3 January 2010

Nigeria: Food Security - Harnessing Country's Agricultural Potentials

Lagos — Although Nigeria, depends heavily on the oil industry for its budgetary revenues, the country is predominantly still an agricultural society. Approximately 70 per cent of the population engages in agricultural production at a subsistence level. Agricultural holdings are generally small and scattered. Agriculture provided 41 per cent of Nigeria's total gross domestic product (GDP) in 1999.

This percentage represented a normal decrease of 24.7 per cent from its contribution of 65.7 per cent to the GDP in 1957. The decrease may likely continue because, as economic development occurs, the relative size of the agricultural sector usually decreases.

Nigeria's wide range of climate variations allows it to produce a variety of food and cash crops. The staple food crops include cassava, yams, corn, coco-yams, cow-peas, beans, sweet potatoes, millet, plantains, bananas, rice, sorghum, and a variety of fruits and vegetables like tomatoes.

The leading cash crops used to be cocoa, citrus, cotton, groundnuts (peanuts), palm oil, palm kernel, benniseed, and rubber. They were also Nigeria's major exports in the 1960s and early 1970s until petroleum surpassed them in the 1970s. Chief among the export destinations for Nigerian agricultural exports are Britain, the United States, Canada, France and Germany.

A significant portion of the agricultural sector in Nigeria involves cattle herding, fishing, poultry, and lumbering, which contributed more than two per cent to the GDP in the 1980s. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation 1987 estimate, there were 12.2 million cattle, 13.2 million sheep, 26.0 million goats, 1.3 million pigs, 700,000 donkeys, 250,000 horses, and 18,000 camels, mostly in northern Nigeria, and owned mostly by rural dwellers rather than by commercial companies. Fisheries output ranged from 600,000 to 700,000 tons annually in the 1970s. Estimates indicate that the output had fallen to 120,000 tons of fish per year by 1990.

It is public knowledge that the decline in agricultural production in Nigeria began with the advent of the petroleum boom in the early 1970s. The boom brought about a distortion of the labour market. The distortion in turn produced adverse effects on the production levels of both food and cash crops. Governments had paid farmers low prices over the years on food for the domestic market in order to satisfy urban demands for cheap basic food products.

According to reports, this policy, in turn, progressively made agricultural work unattractive and enhanced the lure of the cities for farm workers. Collectively, these developments worsened the low productivity, both per unit of land and per worker, due to several factors: inadequate technology, acts of nature such as drought, poor transportation and infrastructure, and trade restrictions.

But there is now a political will and vision to reposition agriculture. The revolution has been gradual and massive.

Since 2007, when Dr. Abba Sayyadi Ruma, was appointed the Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, he has embarked on a quiet but groundbreaking reform programme aimed at transforming the agricultural sector and the country at large. The reform programme, THISDAY learnt was principally designed to achieve food security in Nigeria and position agriculture as the engine of growth and sustainable development in the country.

Ruma's transformative reform agenda is also aimed at serving as a critical vehicle for the actualisation of Nigeria's Vision 20:2020 and the realisation of the agriculture and food security component of President Umaru Musa Yar Adua's 7-Point Agenda.

Unarguably, Nigeria has the potential not only to meet its growing food needs but also to become an agro-powerhouse for the sub-region and the world at large. For example, the country is blessed with 140 million people, with about 70 per cent engaged in (peasant or commercial) farming. Nigeria has 79 million hectares of arable land (less than half of which is under cultivation); and is blessed with highly diversified ecological conditions suitable for the production of a wide range of agricultural products.

It is said that Nigeria's potential for crops, livestock and fishery remains enormous, buoyed by a water supply level that is equally conducive. Nigeria has 267 billion cubic meters of surface water; 57.9 billion cubic meters of underground water; an annual rainfall range of 300mm to 400mm; and potential irrigable area of 3.14 million hectares (seven per cent of which is utilised).

Part of the problem however, is that the agricultural sector has been plagued by a host of challenges, including low output, policy inconsistencies, inefficient and outmoded production techniques, low quality of produce, heavy post-harvest losses, limited access to mechanisation and quality inputs, limited value-addition, and limited facilities for credit, irrigation, storage, processing and extension services.

All of these, experts say combine to make Nigeria's agricultural outputs uncompetitive in both the domestic and international markets. They have also significantly reduced the attraction of agriculture as a sustainable source of livelihood and viable business.

Various attempts since the 1970s have been made to address these challenges, right from the National Accelerated Food Production Programme (1972) to Operation Feed the Nation (1976), Green Revolution (1980) to the National Agriculture Land Development Authorities (1991). But the challenges have persisted either for lack of policy rigour or on account of half-hearted implementation.

The sum of all these is that Nigeria has failed to realise its agricultural potentials and failed to harness huge opportunities for food security, job creation and national growth. These are some of the reasons bandied around by critics of agricultural policies to say that the sector will continue to lag behind until the proper and workable policies are applied.

Ruma is not unaware of some of these perceptions in leading a new approach that takes adequate cognisance of past and prevailing challenges in the sector and proffers holistic, integrated and strategic interventions, a radical departure from the subsistence, ad-hoc and fragmented approach of the past. His point of departure is that for the agricultural sector to be transformed in Nigeria-and for Nigeria itself to be transformed-agriculture must be seen as a business, and conscious efforts should be made to remove all the constraints on the way: from the farms all the way to the market.

Whereas previous efforts concentrated on increased production, Ruma argues that increased production is important, but must be accompanied by increased attention to storage, processing, packaging, distribution and marketing. The new approach is driven by a value-chain perspective, a perspective that advocates for a comprehensive and concentration attention to every component of the agricultural value chain.

For example, from the present subsistence in agriculture low-yield labour-intensive, rudimentary techniques, low produce, low government support, massive food importation, production bias and poor approach, the Yar'Adua government will look towards modern techniques, processed and package agricultural products, increased and strategic food export country in future.

According to THISDAY investigation, in the new approach, the Federal Government will take the lead by setting the policy framework and providing necessary infrastructure and incentives as well as collaborating actively with other stakeholders, especially the state and local governments, the private sector, the farming families and communities.

To make it sustainable, government is going to deal with the policy objectives first. THISDAY findings showed that the new approach aims to achieve food security in Nigeria, transform the country into a net exporter of food, encourage adoption of modern and efficient agricultural techniques and methods, preserve the environment through adoption of efficient land and water management practices. Overall, the programme is aimed commercialising agriculture in Nigeria and turning the country into an agro-powerhouse that can feed itself and meet the food needs of the world.

Ruma also went ahead to list five steps to achieve food security, even when previous interventions have focused too narrowly on enhanced production without making adequate provision for what happens after production. Through the Commercial Agriculture Development Programme (CADP), this administration hopes to achieve food security and other policy objectives by adopting a holistic and integrated approach.

The new approach, THISDAY was made to understand is intended to result in increased production both in quantity and quality and greater emphasis on preservation, standardisation and value-addition to ensure that the increased output will be competitive in both domestic and international markets.

All of these would result in increased income not only for the operators in the agricultural sector, but also for the country at large in a sustainable manner. This end goal is been captured as "Raising Agricultural Income with Sustainable Environment (RAISE)". It will be achieved through intense focus on five inter-locking steps.

These include providing appropriate policy framework that ensures that appropriate legislative and legal frameworks are in place to support commercial agriculture. Other activities will include review of existing policies at all tiers of government, and enactment and implementation of necessary policies and legislations on land, credit and tariffs amongst others. These activities are also captured under the interventions called Strengthening Agriculture through Regulatory Transformation (START). Activities on this intervention, the Ministry said, is on-going and is expected to be completed by September 2010.

According to a document in THISDAY possession, a critical part of the reform agenda is to ensure that the sector and the operators are able to attract adequate and concessionary funding necessary for going to scale. Under the Enhanced Funding for Agricultural Transformation (ETAF), the sector has witnessed increased inflow of funds from three sources.

The mainline budget provision to agriculture was 13 per cent of capital projects in 2009, for the first time higher than the 10 per cent stipulated by Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in the Maputo Declaration.

About N244 billion has been committed to the Special Intervention Fund for Agriculture from the Federation Account for the next four years; and the Central Bank of Nigeria in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources has floated a N200 billion concessionary loan in support of small and large-scale commercial agriculture in Nigeria.

Since most of the farmers live in rural communities, it is important to provide and rehabilitate infrastructure necessary for increasing production and taking the produce to markets. Activities here include rural feeder roads, rural water supply, and rural telephony amongst others. These activities are captured under the Rural Sector Enhancement Project (RUSEP).

With this, agriculture can be carried out all year round as well as ensure proper and sustainable management of existing water resources. Such activities include small earth dams, irrigation, flood management amongst others, which are captured under Water and Aqua-culture Resource Management Nigeria (WARMIN).

Enhancing production, storage, processing and marketing of agricultural produce will also serve as the hub of the new approach, which is designed to transform agriculture. The interventions here range from one-stop shop input centres to livestock and fish estates, integrated processing centres, preservation and conditioning facilities and integrated agro-processing centres. These various interventions are captured under Maximising Agricultural Revenue in Key Enterprises (MARKETS).

To revolution agriculture, there are other key interventions and projects. For instance, about N200bn commercial agriculture credit scheme has been put in place as concessionary credit scheme designed to solve one of the major problems of commercial farming in Nigeria-lack of credit facilities. The scheme is thus designed to ensure that agriculture can be taken to the desired scale in Nigeria. Five designated banks will disburse to the large-scale farmers who meet the requirements, while state governments will disburse to small scale farmers.

About 20 silos and warehousing complexes are being built across the country to serve multiple purposes, including storage, cleaning/standardisation, market outlet, and transport corridor to the market. Combined, the silos will add 1, 025, 000 metric tonnes storage capacity to the present 300, 000 metric tonnes in the country. The 20 silos will be completed within 12 months. They will be built by the government, but leased to private operators.

There are also one-stop shops centres where farmers can purchase high-grade agricultural inputs such as seedlings, fertilisers, animal feeds, agro-chemicals, and tractors. About 300 of such will be built all over the country, according to officials of the Ministry. Each centre will have the capacity to store up to 2000 metric tonnes of inputs. THISDAY learnt that sites have been selected in collaboration with state governments. The first set of agro-input centres is scheduled are to commence operation in 2010 and are expected to address the problems of access to quality inputs.

Other projects include the eight integrated livestock estates, which will provide integrated infrastructure for the development of the livestock sub-sector and its relevant value chain. The livestock estates will include grazing areas, covered and open pens, diary processing plants, abattoirs, leather treatment centres and modern meat super markets. These will be built in eight states in the country, and are expected to commence operations by 2010.

This is not to forget another eight integrated fish estates designed to provide integrated infrastructure for the development of the fishery sub-sector and its relevant value chain. The fishery estates will include ponds, hatcheries, processing plants, training centres, feed-mills, laboratories, cold stores and marketing centres. The estates will be built in eight states in the country.

There are also the 20 commodity out-growers development and extension service centres that are designed as incentives to the growth of large-scale agric business as well as create a new generation of farmers in the country. They will be built around the dormant river-basin assets and include farmers' markets, processing and storage facilities, water for irrigation and power generation, and facilities for housing and training up to 2000 extension workers. About 20 of such will be built all over the country by government and leased to private sector operators.

In addition, four export handling, preservation and conditioning centres, which are designed to reduce post-harvest losses and ensure that agricultural products from Nigeria can compete well in the international market are part of the projects of government. Facilities in these centres will include washing, drying and storage chambers, sorting, grading and packaging facilities, storage crate handling and cargo facilities, temperature and humidity control facilities.

There is also a price support mechanism-Guaranteed Minimum Price-designed to ensure that farmers get good price for their products, ensure price stability and allow for planning. It replaces the buyer of last resort programme, with government's licensed buying agents serving as buyers of first resort as well as the tractor hiring scheme. This is designed to tackle a major hindrance to commercial and mechanised farming in Nigeria as many in the pas t cannot afford to buy their own tractors.

Presently, the country has a total tractor density of 30, 000. Under the present arrangement, 10, 000 new tractors will be added in three years and will be run mainly by the private sector and the farming communities with substantial subsidy from federal and state governments as well as credit facilities for the operators.

There are already skepticism among experts and farmers on the implementation of the huge agenda and whether there are resources to back up the massive project. Ruma is however focused on the task ahead. For him, this is the time to change the face of agriculture in the country that Nigeria cannot continue to depend on oil for too long.

"We need to take agriculture to the market place-both domestic and international markets. Agriculture must be seen, defined and pursued as real business. We must move beyond subsistence farming to commercial farming. We need to develop the value chain in an integrated manner. We have to develop the tripod of production, storage and processing."

"For an economy that wants to be listed in the comity of nations in the next thirteen to fourteen years, food security is important. Agriculture is critical to the nation's vision 20:20:20," Ruma told THISDAY in Abuja recently.

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