As the year 2014 winds down in Nigeria’s agriculture history, it is important to highlight the copious concerns and expectations that are being raised by citizens, especially the farmers. Mohammed Kandi writes:
By Mohammed Kandi
The country’s agriculture sector have hitherto remained the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy even as it has persevere with decades of looming corruption, diminutive budgetary allotment, inadequate technology for mechanisation, absent of enabling laws, policy inconsistency, lack of political will by successive governments, as well as reneging on various local and international treaties, declarations, MoUs, amongst others.
Agriculture is crucial to most farming communities in Nigeria. But, their aspiration of achieving greatness and a capacity to put food on the table for every family on the continent via aggressive (modern) farming seems to have hit brick walls. Food production is threatened by the country’s over-dependent on the oil sector, thereby plunging the populace into abject poverty. Nigerian farming communities have over the years relied on agriculture in most cases to generate income to cater for their daily needs—feeding, to be able to meet the education and health needs of their families and so on.
Although the last three years of activities in the agricultural sector have been adjudged to have recorded an unprecedented improvement in all ramifications—from individual farmer production to the country’s general food production, and the agricultural value chains, the achievements are still not without some hitches and drama.
Meanwhile, the 2014 agricultural year culminated into unhealthy misunderstanding between the current agriculture minister, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina and one of his predecessors, Dr Adamu Bello, rating the former’s regime on the bases of the annual GDP growth as a measure of his performance. The later had stated according to recent media reports earlier claims that a total of N870 billion was spent on subsidy for fertilizers by the past administration. He was reacting to Adesina’s earlier claim that N26 billion was corruptly taken on subsidy annually over a period of 40 years, but that only N2.9 billion actually reached the farmers annually.
Also, Adesina who is the incumbent Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development went further to list some of the achievements he has recorded since assuming office to justify his claim that he has done better for the Ministry and the country at large than Bello, who served as Minister of Agriculture between 2001 to 2007.
His words: “Private sector investment into agriculture has risen to unprecedented level within the last three years, arising from both local and foreign direct investment because of the current reforms in the agricultural sector. This in¬cludes the decision by Dan¬gote on August 2014 to invest $1 billion in commercial rice production in Nigeria, which was the largest ever single in¬vestment on food production in Africa. Currently, Olam’s investment of $70 million in a fully mechanised rice farm is visible in Nassarawa State in response to the investor-friendly policy under the Adesina’s leadership in the ministry of agriculture.”
Nevertheless, most analysts considered the feud as having some political undertone as they believe that all the farmer needs is for the government to provide for him a favourable platform that will boost production on his farmland, and obviosly, even the current Adesina led agricultural sector is yet to sharply address the major constraints.
The total allocation to the agriculture sector in the proposed 2014 budget declined by 20.06 per cent to N66.64 billion in 2014 compared with N83.37 billion in 2013. This was contrary to the Maputo Declaration which Nigeria was one of the signatories.
African Heads of State and Government had during the Second Ordinary Assembly of the African Union in July 2003 in Maputo, endorsed the “Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa” (Assembly/AU/Decl. 7(II)). The Declaration contained several important decisions regarding agriculture, but prominent among them was the “commitment to the allocation of at least 10 percent of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development policy implementation within five years”.
Another contending issue bedeviling the country’s agriculture is absent of biosafety law that will guarantee safety measures in the practice of agricultural biotechnology in Nigeria, a system that has enhance global food production in all the countries using it.
At the moment, the bill awaits Presidential assent to become a law even though it passes through the entire huddle in the country’s National Assembly. In fact, members of both Chambers lauded the bill and said it is the only instrument that can improve agriculture and change the nation’s fortunes for good.
During a recent Monsanto/National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) dinner in Abuja, the Senate committee chairman on science and technology, Sen. Ajayi Boroffice, in his speech, said he was optimistic that President Goodluck Jonathan would assent the bill as soon as possible as it was in the interest of the nation.
Similarly, the deputy chairman, House committee on privatization, Hon. Uzoma Abonta, said, “We have a bill before the National Assembly on the biosafety laws…Oil cannot give us all the food we need, we need an alternative to oil and that can be found in agriculture. Therefore, biosafety law is the only law that will engineer agriculture and bring about food production.”
These are a few testimonies coming from the law makers in order to buttress the scientist viewpoints which have been receiving some boots from the opposition, subjective attacks globally.
At a recent for a, scientists at the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa, said “numerous studies and evidence-based fact-finding missions have shown that biotechnology-derived products have been proven to be economically viable, environmentally sustainable and as safe as their conventional counterparts.”
They added that properly integrated into traditional farming systems, biotechnology applications could make a difference in improving food security in Africa and other developing countries at large.
OFAB findings reveal that since 1996, biotechnology-derived crops have been commercially planted and their adoption has been increasing steadily. These researchers also reveal that 11 countries growing these crops are from the developing world, for example Brazil.
A lot of actors are still mystified on the fact that Nigeria, a country with huge agricultural potentials such as vast arable land, water resources and manpower is still lagging behind in its effort to domesticate agricultural biotechnology.
Nigeria signed and ratified an internationally binding Biosafety Protocol Known as Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in 2000 and 2002 respectively.
The Protocol entered into came into force on the 11th September 2003 and currently has 160 members. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety addresses the safe transfer, handling and use of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) that may have adverse effects on conservation and sustainable utilization of biodiversity, taking into account risk to human health.
As a signatory, Nigeria made efforts at domesticating the Cartagena protocol with the National Biosafety Management Agency Bill 2011 which was initially passed by the 6th National Assembly but was not assented to by the President because it was passed a day before the end of the life of that Assembly.
However, the Nigerian farming communities, agricultural associations, the local and international NGOs, the international organisation are always eager to know what the sector holds for the country’s dwindling economy and what different idea, strategies and action plans those at the helms of affairs have got to salvage and resuscitate the Nigeria’s frustrated agricultural sector. The people’s expectations are high and the time to act is now.