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Jonathan’s Agriculture for Business Plan
One of the challenges for President Goodluck Jonathan when he took over a year ago was how to transform agricultural practices in Nigeria in a way that will ensure the actualisation of the full potential of the sector. Years before he ascended the saddle of leadership, great efforts had been made to turn Nigeria’s over 84 million hectares of arable land and favourable climatic conditions into source of wealth, employments and food for its massive population. And with 44 per cent contribution to GDP and an estimated 70 per cent of Nigerians engaged in the sector, agriculture remains the most important sector of Nigeria’s economy.
But nothing manifests the failure of those great efforts, including the Operation Feed the Nation and the Green Revolution programmes than the fact that Nigeria remains a net food importing nation, spending about N1.3 trillion on importation of basic food items annually.
Meanwhile, for many years, fertilizer procurement was the major activity of the sector even when the poor farmers in far-flung places across the country are left to their own devices as they struggle to produce foods to feed the nation while “big men” struggle for fertilizer contracts in Abuja. Worse still, the fertilizer after procurement, never get to the farmers at the intended subsidised prices. And so the nation was in deficit of its pre- and immediate post-independence glory: the largest producer and exporter of groundnut and palm oil; the second largest exporter of cocoa and the largest exporter of cotton in West Africa.
Knowing that the development of the Nigerian agricultural sector holds the ace to the diversification of the Nigerian economy, provision of jobs for millions of unemployed youths and food security, President Jonathan knew he had to put square pegs in square holes. He got that right with the appointment of Dr. Akinwumi Adesina whose expertise in turning around agricultural practices in many African countries has been acknowledged. With Adesina as the superintending officer, the Jonathan administration has in the past one year embarked on the most comprehensive reform of the agricultural sector ever attempted by any government in Nigeria with his Agriculture Transformation Agenda, ATA with focus on transformation of the sector through the development of agricultural value chains.
The plan entails reforms on distribution of key inputs like fertilizers and seedlings, agriculture financing and implementation of nationwide activities with state governments to improve the value chain of crops especially rice, cassava, maize, soya beans, sorghum, cotton, cocoa, oil palm, fisheries and livestock to facilitate increased productivity and production in the sector. On the input side for instance, the government is providing 50 per cent support for seeds and fertilizers for farmers. The government is also empowering companies involved in the production of inputs like fertilizer, seeds and other agro products to scale up their production by ensuring that loans are granted to them at a seven per cent interest rate while also providing 70 per cent guarantee on the loans.
Government is also encouraging the companies to sell their inputs directly to farmers and build their supply chains to get to rural areas. It is expected that with such policy, inputs like fertilizers would get to the farmers in record time and at over 95 per cent reach (20 million) from its present dismal 11 per cent (550,000) reach.
Like in the developed world, the Jonathan administration has introduced the use of Guarantee Minimum Price, GMP to stabilise prices and to absorb excess output of agricultural produce. The fact that farmers know that there is a guaranteed market for their product and at a guaranteed price will encourage them to increase their production. This will also encourage investments in processing plants at the lower ladder of the value as the investors will be assured that they will have feeds for their machines all year round.
The Jonathan administration has also indicated its seriousness to attract investors in the area of food processing with the establishment of 18 Staple Crop Processing Zones. This is a scheme targeted at attracting investors to set up food processing plants in areas of high food production. In essence, through the clusters, farmers are linked directly to food manufacturing plants. The potential of the scheme for job creation and rapid development of the rural economy cannot be overestimated.
To further indicate its seriousness, government has awarded contract for the construction of 18 high grade cassava flour processors capable of processing 1.3 million metric tonnes of cassava flour for local use to mix with wheat to bake bread and other confectionaries. The 18 plants will make Nigeria the biggest cassava processor in the world when they are completed in the next 24 months. With the various intervention of President Jonathan, it has been estimated that Nigeria’s cassava production will rise from 34 million metric tons to 51 million metric tons by 2015. Of course, many Nigerians are by now aware of the commitment of President Jonathan to promoting the eating of bread partly made from cassava. It is estimated that over N60 billion in wheat import bills will be saved from the substitution of 40 per cent of bread wheat flour with cassava flour annually by the country from the policy.
Government has also been promoting the cultivation of another staple that has been bleeding Nigeria of its foreign exchange: rice. Efforts and incentives provided by the Federal Government to encourage local production of rice is already yielding results with the commissioning of new rice processing plants in Ebonyi and Lagos States. Another multi billion naira investment in rice production in Taraba State is also set to commence. Just like in the case of cassava, Nigeria will save over N350 billion in yearly import bill with local production of rice.
Apart from rice and cassava, the Federal Government has also projected growth in the production of other commodities like Sorghum from 9.3 to 11.3 million metric tons, Cocoa Beans from 250, 000 to 500, 000 metric tons, Cotton Lint from 20,000 to 140,000 metric tons while fertilizer supply is to be increased from 550,000 to 20 million metric tons by 2015. The programme will provide over N300 billion additional incomes in the hands of Nigerian farmers.
The Jonathan administration’s ultimate aim is to ensure that Nigeria is food secure by increasing production of key food staples by 20 million metric tons by 2015. President Jonathan’s Agriculture Transformation Agenda has received endorsements locally and internationally. Ekiti, Kano and Taraba States have already aligned with it, while internationally, Cargill, one of the largest food processors in the world, has expressed interest in investing in Nigeria’s cassava sector.
The AGCO, a tractor manufacturing giant has also signified its intention to set up two tractor assembly plants in Nigeria. This will bring down the cost of tractors in Nigeria and further facilitate mechanized farming as envisaged under transformation agenda. The World Cocoa Foundation has also agreed to provide support for the training of Nigerian cocoa farmers in modern cocoa production procedures while on the financial side, the World Bank decided to support the programme’s implementation with about N135 billion.
Adebiyi, Special Assistant to the President on Media, wrote in from Abuja.Share