Media report that the federal government is set to inject over N600 billion as stimulus response into the agriculture sector is a welcome development. It is, indeed, an inevitable move towards the much touted diversification of the nation’s economy which has been largely dependent on crude oil for over five decades.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, made this known in a statement signed by the Director of Information of the ministry, Mr Theodore Ogaziechi recently in Abuja. The minister, according to the statement, made this known while on a tour of Dangote Fertiliser Plant and other fertiliser companies in Lagos state.
Nanono said the stimulus package would target small scale farmers in order to ensure food security and sustainability. He explained that the package would target farmers nationwide and expected to begin with an initial 2.4 million farmers.
He noted that to avoid the abuse of government funds and good intentions, the support would be in form of inputs and not cash as was the practice in the past. The minister added that the closure of all international borders, necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, had made it evident that Nigeria could conveniently and sustainably feed itself.
The minister, who commenced the tour with a courtesy call on the governor of Lagos state, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, promised to support the state farming communities with rural roads, solar lighting and water holes to increase productivity. Nanono further promised to collaborate with the Lagos state government in revamping the fish sub-sector in order to tap into its marine potentials to reduce fish importation.
Meanwhile, Sanwo-Olu has promised to collaborate with the federal government not only in the fishing sector but mechanised farming as well. The governor said this would be actualised when the largest rice mill in Nigeria with a capacity to mill approximately 30 million metric tonnes of rice per annum was completed.
He said it would help Nigeria focus more on exportation of rice and downward review of prices at the retail market. The governor said Lagos state had a large retail market for agricultural products as well as the largest enabler in the industry with Dangote Fertiliser Plant cited in its domain.
For their part, Dangote Group and other fertiliser blending companies, including Premium Agro Limited, Elephant Group and Kewalram Group, complained that raw materials for fertiliser blending were a challenge. They said ammonium phosphate, particularly, was a major challenge. Dangote Group, however, assured it would consider exploration of local sources for the raw materials which would hopefully solve the problem of fertiliser shortfall in the country.
Economic experts including Professor Samuel Onasanya of the University of Ilorin have advocated that the federal government should allow the free flow of the naira, modernise agriculture and stabilise the oil sector as part of the measures to salvage the nation from the current economic downturn.
Onasanya, who is a professor of Educational Technology and the Head of the Department of Educational Technology, made the call while delivering a lecture titled, “Alumni Association and the Alma Matter in a Recession Period”, at the Federal College of Education (FCE), Osiele, Abeokuta.
In the lecture, which was organised to mark the institution’s 2017 Alumni Foundation Day, the don stressed the need for Nigeria to “expand her export earnings and production base through wise investment”. He said that “an increase in agricultural produce and export would end recession and take Nigeria to the real position of being the ‘giant of Africa’.”
According to Prof. Onasanya, “in the 1960s, agriculture was the mainstay of the nation’s economy in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), foreign exchange earnings and employment”. He then suggested that “agricultural practice should be made lucrative among youths with the availability of modern equipment and credit facilities that can enhance mechanised farming”.
The don, who is an alumnus of FCE, Osiele, pointed out that “Nigeria needs to expand her export earnings and production base through wise investment, otherwise, she might likely end up in a situation where resources cannot support the population”.
Onasanya further stated that the global economy had been in recession and that the global economic potential growth and the actual growth performance only widened over the period of the crisis, especially in 2016, adding that, it was evident the government had taken some steps towards ameliorating the effect of the recession such as the elimination of the purchase privileges for importers of some items.
The don then advised the government to reduce the tax rates on individuals, small businesses and corporation by 10% in order to encourage and attract investments in these sectors of the economy. He was of the opinion that investors would be encouraged by tax reduction.
It is, therefore, on the backdrop of the importance of food security to the nation’s socio-economic and political development that we commend the federal government’s planned injection of N600 billion stimulus response into the agriculture sector. However, it is expedient to advise the federal government to bring into fruition its plan as well as ensure the pragmatic implementation of the agricultural scheme.