By Chinyere Anyanwu, [email protected]

 

President Bola Tinubu, in his inaugural address on May 29, 2023, made glowing promises to Nigerians on how his administration will use the agric sector as the springboard to prosperity, beginning with the attainment of food security.

He said the sector has the potential to eradicate poverty, boost job creation.

In fact, one of the administration’s eight-point agenda was fighting hunger and poverty.

The administration noted that, “agriculture must now be market-oriented and move away from the subsistence farming culture currently being practiced by smallholder farmers. Our resolve is to develop the agricultural sector towards the attainment of the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially those of zero hunger, and to improve agriculture and rural productivity. Nigeria’s current plan is to achieve self-sufficiency in food production and reduce dependency on food imports.”

The administration assured Nigerians that it would reposition the agricultural sector for optimal growth as well as make farming implements and other inputs available at government-controlled prices across the 774 local government areas of the country. It also declared that the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Water Resources will  form a partnership that will ensure adequate irrigation of farmlands, which will guarantee all-year round food production.

Tinubu’s government, in addition, promised to “engage our security architecture to protect the farms and farmers so that farmers can return to the farmlands without fear of attacks. We will increase revenue from food and agricultural exports. As we ensure there is sufficient, affordable food for the populace, we will concurrently work on stimulating the export capacity of the agric sector.”

Despite these laudable assurances, players in the agriculture space are yet to see the promises morph into concrete action.

On the contrary, there has been increased hardship and hopelessness.

The removal of fuel subsidy, as announced by President Tinubu, in his inaugural address, destabilised the economy by worsening the already troubled transportation sector. So did naira float and other scathing economic reforms. These sent naira tumbling, resulting in hyper-inflation. On the flip side,  food prices spiked, making hunger the rule rather than the exception. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) records, food inflation increased to 31.52 per cent in October 2023 from the 21.9 per cent it was in October 2022. By March 2024, food inflation had hit an all time high of 40.1 per cent.

The implication of the above statistics on the consumer is that his budget for food has tripled. For instance, A loaf of bread that sold for N400 before the administration took over rose to N600 and has continued to rise until it is selling for N2,000 currently. A 50kg bag of locally produced rice which was selling for between N20,000 and N22,000 is presently selling for N75,000. A basket of tomatoes that sold for N18,000 is now selling for N75,000 while a paint bucket of garri that sold for N500 is now selling for between N3,800 and N4,000. The rising cost of food has drastically reduced the purchasing power of consumers and subjected many households to untold hunger and malnutrition.

Faced with such food crisis situation, the administration was compelled to declare a state of emergency on the food sector in July 2023. In a bid to drive its food security agenda, the administration in August 2023, renamed the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as  the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, and appointed a new Minister, Abubakar Kyari.

Assessing the administration’s performance in the sector in the last one year, stakeholders have said that based on realities on ground, the administration leaves a lot to be desired. They are of the opinion that there is no correlation between the assurances and what is obtainable in the sector.

The Vice Chairman of Tilapia Aquaculture Development Association in Nigeria (TADAN), Mr. Nurudeen Tiamiyu, who spoke on the administration’s footprints in agriculture and food security, said it has not done well.

Tiamiyu’s verdict is based on the following: “Going by the prices of food in the last one year, we have not done well in the agriculture sector. People can always blame insecurity for it but insecurity is just a minute aspect of the whole issue. We don’t have insecurity all over the country. What about the areas where insecurity is not a major issue? How have farmers fared in those regions?”

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He noted that, “up till now, we have not held any stakeholders meeting under the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security. Last week we had a stakeholders meeting with the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy. You can imagine a ministry that has been created for almost a year now just having a stakeholders meeting at the tail end of its first year. What have they been doing for past one year?

“Same with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. As a new minister under a new coined name, the onus is on him to sit with his permanent secretary and directors to know the direction of the government policies based on the new name of the ministry. He should arrange with directors for a one-on-one meeting with the stakeholders in their respective value chains to know what their issues are. Through that, they can fashion out a way forward. The issues are there and the solutions are also there. The solutions have to be given by the practitioners as to what the numbers are, what to put in place in terms of policy and finance to achieve food security.”

The tilapia farmer who expressed worry over the insincerity of government in funding the sector said, “when you have a country that is giving less than 1.5 per cent of its budgetary allocation to agriculture, I don’t know what they are expecting in that country. The Maputo Declaration says 10 per cent of a country’s budgetary allocation should be given to agriculture but Nigeria is giving 1.5 per cent in a time they are declaring state of emergency on the food sector. How do you juxtapose that issue of declaring state of emergency on the food sector with allocation of 1.5 per cent of the national budget to agriculture? It does not add up.   

“There’s no magic that can happen to make the sector viable. We have galloping food inflation and we are not even producing enough and to import is a big issue because of forex. So practically, the agriculture sector is comatose. It is obvious to everybody.” 

For Mr. Kenneth Obiajulu, Founder/CEO, Agricorp, some of the administration’s policies have not been friendly to the sector.

Obiajulu lamented that, “the agricultural sector has not been so great in the last one year. There are a couple of policies that have affected our businesses. For example, the policy of removing poultry from the list of banned commodities has adversely affected our poultry business. All of a sudden, the policy that allows people to import poultry products was introduced after most poultry farmers have invested a reasonable amount of money in our poultry businesses.”

According to him, “the prices of maize and soybeans have gone up and a lot of poultry farms have shut down because they cannot compete with the imported substandard products. So it’s been very tough and everyone is feeling the pinch.”

On the state of emergency declared on the food sector, Obiajulu said, “a state of emergency has been declared but what are the follow up conversations, actions and steps that have been taken? We haven’t significantly seen any of those actions materialise.

“Players in the sector are shutting down their businesses across the value chains. Insecurity is still a major concern to farmers and productivity and output are low. Just last year there was a complete wipe out of ginger production in Kaduna and that’s just one value chain. Every other value chain is suffering one way the other.”

Another stakeholder, Amaka Chukwudum, Founder/CEO of Amicable Mondiale Farms, is pained by the difficulty faced by smallholder farmers in accessing funds and other inputs for production.

Narrating her personal experience in the bid to get a loan from the Bank of Industry (BoI), Chukwudum said, “I heard they were giving women agricultural loan through Bank of Industry (BoI) and I have made efforts to access it but the bottlenecks seem unsurmountable. A simple farmer cannot attain their requirements. The only people that can meet their requirements are those who don’t need the loan.

“I went to BoI to ask for a loan of N10 million and they were asking me to get someone who can stand as a guarantor who has a net worth of property not less than N14 million. In this economy, who is willing to stand for you with their asset? I told them I have 10 acres of land; can’t it be a collateral for me? An acre of land in the area where the land is located is worth N2 million now so 10 acres are worth N20 million. They insisted it must have C of O. How many farmers in Nigeria have C of Os on lands they are farming on? I have my Deed of Assignment and other papers; it’s already fenced round, and my farm project is going on there so why can’t I use it get loan? They said no.

“So the way they kept the simple things a farmer can get shows it’s obviously not the farmer they have in mind. It’s the high networth individuals they have in mind. With the way they set their policies, the real people the loans are meant for cannot access them.

They need to change these policies if they really want to see food in Nigeria. A lot of farms are shutting down because of lack of capital. That’s why beef and chicken are scarce in the market because most of the farmers engaged in those value chains are closing shop. A bag of chicken feed now is N15,000. How many birds can you feed with that and for how many days? How many poultry farmers can afford that? They need to look down to see how to assist the grassroots farmers. I’m not saying government should dash them money. Government and its agencies should make these provisions, especially funds, accessible.”

Chukwudum passionately appealed to government, saying, “there are people who want to do this farming; give them what it takes and see how much food they will produce.”


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