The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in 2011, came out with plans to reinvigorate the sector by first and foremost eradicating the cumbersome and corrupt process of distribution of farm input especially fertilizer which is described by many farmers as a cartel for the rich and the influential.
A short while after the assumption of office that same year, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, announced to the media the Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA), the path government would be walking through to realize the set goals of food sufficiency and food security as well as improve the living standards of farmers, especially in the rural areas.
Adesina said it would no longer be business as usual for all those who were used to trooping to the ministry to seek fertilizer contracts which eventually ended up in the open markets, sold at cutthroat prices to poor farmers.
He stated in clear terms that "agriculture would no longer be treated as a development project but as business." He has also made it known that the old system of distributing inputs' subsidy to farmers by the federal government would be overthrown because it is riddled with corruption along the distribution chain and would be replaced with a more transparent method; by first of all registering farmers across the country, capturing their data and sending their input as vouchers via phones (e-wallet) to be verified by agro-dealers who would release the input to the farmers.
One year down the line, farmers who are the sole target of the new policy of the government, the Agriculture Transformation Agenda, said they still have high expectations from the government in fulfilling its obligation of growing the sector in order to shift focus and over dependence on the oil sector.
Kaduna-based farmer, Shedrach Madlion, has this to say on ATA's e-wallet system; "Success is far from being achieved using the e-wallet, instead the government has just found a new way of defrauding farmers.
"This should be called e-stealing instead of e-wallet because the fact is production has dropped this year with 42 percent since the introduction of this new policy and I repeat, production has dropped by 42 percent.
"The minister of agriculture came from another country to tell us how to share fertilizer when a lot of farmers cannot use the telephone and he has already spent not less than N3 billion which could have been used to buy tractors and share to farmers instead they are buying phones," he laments.
He said because the e-wallet might have worked in some other countries, is not a guarantee that this alien policy when employed will succeed in Nigeria and it would take us another four years to get back to our roots again because this method cannot replace our aging farming population with young ones.
An agro-dealer in Zaria who is the Chief Executive Officer of Da All Green Seeds Limited, Engineer Yakubu Atar, said the impact of the e-wallet system would take a few years to be felt by grassroots farmers who are still apprehensive of the new changes, because of the old system that has whittled down their confidence in government for decades and that is why many are still expecting more in terms of the seriousness and commitment of the government.
He said: "The e-wallet is a good concept. It is a good option in the sense that the poor farmer without diversion especially now that GSM is all over the place and with time it will be okay with media awareness so that we can capture the real farmers from the political ones.
Another farmer in Lasale village, Gombe State, Baba Simon said the e-wallet is a better way of accessing fertilizer compared to the old system because many farmers in his village were able to get fertilizer for the last farming season but they got only two bags each, just as the federal government had announced earlier.
According to him, "two bags are too small for us, we would like them to increase it to five bags per farmer and to also open up more redemption centres or points so that many farmers can benefit.
He said although the system has enabled many farmers to access input, only fertilizers were distributed at the rate of N2,500 per bag and farmers paid N6,000 to get two bags, "but some people who are not farmers also got the fertilizer because they wrote their names as farmers. They sold the fertilizer to other farmers after collecting their own allocation."
Commenting on the success of the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) (e-wallet), President of the North Central Agro-Input Dealers' Association (NOCAIDA), Alhaji Raufu Lawal, said ATA has made headway but it is yet to be rated a success because only about 40 percent farmers were registered and not more than 50 percent of those registered were able to redeem their input.
He noted that there is a high possibility of success in the future, especially with the opening of the One-stop-Shops by the government to create easy access to farm input by farmers.
But Special Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture on Media, Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye, said GES under ATA is a "special agricultural scheme of the federal government aimed at delivering subsidized farm inputs to farmers and facilitating a shift from subsistence to commercial farming".
He said ATA has so far made great breakthrough because "approximately 1,585,980 farmers showed up at operational redemption sites in 35 states and FCT that are implementing GES. Approximately 1,113,685 farmers have received their farm input so far. As a proportion of the 3.9 million registered farmers in the participating locations which exclude Adamawa state that did not participate and most of Zamfara state, where the actual figures were not available; this is a turnout rate of 41 percent and a redemption rate of 70 percent."