Agribusiness

FARMERS, AGRO-ALLIED BODIES EXPECT ‘NEXT LEVEL’ INTERVENTIONS IN AGRIC SECTOR

At the presidential and National Assembly levels, the ballot battle is won and lost. The hurly-burly was gone, but the expectations about the ‘next level’ promise are high and huge, especially in creating enabling environments for food and agro-allied businesses and industries.

In his foreword to the Green Alternative, which sets out strategies to be used in the Agricultural promotion policy of the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said two major problems were to be tackled by the administration.

The two major challenges, the minister said, are “Nigeria still imports a significant amount of food. Nigeria is also not earning significant foreign exchange from agriculture, meaning we are losing at both ends.”The policy explains that the private sector operators will lead the food business revolution, while the government will facilitate and provide supporting infrastructure, systems, control processes and oversight.

The success of the policy is hinged on the effective participation of farmers, state governments, investors, financial institutions, communities and processors. Others are research institutions, Nigeria Custom Service and donor agencies. In fairness to the government, efforts such as attempts to close some land borders against smuggling; the off-taking of farm products through the Anchor Borrower’s programme; the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN’s) move on 10 per cent interest rate for agribusiness loans; and lately the creation of a micro-finance bank for agro-industrial businesses, have been made.

Lingering challenges
Despite the efforts, it appears little has been achieved. Smuggling of rice, poultry products and other food products the borders remains a difficulty. Cost of chicken production at home is too high, according to the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), making home-grown chickens uncompetitive and smuggling attractive.

Cost of farm mechanisation, a means of commercial farm productivity, is exorbitant as a result of grossly inadequate supply of tractor and farm support services. The escalating farmer-herder crisis has left many farm-active communities desolate in the North central and North-east zones, breeding food crises for the displaced individuals and their dependents. Rice production, according to the government, has increased and reduced the quantity of imports, but the price of local rice is still very high, paving way for smuggling and dubious re-bagging of foreign as local rice.

Post-harvest challenges and management still pose threats to farmers’ investments and food sufficiency goal, while government commitment the sector appears inadequate considering the budgetary allocations to the sector at the federal and state levels. Irrigation facilities and dry season farm operations are still very limited, compounded by inadequate and erratic rainfall patterns that pose serious food crisis possibilities in predominantly rain-fed agricultural systems.

What farmers, agribusiness groups expect
President of the Palm Producers Association of Nigeria, Mr Henry Olatujoye, said “We expect the president to consolidate on what he did in the first term. “farmers are happy that since the policies like anchor borrowers’ scheme, restriction on foreign exchange and removal of waivers have been operational, prices of commodities have remained stable in the face of domestic challenges such as smuggling, high interest rate and attitude of consumers. “People now patronize made-in-Nigeria commodities than ever before. It is my strong desire that Nigerians will support him to lay a solid foundation for our tomorrow.”

President of the Catfish and Allied Fish Farmers Association of Nigeria (CAFFAN), Mr Rotimi Oloye, while expressing expectations of fish farmers, said “agriculture is a business, and it deserves all attention required to bring returns on investments. “He added that “If as claimed, the effort of the government has yielded the much result in rice production, let us make use of the template in rice production for other farm products and livestock.

“All those bottlenecks through conflicts of interests by government agencies should be removed.”Oloye added that conducive environment should be created for food production to bloom and efforts should be made to make every settlement/village get involved in food production. He tasked the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to educate more Nigerians, especially youths and graduates, on the need to get involved in food production, and consumption of home grown foods.

“The government and its agencies should also patronise our home-grown foods. It should also help in cushioning cost of production of food,” he added, while calling for development of rural roads and essential infrastructure for transportation of food from the farm gates. David Omowumi Ayodele, an agribusiness consultant and tractor service provider, said, “It is expected that the new administration would focus more on stress-free agricultural finance.”

He suggested that conscious efforts should be made towards agro-processing subsector to create sustainable market for agricultural products, increase production and maintain sustainable interplays among all the value chain actors. Also, he suggested that the government should deepen market and buy agricultural products at sustainable guaranteed prices to immune farmers against price fluctuations and prevent discouragement on the side of farmers and financiers.

Another agribusiness consultant, Mr Anthonio John-Bede, said, “We expect recapitalization of the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) and African Development Bank (AfDB) should invest in the bank; an increase in credit facilities to agricultural sector and all research institutions and agricultural universities should be empowered. “Other expectations, as John-Bede said, are increase in extension services by the government for farmers; state governments’ more investments in agriculture and allocation of free farmland to young agribusiness individuals.

He added that each state should be mandated to dedicate at least 100,000 hectares to agriculture; and that agriculture should be a major compulsory subject in the Nigerian primary and secondary schools. Each school and post-secondary institution should have at least a 10-hectare farmland for demonstration farming practices, he suggested.

The National President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr Ibrahim Kabir, expressed optimism of prosperity in the second term of the administration based on the anticipatory actualisation and consolidation of the deliverables of the Green Alternative Policy, otherwise known as Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP), being promoted by the government. He said, “The President will have the chance to take the policy to the next level and the farmers are, therefore, poised to take advantage of the enabling environment to expand agribusiness generally.”

Mr John Olateru, a former chairman of the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) in Oyo State and current chairman of the Commodities Association of Nigeria, said farmers in the state are expectant of real expansion of the Anchor Borrowers’ programme to the South, for the beneficiaries were mainly from the zones in the North since the inception of the scheme.

Agricultural business financing, he added, is the soul of food production. With financial resources, Olateru explained, farmers could employ revolutionary and game-changing technologies that would multiply agricultural productivity, drastically reduce cost of production and make farming profitable and sustainable while developing the value chains for real economic diversification. Dr. Akin Olonihuwa, a former provost of the Kabba College of Agriculture, said farmers are expecting more support for production activities.

For rice and other food crops, Olonihuwa said support is needed in land preparation in some local government areas, where there is no single tractor available for hire either privately or government owned). Tractors, therefore, he said, should be made available to cooperatives or bigger farmers who can make them available for hire.

The lecturer said the government should also control the quality of agrochemicals and blends of fertilizer in the market to reduce adulteration, and he emphasized the establishment of more processing plants for agricultural products like rice, cassava and fruits. 
Better, more efficient and impactful funding support; enlightenment and advocacy by the Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation (NAIC) on their services (for more patronage of the services by farmers will mitigate losses due to unpredictable weather and natural disasters); supply of improved and affordable seeds and seedlings to farmers; stepping up of extension services and finding permanent and sustainable solutions to farmers-herdsmen clashes are other expectations he disclosed.

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