When the Federal Government introduced the electronic system of fertiliser subsidy administration in 2012, many skeptics, including farmers themselves, doubted the government’s sincerity and as such never gave it any chance of success.
Their cynicism stemmed from the fact that most farmers, particularly smallholder farmers, had never benefitted from the government’s subsidised fertiliser distribution programme on which billions of naira had been spent over the past 40 years.
the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwuni Adesina, said that the new fertiliser distribution arrangement was introduced due to the outcome of some studies.
He said that the studies revealed that only 11 per cent of the country’s estimated 70 million farmers had been able to access the subsidised fertiliser over the past four decades.
He added that the studies also revealed the fertiliser distribution scheme had been hijacked by “political farmers’’ who made the product available to their cronies and relatives as well as middlemen who, in turn, sold it in the open market at cut-throat prices.
Genuine farmers were shortchanged and they were forced to procure fertiliser at exorbitant prices orchestrated by the shylock fertiliser merchants.
However, after two years of the implementation of the innovative fertiliser subsidy system known as the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GES), there have been several testimonies about the scheme.
Farmers, agro-dealers, agri-businessmen and women, agriculture sector watchers and other stakeholders acknowledge that the scheme is working very well in spite of some challenges.
They describe the scheme as the best fertiliser subsidy programme ever conceived and implemented in the country.
Aformer Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa said: “For somebody to say nothing is being done in agriculture, to me, it is strange; since the beginning of this country, this is best agric policy; anybody who says anything contrary will have to give reasons.
“As a participant in agriculture, and I have been part of government before; I have never seen a well-focused and a more articulated agric policy than that of this government.
“The number of integrated mills in the country has increased from one to 15 through the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) scheme.
“The policies are well-defined and straightforward; we that are in the processing industry are seeing the reality of the programme,’’ Aondoakaa added.
The fertiliser subsidy regime is the flagship programme of the Federal Government under its Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA).
Through the programme, fertiliser and seeds are allocated to registered farmers via an electronic system known as the “e-wallet’’.
Observers note that this is the first time that a database of Nigerian farmers is being developed.
Under the system, implemented via a public-private-partnership (PPP), registered farmers receive their allocation of fertiliser and improved variety of maize or rice seeds via their mobile phones and they are directed to go to identified Redemption Centres to redeem their allocations.
Under the arrangement, the farmer pays 50 percent of the cost of the fertiliser, while the Federal and state governments defray the balance. The improved seeds are, however, given to the farmers free of charge.
Within two years of implementation, the support scheme has been expanded to include other aspects of agriculture apart from crops, such as livestock, fisheries, cassava cuttings and oil palm, among others.
In more pragmatic terms, the agricultural transformation programme is aimed at diversifying the nation’s economy away from oil and restoring the glory of agriculture in the nation’s scheme of things.
Following the discovery of oil in the 60s and the oil boom in the early 70s, with attendant phenomenal increase in oil revenues, the agriculture sector was somewhat neglected.
Gradually, Nigeria metamorphosed into an import dependent nation with growing, massive food imports.
Adesina said that studies by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development revealed that Nigeria’s food import bill peaked at approximately 11 billion dollars in 2011.
In specific terms, wheat imports cost N635 billion (3.8 billion dollars), rice imports N356 billion (2.3 billion dollars); sugar, N217 billion (1.3 billion dollars) and fish, N97 billion (582 million dollars).
Speaking on the objectives of the ATA, the minister’s aide, Mr Adetunji Oredipe, said: “We want to cut our food imports and build up the production levels of our local farmers.
“The Agricultural Transformation Agenda Programme (ATAP) is also a means of developing the rural areas, reducing the poverty rate as well as checking the exodus of people to big cities such as Abuja and Lagos.’’
The minister once unveiled ATA targets and these include adding 20 million tonnes to domestic food production by 2015, creating 3.5 million jobs in the agriculture sector by 2015 and providing more than N300 billion of additional income for Nigerian farmers.
Other targets are making Nigeria self-sufficient in rice production by 2015 and reducing the level of wheat importation by substituting 20 per cent of bread wheat flour with high-quality cassava flour.
On the successes so far recorded, Adesina said that so far, the scheme had improved the food security situation of not less than 30 million persons in rural farm households.
He said that 6.4 million registered farmers had received agricultural inputs under the GES programme, while the number of registered farmers was expected to hit 10 million this year.
“The system is working. In the past two years, the system has reached 6.4 million smallholder farmers and it has enhanced the food security of 30 million persons in rural farm households.
“Women farmers, who never got fertilisers and seeds under the old system, now have better yielding fields with subsidised farm inputs which they receive through their own mobile phones. Dignity has been restored to farmers,’’ he said.
Similarly, the minister stressed that the number of seed companies had grown from 11 to 77, with the three largest seed companies in the world — Syngenta, Monsanto and Dupont – planning to establish seed companies in Nigeria.
He also said that 3,000 small and medium agribusinesses in the input supply chain had sprung up across the country as part of the feats of the GES.
Adesina noted that the country’s food import bill had dropped from N2.3 billion to N1.8 trillion within the past two years, while 15 million tonnes of food had been added to the country’s food stock within the period.He expressed the optimism that Nigeria would become self-sufficient in rice production by 2015.
The minister, however, attributed the successes so far recorded to several factors which included the adoption of a new approach to managing agriculture as a business venture rather than a development programme.
Besides, Adesina said that the government’s partnership with the private sector, which also focused on the value chains of all commodities, spurred the progress.
“We have stated it clear from the beginning that agriculture would no longer be treated as a development programme but as a business concern.
“Our approach was deliberate: We want to grow the agriculture sector, using the private sector to drive the growth, while focusing on value chains for all commodities and connecting farms to mills, aggregators, storage, improved logistics, processors and value addition.’’
Observers note that these innovative ideas and the successes of the agricultural transformation programme have earned a lot of recognition for Nigeria and its agriculture minister at home and abroad.
In recent times, delegations of farmers from different states across the country have paid courtesy visits to the minister to convey their appreciation for the feats which the agricultural transformation programme recorded within two years.
More importantly, in 2013, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) listed Nigeria among the countries which had achieved Goal One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — reducing by halve the number of people living in abject poverty and hunger.
Besides, Adesina won the Forbes magazine award as the “2013 Africa’s Personality of the Year’’. Recently, he was also named an “Ambassador of Goodwill’’ by the International Crops Research Institute for the Sahel and Tropics (ICRISAT).
In spite of these achievements, the minister stressed that it was not yet “Uhuru’’ because there were still some serious challenges, as revealed by an independent survey commissioned by the ministry.
Similarly, some of the lapses observed in the GES by farmers and agro-dealers include late delivery of fertilisers, late payment by the government, difficulty in accessing bank loans and distant location of redemption centres.
The survey listed the major challenges as infrastructure, finance, supply security and government regulations, tax and policies. Others are human capital, security, land and government coordination.
However, Adesina said that efforts were underway to tackle these challenges frontally, adding that one of the strategies entailed the development of Staple Crops Processing Zones (SCPZs).
The SCPZs are expected to create 250,000 jobs across the country, while adding N1.4 trillion to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The minister said that the Ministries of Agriculture and Finance, in partnership with the German Development Bank, had set up the Fund for Agricultural Financing (FAFIN).
FAFIN is a private equity, quasi-equity and debt fund which will provide 100 million dollars in long-term finance to agribusinesses.
As part of efforts to consolidate the gains of the agriculture transformation programme, the Organised Private Sector (OPS), which comprises about 20 companies, established the Nigerian Agribusiness Group.
The major objective of the group is to help drive the ongoing regulatory and policy reforms so as to ensure that they are well protected and sustained.
The group is expected to work closely with the government in efforts to further improve the business environment in agriculture.
With the 2015 target date for the MDGs and ATA around the corner, agricultural stakeholders expect a quantum leap in the successes so far recorded.
They express doubts that the lean budgetary allocation of N36 billion to the agriculture sector in the 2014 appropriation may not achieve the desired results, as it represents a very significant drop when compared to the 2013 allocation of N81.41 billion
The stakeholders note that the figure falls far short of the 10 per cent of the annual budget recommended by the African Heads of State in their 2003 Maputo Declaration, which only eight countries, excluding Nigeria, have so far achieved.