Insight

Federal Government’s agricultural revolution, insecurity and drive for food sufficiency

Since the sudden realisation by those in authority that depending solely on oil economy was a ticking time bomb for the country, there has been seemingly frantic efforts towards economic diversification. The search for another economic lifeline has berthed on the stable of the long neglected and abandoned agricultural sector. For close to two decades now, the sing-song of both government and other stakeholders has remained, “let’s return to the farms”. Budgets have been proposed, policies made, programmes designed by successive governments, all in the name of reviving the agricultural sector, aimed at making it again, Nigeria’s economic mainstay.

While there may be credible results in some aspects of the agricultural revolution, especially in the value chains of rice production and few other staple crops, there were also many of the programmes that are just phoney and an avenue for the pilfering of public funds. Government’s Intervention The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) through its Anchor Borrower’s intervention programme has released over N77 billion for the purpose of reviving the agricultural sector. Unfortunately, this colossal amount has produced very little results. Regrettably too, the purpose of releasing the funds from the public coffers also suffered huge hitches, as it seemed the capacity of the nation’s Central Bank to recover the loans has being seriously tasked.

The Acting managing director, Bank of Agriculture (BOA), Alwan Hassan, recently revealed that farmers who couldn’t justify the funds they obtained vis-a-vis their productivity, have also defaulted in the loan repayment schedule. He said that out of the total sum of N91.87 billion released by the CBN for the programme, only N14.68 billion has been paid. Anchor Borrower’s Programme is an agricultural loan scheme launched in 2015 by the Federal Government through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). It was designed to boost agricultural yields, halt importation of large volume of food into the country and address negative trade balance. Apart from government’s intervention, other stakeholders, international donors and technical partners have also made enormous contributions towards revamping Nigeria’s agriculture, sector, but what has been the success rate and to what extent can anyone say the purposes of government has been achieved? That will continue to be a matter of debate among key stakeholders. Undulating, Challenging Factors Sadly, efforts to diversify the economy to agriculture and also achieve food sufficiency have continued to receive deadly blows from all sides. When politicians are not making empty propaganda through meaningless paper presentations, just to siphon public funds, herders and farmers’ clashes or even terrorism and banditry would be a challenge to the realisation of the set goals. While the above stated challenges were receiving attention, the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced two years ago to compound the problems of Nigeria’s agricultural sector and food security drive. The President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Arc. Kabir Ibrahim has corroborated the points that agricultural revolution in the country had been jinxed. Ibrahim who said that farmers have remained sad over the development in the sector, listed several factors, which he argued were the greatest enemies to the efforts being made.

He noted that insecurity, Covid-19 pandemic, effects of climate change, multiple taxation and extortion of transporters were among the challenges that needed to be urgently addressed. Ibrahim said, “the Federal Government’s effort to impact the food system sustainably is threatened by insecurity, Covid-19, climate change and many other issues including multiple taxation as well as possible extortion of transporters carrying produce on our roads.

“The farmers in some cases organise vigilance groups to secure their farmland and harvested crops before taking them home. “The effort of the farmers is a far cry from the needed security required for a sustainable food sufficiency. “The quest for food sufficiency is greatly jeopardised by insecurity, therefore there is every need for the government to do more in that respect to avoid a serious food crises,” he added.

A woman farmer, Hajia Fatima Abubakar who has ventured into several value chains of agriculture on commercial scale, also confirmed that agricultural revolution in Nigeria may remain a mirage, except drastic measures were taken to address the identified challenges.

The woman who said she owns several big farms within the Federal Capital Territory, expressed concerns over the continued destruction of farmlands and crops by herdsmen. She disclosed that her farms had been attacked at different times by marauding herders, with consequential financial losses. Another woman farmer and the Chairperson, African Kilimanjaro Women Forum (AKIWOF) for ECOWAS member states, Hajia Zainab Arah lamented the activities of bandits, which she said has crippled farming activities in most parts of Northern Nigeria. Arah, who is also the Zamfara State Coordinator, Small Holders Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON), stated that banditry in some parts of the country has continued to frustrate farmers’ efforts, as women are afraid of being raped by the randy bandits. Arah, who is based in Zamfara State, but was in Abuja for a conference, noted that most rural women in Zamfara State have abandoned their farms to avoid being raped or killed by bandits. She stressed that the activities of bandits may hinder the utilisation of the full potential of the ultramodern groundnut processing factory which the Zamfara State government donated to the women farmers. Also, the National President of Small Holder Women Farmers Organisation of Nigeria (SWOFON), Mrs. Mary Afan, said government needed to wake up and do more, if actually the dream of diversifying the country’s economy to agriculture will be realised.

Afan disclosed that government had started giving women farmer’s micro machinery inputs across the country, but needed to do more in order to achieve sustainable food sufficiency. She however, lamented that insecurity in parts of the country was hitting the small holder farmers badly. According to her, the cases of the women who are from parts of Northern Nigeria where terrorists and bandits reign supreme are much more deplorable. She noted that women, who reportedly constitute a major percentage of both small holder farmers, and available agricultural labour force there, no longer have access to the farms due to the facts that the terrorists and bandits see the women as easy prey. Extortion Allegations A truck driver, Aminu Zakari who claimed he has been in transportation business for more than 30 years confirmed that agro products merchants are always at the mercy of security agencies and other people who operate on the nation’s highways.

Zakari said he conveys all manner of crops and Livestock, like tomatoes, yams, beans, cattle and rams from the North to various parts of the country. According to him, he comes to Abuja Zuba Fruits market at least once in a week, carrying cargo for merchants. He said that apart from paying bandits and terrorists who are in charge in some rural communities in the North, a truck driver will also bribe policemen, soldiers and para-military officers with between N500 and N1000 at multiple check points along the roads to their various destinations.

Government’s Reactions A senior director at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, who pleaded anonymity because he had no directive to speak on the issues raised, noted that government was actually worried at the myriad of challenges dogging the progress of agricultural revolution in the country. Although, he claimed that the programmes designed to revive the sector was well thought out globally acceptable template, he unwittingly admitted that unscrupulous politicians manipulate and frustrate implementation. According to him, during the peak of COVID- 19 pandemic in 2020, the Federal Government inaugurated a Presidential Committee on the seamless movement of agro products across the country. He said the mandate of the Committee included checking the alleged extortion of transporters carrying agro produce across the roads in the country. While he refused to confirm the status of that Presidential Committee, New Telegraph’s check revealed that it only exist on papers and members of the committee have remained redundant.

 

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