As Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for more than three years, Audu Ogbeh has made some significant decisions in trying to solve the surge of food insecurity in the country as well as encourage local farmers produce more, to ensure food availability.
Mr Ogbeh, a former national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), from 2001 until January 2005, left politics briefly and became a farmer in 2009, kick-starting his career in the agricultural sector.
He hails from Benue State and is of Idoma ethnic nationality.
He assumed office as minister in the Buhari Administration in December 2015, with the stated aim of restoring the lost glory of the agricultural sector, which before the turn to oil in the 1970s, used to be the main driver of Nigeria’s economy.
However, before Mr Ogbeh’s appointment, the APC government, in its manifesto, made promises to revive the country’s agricultural research institutes and also promised to strengthen veterinary practices in the country.
Looking at the infrastructural arm of the sector, the APC promised that it would move the nation to all year round small, medium, and commercial farming through coordinated integrated irrigation by the nation’s existing dams, as well as the creation of more dams to collect floodwaters nationwide.
Equally, the minister played a significant role in resolving the bloody clashes between herders and farmers in states like Benue, Taraba, Kaduna, and Plateau.
On March 3, 2016, seeking to mollify this opposition, Mr Ogbeh announced the government was sending a bill to the National Assembly to prohibit cattle from roaming in cities and villages.
The minister, in three years at the federal cabinet, made some notable success, by proposing the National Ranching Policy to solve the menace between sedentary farmers and the wandering cattlemen, noting that ranching remains the best solution to end the crises.
But he faced a lot of criticisms as he was caught in between parties asking if he was working for Mr Buhari, or if he was representing the people of Benue State who suffered many losses in the Pastoral Conflict.
Concerning the National Ranching Policy, the affected states refused to let go of their lands. The states noted that for their land to be used for such purposes, such lands must be acquired either by lease or purchase.
Here are some key policy initiatives the minister has achieved as a political appointee:
Food production capacity
As Nigeria’s population growth speeds faster than what the country produces in its food production capacity, the likelihood of food crisis remains certain.
The minister, over the year, launched a series of agricultural policies to assist women and local farmers in cultivation of crops. In 2016, launched a roadmap for the agriculture sector, tagged: “The Green Alternative: Agriculture Promotion Policy, 2016-2020.’’
Also the launching of the second phase of the Agricultural Equipment Hiring Enterprise (AEHE), under the Mechanisation Intervention Programme (MIP), and the National Gender Action Plan, NGAP, in the agricultural sector to boost women farmers knowledge, skill and approach to go into large-scale farming.
The ministry facilitated the 13.1billion Euros honeybee project in 2016, as part of the Nigerian Apiculture Platform in partnership with the African Union Inter-Bureau for Animal Resources.
It also said as the global market for bee products was impressive, about 200,000 beehives would be distributed to farmers to increase the vibrancy of the Apiculture industry in the country.
Moving Universities under the umbrella of FMARD
Mr Ogbeh proposed a committee at the Federal Executive Council in 2017, to remove the three Federal Universities at Umudike, Abeokuta, and Makurdi from the Federal Ministry of Education (FMOE), to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD).
The ministry said once the process of moving the university was concluded, it would love to increase the number of the Universities to 15.
“India has 87 Universities of Agriculture and you know they are exporting rice to us. Brazil has 70 Universities of Agriculture and they are exporting rice to us.”
The ministry succeeded in reducing the country’s importation of five major food commodities, namely rice, wheat, sugar, tomatoes, and milk by saving $800 million at 60 per cent from 2015 to 2018. According to the ministry, the country only spent $678.6 million at the end of 2017 on the importation of the five commodities.
But, it faced criticisms when the United States’ Department of Agriculture’s World Markets and Trade recently said more than three million metric tonnes of rice had been imported into Nigeria in 2018, Although the federal government and the Central Bank of Nigeria denied the claims.
The ministry officially exported 72 metric tonnes of yam to China, the United Kingdom, and the US in 2017, as part of efforts to reduce dependence on oil and increase income from the agricultural sector. Nigeria is expected to export food and earn foreign exchange in the region of $10.0 billion annually over the next four years. It was sadly reported that the yams were found to be rotten upon arrival in the US.
National Rice production project
Empowerment on Local Rice Farmers- In support to encourage local rice farmers, 50 local rice farmers in Oyo state benefited from over N7 million FADAMA grant to support local rice farmers to bring down the price of commodity. In 2018, the ministry trained 100 rice farmers in Kebbi, as part of efforts to boost rice production in the country.
Recently, the ministry approved N60 billion in support of its rice subsidy programme aimed at bringing down the price of the commodity across the country.
Also, Ogun State launched a rice plantation at Eggua, in Yewa North Local Government Area of the state for the production of local Mitros (Ofada) rice with the apex bank giving farmer credit at five percent interest rate as part of the Federal government strategy to increase food production and self- sustainability in the country.
Recent initiatives by the ministry include an intervention fund to support rice farmers, millers, and marketers; Goldmax Total Crop Protection’, a homegrown Solution to Curtail Fall Armyworm (FAW) attacks on crops particularly maize grains; FADAMA Graduate Unemployed Youth and Women Support (GUYS) in line with the Green Alternative policy, as the initiative has trained 5,916 candidates, competitively selected in 23 states in collaboration with 60 training institutions across the country; An agreement with John Deere Tractor manufacturers to acquire 10,000 tractors as part of its policy to promote mechanised agriculture in the country; the Climate Change Adaptation and Agribusiness Support Programme (CASP) for erosion-prone, farm connected market roads and rehabilitation of degraded rangeland, cutting across seven states in the Savannah Belt of the country.
The minister of Defence, Mansur Dan Ali, said the anti-open grazing law passed by the Benue State House of Assembly and signed by the state governor, Samuel Ortom, was the cause of the killings.
Mr Ogbeh however said the anti-grazing law was not the problem and was never the cause of the problem. He then proposed ”Cattle Colony”.
The ministry acquired 100 hectares of land at Gaobe, in Kuje Area Council of the FCT for the establishment of the skill acquisition centre in FCT to train women and youths on aquaculture.
“The young people are not happy with us. We need to find jobs for them. The African economy is not doing very well. Even oil and gas will not employ a million workers at the best of time and we are heading for 500 million people in 34 years.
The agriculture sector created six million jobs in the last two years, both on and off farms, as a result of the huge increase in local rice production.
Agricultural Research Institutes
The minister, however, did not do much concerning reviving the country Agricultural Research Institute as the APC had promised in 2015.
The minister inaugurated the Board of Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) in 2018.
He visited the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria, urging researchers in the country to conduct researches into Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to ascertain whether they are harmful or not.
Finally, the ministry promised it will re-design the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) programme to boost farmers’ access to farming inputs across Nigeria.