“Unfortunately, the oil boom era of the ‘70s and ‘80s was characterized by the contract-seeking syndrome of the elite, the rural-urban migration of the youth and the long years of avaricious military dictatorship. Food production dipped. That was in spite of programmes such as River Basin Authorities, Green Revolution and Operation Feed the Nation. So, how did the Jonathan administration make the difference?“
Let us for once not politicize the sensitive issue of food security. Truth be told, the President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration has made tremendous progress towards the transformation of the agriculture sector under the dynamic leadership of the Minister, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina. Indeed, there is no better time to highlight these achievements than now as the country faces an imminent downturn in crude oil revenue. Quality food production serves the twin objectives of ensuring food security and job creation. For instance, of the 1.2million jobs created in 2014 the sector was responsible for a large percentage of it.
Nigeria, like over 170 countries in the world is a signatory to every citizen’s right to quality food through adequate nutrition in line with the United Nations Organization’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The World Food Summit followed in 1996. And the Expert Consultations on the Right to Food came in 1997-98. To have access to food that is nutritious, affordable and available is based on the massive production, preservation and processing of the raw materials.
As at independence in October 1960, Nigeria’s economy was squarely predicated on the fortunes of agriculture from the pyramids of groundnut, maize , sorghum, cotton and cowhide up north; cocoa, coffee, cassava and yam tubers down south-west as well as palm oil and rubber in the south-east. Even when practiced then with obsolete equipment and local technology, agriculture was responsible for 80 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, 92.7 per cent Foreign Exchange earnings and employed up to 70 per cent of the rural populace.
Unfortunately, the oil boom era of the ‘70s and ‘80s was characterized by the contract-seeking syndrome of the elite, the rural-urban migration of the youth and the long years of avaricious military dictatorship. Food production dipped. That was in spite of programmes such as River Basin Authorities, Green Revolution and Operation Feed the Nation. So, how did the Jonathan administration make the difference?
First and foremost, the Adesina-led team began by looking at agriculture purely as a business venture; with the government driving the process using the well-oiled machinery of an all-inclusive, transparent, creative and courageous approach to food production, post-harvest preservation and processing. Connecting well with the real farmers at the grassroots did the magic.
Through the pragmatic synergy between the farmers and government, aptly called Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA) an additional 21 million metric tons (mmt) of food has been added to the national production through N900bn investment in the past three years. Increased production has come from rice, maize, oil palm, cotton, cocoa and cassava farmers. It is a similar sweet song for fish farmers. Little wonder that food import bills are tumbling down.
Similarly, a new crop of agric business men and women receive grants(not loans) to start their own businesses. In fact, only last week 27 young entrepreneurs got N123 million in the same vein. For the first time in our recent history, dry season farming is now in place, boosted by government’s support for irrigation by the resuscitation of many moribund dams across the country.
Good to note that the over four decades rot in the fertilizer procurement has been consigned to the dustbin of history. The unscrupulous middle men who once reaped from where they never sowed have been wiped off the scene. Some 14 million Nigerian farmers with their electronic wallets now receive quality bags of fertilizers, high-yielding seedlings and fingerlings directly, all at highly subsidized rate.
Furthermore, with the Growth Enhancement Scheme(GES) seasoned farmers such as Alhaji Hassan, the Serkin Noma of Zamfara state, Agnes Mark, Hadiza Musa, Hajiya Tela, Senator Dasadau and Tunde Owoeye were confident to come forward during the first-ever AGRIFEST recently held in Abuja to tell sweet tales of success they have achieved in the agriculture sector. In fact, Owoeye, the CEO of Elephant Africa which used to the number one importer of rice can now boast of being the number one local producer of the staple food. There is a new lease of life for the rice farmers, with the supply of improved seedlings that mature in only six months. The rice revolution is on from Kebbi through Niger to Abakaliki. Currently, two-thirds of the rice we used to import is now being grown within our shores. The rice import substitution of about $1.6 billion in combined rice value chain has been generated. Now, the once abandoned rice mills are backs and running with the most modern technological-driven machines.
According to Senator Dansadau, the first seed supplier that came to the country back in 1986 left three years later for lack of patronage. But by 2005 there were 33 seed companies. Now Nigeria is ranked number one in Africa, with an increase in volume from 4,352 mmt to 149,484 mmt of seeds, thanks to the true transformation in the agric sector. While 10 mmt of maize has been added to national production in three years, there is a similar value chain created for sorghum used in malt drinks across the country.
For the cassava sub-sector there is the composite cassava-wheat bread beginning with 10 per cent cassava flour. Some 130 mmt of high-yielding cassava stems have been supplied to farmers resulting in an increase from 45 mmt to 55mmt between 2010 and 2014.There is an estimated N16 billion obtained from the value chain created in several states including Osun, Abia and Cross River.
The cocoa boom is back with emphasis on the supply of high-yielding, improved seedlings as well as the processing of its beans for local manufacturing of beverages and export. So it is the focus on oil palm, with 1 million seedlings for an expected 70,000 hectares of land by 2016. Also, fish farmers including those at Argungun are gaining greater access to the best of nets, fishing boats and engines in addition to fish feeds. And for the first time in Nigeria’s history, we now have a Deep Sea Marine Vessel to boost fish farming.
For the 750,000 young Nigerian graduates ready to eat the humble pie by engaging in the agric sector through YEAP they would soon say goodbye to both unemployment and hunger. If American farmers are ranked as the richest professionals, why not replicate that in Nigeria? Well done, our farmers’ president. The best way to get the people’s heart, and of course, their votes is through their stomach!
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