even the rearing of snails by those who do not want to go into crop production.
We are even seeing APRE and it is becoming an industry on its own where people begin to make honey, the production of honey in commercial quantity.
So I think cancelling GES was an ill advised move and I am hoping that would be reversed if we want to really diversify this economy using agriculture.