Agriculture Beyond Lip Service


A buzzword is a word or expression that is fashionable to use at a certain time or place after which its usage diminishes. Buzzwords can be used to simplify concepts and ease understanding. But many people use buzzwords without knowing their meaning. For instance, many public officials use buzzwords not to convey factual meaning but to show-off their new knowledge, make their audiences feel on the same page and attract attention. If used in appropriate context and with knowledge of their meaning, buzzwords enrich presentations and help users connect with their audience.

Buzzwords are relished by the media and politicians. Michael Loughlin in his 2002 article ”On the buzzword approach to policy formation”, argues that buzzwords are used in contexts which “privileges rhetoric over reality, producing policies that are ‘operationalized’ first and only ‘conceptualized’ later” and the resulting political speech is always “eschewing reasoned debate and instead employing language exclusively for the purposes of control and manipulation”.Now how buzzwords are related to value chains?

Value chains refer to activities that bring a product from conception through the phases of production, delivery to final consumers and, disposal after use. Agrofood value chain development (VCD) engages stakeholders in promoting chain improvement. Successful VCD requires positive mindsets of stakeholders, creates a platform for activities’ co-ordination with a goal to create shared benefit. VCD is presently a trending buzzword because evidence suggests VCD alleviates poverty and improves food security. VCD is spearheaded by governments, private sector and non-profits. But, how is VCD connected to lip service?

Lip service is the verbal expression of agreement to something unsupported by real conviction or action. It is hypocritical, insincere support expressed for something without action. Since Nigeria realised that one day oil will stop being the backbone of her economy, politicians became fond of verbally expressing their support for agriculture as the route to avoiding impending financial Armageddon. However, this insincere support has never been backed by conviction or action. Now that the trending issue in agriculture is value chains, in their usual manner, politicians have started perfunctory use of value chains with intention to impress, not improve agriculture.

Some instances may help to buttress this point. In August 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari, while receiving the President of IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) who was on a visit, urged Nigerians to stop paying lip service to agriculture and invest in the sector. He admitted that the All Progressives Congress (APC) campaigned heavily with agriculture and promised to use agriculture as alternative to dwindling oil revenue.

The question is: Is it the first time such a statement would be made and no action taken? Certainly not! In November 2016, the House of Representatives in plenary warned the Federal Government of Nigeria to stop paying lip service to agriculture by theorising that agriculture is the way to diversify the nation’s economy. This happened as Rep Emmanuel Akpan of Akwa Ibom moved a motion for the revival of large-scale production of oil palm in the country. Other members hailed the motion as a wake-up call to the executive to implement aspects of the motion.

Celebrating the World Food Day in Port Harcourt in October 2016, the Rivers State Commissioner for Agriculture, Mrs.Onimim Jack, a law graduate, said the event was aimed at bringing together stakeholders in agriculture value chain to showcase and educate farmers and the public on agricultural procedures, technologies and best practices. I began to wonder what best practices can be taught to farmers in a single day’s event. Situations where politicians in the executive and the legislature advise the public to stop paying lip service to value chain development or just passing the buck are alarming. It means they are showing off a trending buzzword or lack ideas on what to do. The cost of their ignorance is huge to the economy.

In November 2016, Dr Sanginga, the DG of International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, while addressing the IITA Board said Africa should stop paying lip service to agriculture because it will cost Africa $110 billion in food imports by 2025. Nigeria has the largest population in Africa and is the continent’s top food importer. So, the warning applies to Nigeria more than any other African country.


Agriculture Minister, Mr. Audu Ogbe, a French graduate, in July 2016 lamented Nigeria’s expenditure (I would say ‘waste’) of $20 billion USD annually on importing food items like rice, wheat, sugar, fish and others. At the present exchange rate of N500 to a USD, it means Nigeria wastes TEN TRILLION NAIRA. Besides high food import bills, other effects of lip service across the agriculture chain include poor consumer protection, poor support for agriculture research and uptake; no loans or loans with difficult hurdles for farmers; inconsistent agriculture sector policies; poor electricity supply, transportation system, storage facilities; weak market access and the like. We need solutions to problems.

The solution is multidimensional. First, we need agricultural professionals to oversee agriculture ministries. The good work of Dr Akinwumi Adesina an Agricultural Economics graduate, as the Minister of Agriculture under Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is self-evident. Ministerial advisers can only advise; but when the Minister is clueless, the wrong advice will be used.

We need a functional agrologistics system. Netherlands, one of the top countries in agrofood value chains development is also the top in agrologistics in the world. Nigeria needs serious upgrade of roads, rail, water, air transport and internet infrastructure, the backbone of logistics. Agricultural value chains cannot develop with underdeveloped agrologistics.
Private sector contribution to agrofood chains development cannot be ignored. In serious countries, agrofood chains are powered by private sector encouraged by government-enabled business environment like strong security; functional public infrastructure; strong legal system, currency and favourable ease of doing business.

The mentality that agrofood development means exposing unemployed youth and women to one-week training and providing them with double- digit thousands of naira to start agro-allied businesses in the name of empowering them for value chain development must change. To create high impact, big and tested entrepreneurs must be encouraged to invest in agriculture.

The rush for primary agricultural products’ export when local food demand is not yet satisfied is not in our best interest. A case in point is the recently celebrated demand by the Chinese for Nigeria’s yam. Nigeria should first develop value chains to provide food and income for Nigerians before going global. What is happening in the oil sector where crude oil is cheaply sold and value-added petroleum products are imported exorbitantly must be avoided in agriculture. Applying these solutions in sincerity and commitment would develop our agrofood value chains sector.