interviewBy Ishola Balogun and Ebun Sessou
Director General of Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, Muda Yusuf in this interview says the cellphone policy is unacceptable, adding that government has no business buying cellphones for farmers.
Coming out from the flood disaster that swept away almost all our farm produce, what are the needs of farmers now?
The Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akunwunmi Adesina is passionate about agriculture and we commend him for that. He has taken some laudable steps including the corruption that used to characterize the importation and procurement of fertilizers.
He has been able to put a stop to it through the policies that he brought on board when he assumed office. Fertilizer procurement and distribution used to be a major scandal in the past where trailers disappear, allocation does not get to destination, farmers don't get fertilizer at subsidized rate among other things. He has also taken some other initiatives. But our main concern is that he seems not to be connecting well with the stakeholders.
For anyone to be able to support any sector, he or she must understand the needs of the stakeholders. Sometimes, he is a bit theoretical and academical is his approach, that step disconnects him and his policies from the real farmers.
Linking that to the cellphone, he has argued that he is providing cellphones for farmers because they have done a survey and it was discovered that about 70 percent of rural dwellers are in need of cellphones and therefore there is need for the ministry to connect with the farmers directly.
He didn't deny that they are going to buy cellphones but he denied the fact that they are going to use N60billion and he did not tell us how much he is going to spend which is important.
Secondly, even a beggar now has a phone. The farmers are not poor to the extent that they cannot afford a cellphone each. Government has no business buying cellphones for farmers.
Why didn't you agree with the survey conducted by the government?
No, I don't agree with that survey. Almost all the people in the village have cellphones.
So, what do you think the needs of the farmers are?
To get the actual need of the people, there is need to do a need-assessment. Needs vary from location to location. What a fish farmer needs is different from what crop, poultry farmers or cattle rearers need.
There is need for proper needs assessment and that can be done by interacting with all the segments so that the intervention can be appropriate. Many of the farmers are complaining of unavailability of capital to expand their activities.
Access to market is a problem because of bad roads and that is why there is problem of huge post-harvest losses because most of the produce cannot be easily evacuated to the market. There is poor pricing of agriculture products which is called farm-gate prices. It costs so much to transport a product to the market because of bad roads.
There is need for irrigation for farm produce including rice. Some of the farmers need technology to be able to process their products. It is better to support the private sector, identify their needs and support them to acquire the materials.
Many of the rice millers I spoke with said they need capital to buy paddy rice which is processed. Many said, they need de-stoners that removes the stones. Many of these farmers are on small scale.
There is a peculiar challenge in Ebonyi which has high record of rice production. Now, the government imported some machines in each senatorial zones and requested the attention of the rice millers without thinking of what would happen to them. This is what happen when there is no proper consultation. There is need for proper communication.
How would you advise the government against the importation of millers?
If they have not gone far, the best thing is to stop it. In Ebonyi State, rice millers are over one thousand. There is need to identify the cooperatives, identify their needs and give them the support in their various clusters. Bringing a machine will throw many of them out of jobs.
Most of the farmers alleged that it is difficult to access government's intervention funds in the past, what is your take on that?
Most of the funds go to the elites, those who have huge farmlands but they are not many. They only have the connection and the contacts. That is why the small scale operators cannot get funds. Government should reach the farmers through their extension officers or cooperatives. The banks are more comfortable with big borrowers than the small ones.
What are farmers in the state known for?
The nature of agriculture is such that different parts of the country have different endowment. And the nature of economy is such that different parts of the country have its natural resources in terms of economy activities.
What is supplied in Lagos is smaller to the demands. Lots of farmers in Lagos have challenges with land because of its steady appreciation. There are places that have been designated as agriculture land but Lagos State government has acquired. It is important for government to focus on what can help its administration and support the farmers on what they are doing.
Some farmers also alleged that cooperative societies are not working. What is LCCI doing to alleviate the pains of farmers in that regard?
A good cooperative would work. Not all cooperatives are good. Every member in cooperative must know each other. The mandate of the chamber is advocacy by bridging the gap between the policy makers and the stakeholders so that there can be proper alignment.