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Fertiliser distribution, most corrupt sector in Nigeria - Minister

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SHOCKING  revelations came to the fore on Tuesday regarding the distribution of fertilisers to farmers with the Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, disclosing that the arrangement he met on  the ground was the most corrupt of government ventures.

At a breakfast meeting with Editors in Lagos, he also disclosed that the controversial mobile phone-for-farmers project would be funded through contributory arrangement involving all the stakeholders, including the beneficiary-farmers and the government.

Insisting that government would not be expending N60 billion on the project, he stated that government’s financial commitment to the project would be drawn from the Universal Service Provision Fund.

When asked to be specific on the amount that would be coming from the government’s end, he explained that the modalities were still being worked out which would make mentioning figures difficult.

Quoting him: “In the country, we are trying to change the sector from being developmental to business. We are targeting 20 million metric tonnes of food by 2015 and create 3.5 million jobs. For it to be a business, government must play a catalytic role but must not dominate the space. We have to let the private sector drive the space but must be government-enabled.

“Let us take fertiliser distribution for example. For four decades, government was buying fertiliser but only 11 per cent of farmers got it. I have been following this since 1984. I did my Masters degree in USA monitoring fertiliser corruption. Rural poverty was rising as government expenditure on fertiliser was rising. We ended the corruption in fertiliser distribution in 90 days. We stopped government from buying and selling fertiliser. Half of the fertiliser they used to supply was sand, quality very low which made it injurious to the plants. In fact, the sector was the most corrupt in the country.

“When we came on board, we developed a comprehensive data for farmers, sent mobile phones to them, no politician was involved and in 120 days, we reached 1.2 million farmers with qualitative fertiliser.”

Adesina, who concurred that some of the government’s agriculture policies would make him unpopular, noted that he did not want to be popular but to superintend over a modern agriculture sector and deliver to the farmers.

Disclosing that about 71 per cent of registered Nigerian farmers did not currently own mobile phones that would help them grow their business, the minister said those public servants and fertiliser suppliers that short-changed the policy in the past might not be facing investigation and prosecution because “I am not EFCC. I am minister for farmers and my main concern is for farmers to get the fertiliser and not the usual middle-men.”

Speaking further on the benefits of government’s new agriculture policies on mobile phones and fertiliser distribution, Adesina disclosed that “The farmers were not contributing before. When we introduced the new system, the total of the farmers’ contribution was N7.5 billion and state governments, N3.8 billion. For the Federal Government, from N30 billion of contract, we reduced it to N5 billion of support with government saving N25 billion. That is the benefit of the policy of cist sharing and engaging the private sector”.

Relying on both international and local statistics, Adesina noted that of the 14 million farmers in Nigeria, government registered 4.2 million last year, and targeting 5 million more this year, with their mobile phones expected to be more distributed in the major indigenous languages to meet the challenges of the low level of literacy among the farmers.

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