Agriculture has benefited from macroeconomic and structural reforms initiated by the Buhari administration aimed at economic stability, inflation reduction and trade expansion. Analysts say the reforms could pave the way for competitive agricultural operations, if the government takes steps to reduce production costs and enhance the agro business environment, DANIEL ESSIET reports.For watchers, within the last four years, agricultural production has confronted difficulties due to the negative impacts of climate change, high cost of production and natural calamities.
Also, Nigeria faced some challenges in the international market on agricultural produce, including commodities rejection, especially the European Union (EU) ban on Nigerian staples.The EU banned Nigeria’s dried beans in June 2015 because it contained a high level of pesticide dangerous to human health.
In June 2016, the ban was extended by three years because of the presence of dichlorvos (pesticide) in dried beans from Nigeria, and maximum residue levels of pesticides showed that compliance with food law requirement as regards pesticide residual could not be achieved in the short term.
Despite this, with efforts by people from all walks of life and the political will demonstrated by the government, the nation is achieving positive results.
In the four years under review, a series of important policies were introduced to promote key branches in the agriculture sector.
For example, the Federal Government launched the agricultural sector roadmap, known as The Green Alternative, for promotion of agriculture from 2016-2020. It adopted policies to develop the fishery sector, as well as restructuring production of rice and other crops.
More importantly, the government has encouraged more enterprises to invest in rural agriculture while helping farmers and fishermen find consumers for their products.
While Nigeria has not achieved much in other areas, experts believe the nation has made progress in agriculture.
One of those who share this thought is the National President, Federation of Agricultural Commodities of Nigeria (FACAN), Dr Victor Iyama.
Iyama told The Nation that the government had shown some commitment to revamping the sector.
This followed the launch of Green Alternative policy and other programmes, presenting agriculture as a top priority.
According to Iyama, the government has increasingly prioritised agriculture and food security as a national-level driver of economic growth.
Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and agriculture
Iyama said the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had impacted on the agriculture sector in the five-year leadership of Godwin Emefiele.
Through its activities, he said the CBN creatively implemented programmes to diversify the productive base of the economy, through agriculture, thereby conserving foreign exchange.
Aside conserving foreign exchange, he noted that the introduction of the policy that excluded 43 items from accessing foreign exchange from the Nigerian forex markets was largely aimed at improving domestic agriculture production.
In addition, CBN’s engagements with oil palm value chain stakeholders have also been yielding fruits.
It has helped to fast-track investments across the oil palm value chain. Oil palm is on the forex excluded list.
According to analysts, official figures indicate that importation of oil palm had by about 40 per cent from 506,000 metric tonnes (MTs) in 2014 to 302,000 in 2017.
Last year, the CBN governor met with Oil Palm Value Chain Stakeholders, where he rolled out further measures and set a partnership model that would stimulate investments in palm oil plantations, such that within the next five years, the global share of Nigeria’s oil palm production would increase. “Our ultimate vision is to overtake Thailand and Columbia to become the third largest producer in the next 10 years,” Emefiele said at the meeting.
He also told the Oil Palm Value Chain Stakeholders that, “on the finance supply side, the Bankers’ Committee had established a special sub-committee to make recommendations on sustainable financing models for oil palm and four other critical agricultural commodities that include cocoa, sesame seed, shea-butter and cashew.
His engagements with state governors on how to increase oil palm production are also yielding fruits. Emefiele said: “I am happy to announce that all the states in the South-south and South-east regions have agreed to provide at least 100,000 hectares for the oil palm initiative. This programme also accommodates the small holder oil palm farmers.’’
For the country to attain self-sufficiency, Iyama believes that must be committed development of more estate plantations and coordinated partnerships between the small holder plantation farmers and processors.
In his view, the Director-General, Feed Nigeria Summit, Richard-Mark Mbaram, said the hope of improved agricultural yields in Nigeria and indeed Africa has brightened as the Nigerian Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL)has stimulated investment in technology to boost yields and generate gainful employment.
According to him, NIRSAL Plc, a vision of the CBN is exploring ways of bringing technologies to millions of Nigerian farmers to enable them farm efficiently, effectively and sustainably.
One partnership, he noted was NIRSAL ‘s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Heritage Bank Plc, which he said would ensure secured financing of agribusiness within all segments of the agricultural value chain.
He said the partnership was important because it would help farmers to benefit from loans and credit available, at very low interest rates, to pursue commercially viable agricultural projects that have been packaged and fully de-risked.
Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP)
Analysts believe the CBN ’s Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) will ensure Nigeria emerges from being a net importer to becoming a major producer of rice.
As at October last year, according to analysts, thousands of farmers cultivating about 835,239 hectares, across 16 different commodities, have so far benefited from the Anchor Borrowers programme, which has generated 2,502,675 jobs across the country.
By March 15, this year, the CBN committed a total of N171.35 billion in the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme with active participation across the 36 states of the Federation and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), to improve local rice production. Annual rice production in Nigeria has increased to 5.8 million tonnes.
The State Chairman, Kebbi/Sokoto Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, Muhammed Augie said the programme has helped increase local production of the commodity.
He said the programme since inception had created economic linkage between small holder farmers and reputable large-scale processors, thereby increasing agricultural outputs and significantly improving capacity utilisation of processors.
He advised the government to ensure farmers get inputs under the programme before the start of the farming season.
He pleaded that the government ensures rice farmers get loans at five percent interest like rice millers.
Iyama said CBN’s support towards rice production has contributed significantly to the success of the agricultural sector.
Given the success achieved under this programme, the CBN has promised to continue to support it until the full potential of the sector is achieved.
The ABP was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 17, 2015 in Kebbi, aimed at creating a linkage between anchor companies involved in the processing and SHFs of the required key agricultural commodities.
The fund was provided from the N220 billion micro, small and medium enterprises development fund.
ABP evolved from the consultations with stakeholders comprising federal ministry of agriculture and rural development, state governors, millers of agricultural produce, and smallholder farmers to boost agricultural production.
CBN’s intervention in production of tomatoes stands at a little over N10 billion in eight projects. One of the projects is the Dangote Green House tomato manufacturing project, which has the capacity to produce 10 million tomato seedlings monthly. This would be sold to about 5,000 out growers that would grow and supply the tomato factory, which has commenced operations, with tomato fruits. The project has the capacity of generating one million jobs from supporting small holder farmers in tomato cultivation to paste. This project has the capacity to save the Nigerian economy over $250 million annually.
One of the challenges inhibiting agricultural growth is poor infrastructure. Country Director of HarvestPlus, Dr Paul Ilona said farmers face other challenges, particularly from weak links along the agri-business logistics chain.
Ilona said Nigerian farmers are traditionally smallholders, farming less than two hectares of land.
According to him, many of them are located in extremely remote areas.
He said one of the largest structural challenges facing smallholder farmers is the lack of infrastructure,such as roads, railways, irrigation, and power that would enable their access to larger markets, improve the quality of their produce, and facilitate moving up the value chain into agro-processing activities.
With some transporters unwilling to risk damage to their vehicles from substandard roads, Ilona said growers experience difficulties in bringing their crops to market, weakening the supply-chain links to processors, and subsequently leading to produce losses.
Other stakeholders lamented unreliable power supply in the country, which poses significant challenges.
The Group Managing Director, Niji Group,Kola Adeniji, said challenges such as poor agricultural practices, low technological adoption, and poor access to extension services, low quality inputs, and lack of credit has continued to hinder the sector from realising its full potential.
Challenges notwithstanding, he said Nigeria’s agriculture has enormous potential to transform the economy if the government works with the private sector to and make farming much more productive and profitable for smallholder farmers.
Going forward, he said Nigeria needs to improve its policy environment, to enable investments that will allow the farm sector to continue to adapt to the opportunities created by rising demand and the challenges of climate change and limited resources.
According to him, basic rural infrastructure needs to improve as well as investment to keep pace with economic growth.
According to him, Nigeria needs to boost its place in global agro-food markets, in exporting cocoa, cashews and medical marijuana.
He said Nigeria would derive economic benefits from tapping into the marijuana market.
With an estimated value of $145 billion in 2025, he said Nigeria would be short-changing itself if it fails to tap into the legal marijuana market.
He explained that marijuana can earn for the government more money than oil. According to him, a litre of oil is one dollar while a litre of marijuana oil is $15.
Instead of destroying it, he said the Federal Government should control processing of medical marijuana cultivation in controlled plantations under the full supervision of the (National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).