The National Council on Agriculture and Rural Development (NCARD) which has been meeting in Port Harcourt since Monday, have hinged the growth of agriculture to address food security and foreign exchange earnings on active participation of the private sector.
The forum appraised the impact of existing agricultural policies and strategies with a view to making reviews where appropriate and/or articulating new ones.
The theme of the week-long meeting – Agribusiness investment for economic stabilisation, diversification and growth – is a clear departure from popular perception of agriculture as a way of life. The emphasis is now on agriculture as a business.
“The private sector is the driver of agriculture,” remarked Audu Ogbeh, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development in his address on Thursday. “Government only has to provide policy direction and an enabling environment to ensure unhindered participation in the agricultural ecosystem by any party.”
This was buttressed by Heineken Lokpobiri, Minister of state for agriculture, who noted that “investments in agriculture and agribusiness is the easiest way to tackle the deadly problem of unemployment in Nigeria.
“Over the years, the focus of the agricultural sector has been on the conventional methods of harnessing rural domestic human and material resources. However, the commodity value chain strategy adopted since 2011 has been our instrument of resuscitation. This strategy has assisted us to treat agriculture as a business through public-enabled and private-driven initiatives in the use of technology, entrepreneurship, market and partnership to effectively diversify the economy.
Lokpobiri further explained, “in the same manner, the agricultural roadmap of the present administration, the 2016 – 2020 Green Alternative Agricultural Promotion Policy, is consolidating the sectoral development process with the pillars of productivity enhancement, private sector investment, and institutional realignment. This is to harness the country’s comparative advantage for competitiveness in the global market.”
Kabiru Ibrahim, national president, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), who spoke with BusinessDay by phone expressed optimism in the current policy directions on agriculture.
According to Ibrahim, “the present Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) is working. It is a very good step in the right direction but we just need to harness all the deliverables that are there.”
Also commenting on the private sector’s willingness to support agribusiness growth, Abimbola Okoya, general manager, British-American Tobacco Foundation (BATN), said the main focus is on smallholder farmers; moving them from subsistence farming to commercialised orientation.
Okoya explained that “The reason we are here is because we presented a memo, making a number of presentations based on a review of the green alternative so as to ensure that smallholder farmers are well instituted within the implementation process of policy making.
“We looked at several key issues and we are going to be working with the ministry to facilitate the adoption of some of the recommendations that were made. The idea is that all sectors need to work together for the development of agriculture. Small holder farmers make up more than 70 percent of the agricultural sector. So it is important that we empower them and ensure their voice is heard at different levels.”
On his part, Audu Ogheh enjoined National commodity organisations, Niger AgriBusiness Group (NABG), All Farmer Association of Nigeria (AFAN), CORET, and Miyyetti Allah cattle breeders association of Nigeria (MACBAN) to continue partnering with FMARD and state governments to prevent clashes between farmers and pastoralists. He also sought the development of early intervention and redress system to prevent crises in each commodities sector like the giant worm infestation for maize, tuta absoluta in tomatoes and avian influenza in poultry sector.
Ogbeh noted, “The global and national market is out there; the world is waiting. We must meet these targets because it is safer to tell ourselves that the era of oil and gas is reaching an end. To service our increasing debts and meet our internal obligations, we must embark massively on this Agene.
“Of course, other sectors such as solid minerals will play their role but our concern is Agriculture. We owe the future generations a duty to plan for a robust, research bases, income generating, sustainable agricultural ecosystem for Nigeria,” said Ogbeh.
Recent achievements highlighted in the course of the NCARD include the restoration of the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) through support from the National Assembly; the return of universities of agriculture to the federal ministry of agriculture (from ministry of education); the restructuring of the Bank of Agriculture and; the reduction in rice importation from 580,000 metric tonnes in 2015, to 58,000 metric tonnes in 2016.