Participants at a recent workshop on agriculture in Abuja were unanimous that past efforts by government and multilateral agencies to place agriculture on the front scale in Nigeria have not met much success.
The experts attributed the partial success to many factors which include lack of access to mechanized farming, dearth of enhanced seedlings and fertilizers as well as inconsistency in government policies.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe, who spoke on the realities in the Nigerian agricultural sector, said Nigeria spends about $20billion on food imports yearly.
This was corroborated by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) which reported that agriculture’s contribution to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had decreased from N4.5b in the fourth quarter of 2015 to N3.2b in the first quarter of 2016.
The bid to address the problem has led to various suggestions, some of which have been experimented with little or no success. The out-going president of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Alhaji Ibrahim Ahmad Karaye, in his contribution on the issue recently hinged the economic development of Nigeria on involving the local government councils in agricultural programmes.
He said as Nigeria is an agrarian society with the agricultural sector contributing about 24 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 70 percent of the rural populace and depending on agriculture for livelihood, the development of the sector is indispensable to national growth.
A researcher and agriculturalist, Bunmi Oteniya, also believes that the involvement of the local government in implementing policies and strategies for government in agriculture would go a long way in achieving the aims and objectives of the government for the sector.
“The top to bottom approach which has seen implementation from federal level trickling down to the grassroots has been largely responsible for this, therefore a process of bottoms-up approach should be worked out as it promises to be more effective in achieving government policies,” he said.
Reference has however been made to a recent experiment in ALGON which adopted a bottom-up approach through a comprehensive plan known as C-LAP aimed at involving the 774 local governments in the 36 states of the federation in the implementation of an agricultural programme.
The initiators said this would help small scale farmers move from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture.
C-LAP is an acronym for Comprehensive Local Agriculture Plan and is an integrated and participatory action plan for the development of LGAs in agriculture and allied sectors aimed at adding value to Nigeria’s agricultural raw materials and to integrate Nigeria into world agricultural markets.
The project coordinator, Balraj Sikka, said: “The goal is for the C-LAP to assess current agricultural potentials in each LGA by understanding its production patterns, marketing and other factors that will either constrain or provide opportunities for future growth of agriculture.
“The scope of work of work of the consortium will be designing of comprehensive agricultural development plans for each LGA, under C-LAP, procurement of tractors with implements and farm machinery would be provided for each of the LGAs.”
He said a model would be designed in each of the LGAs keeping in view agro-climatic conditions, cropping patterns, soil and irrigation facilities, type of the precision facilities available and the manpower for managing farms and imparting training as well as know-how to farmers.
The ALGON president, explaining why the association took to the initiative, said it was because the main focus of his association was on agricultural revolution which would involve LGAs with micro level planning and new technologies to the farming communities.
“We set out with the idea to ultimately get to a point where Nigeria could stop importation of food products particularly rice by producing locally for import substitution and export and ensure that CLAP activities will demonstrate new technologies for higher productivity and will result in agricultural revolution in Nigeria,” he said. He said this is because agriculture forms the best weapons against hunger and poverty.
Listing some of the benefits expected, Karaye said this would result in enhanced security for farmers, increased and sustainable food supplies and measurable economic growth in developing nations.
The ALGON president also stated that it would create 10,000 direct jobs and over a million indirect jobs in the next five years, generate over a trillion naira in wealth at the grassroots level and lead to the creation of a mega food park for agricultural processing in each state.
Sikka, who explained the working of the project, said it was designed as a food mart retail chain model to create a network that delivers the agricultural produce straight to the doorsteps of consumers.
“It will also strengthen the entire value chain from seed to plate with a shorter value chain ensuring the remunerative prices to the farmers and availability of quality food stuff at their door steps without any additional cost at competitive prices.
“We are sure that the project will aggregate the produce from 774 farms across the country with efficient supply chain and logistics and linking these farms to a national retail chain, wholesale markets and mega food parks will result in enhancing the net income. It will also create business opportunities for franchise operators, jobs for the youth, reduce wastage of agricultural produce as there is a defined retail network to absorb production,” he said.
But some have pointed out the possible challenges it might face due to the reverse pattern of implementation, saying it might lead to delays, thereby slowing down the entire process.
“When it starts from the grassroots, the tendency is that the other tiers of government may not be compelled to monitor it as their cooperation is needed to ensure it is not restricted to one particular area but the entire country,” said a stakeholder, Umar Aliyu.
But recent cooperation with the state governments through the platform of the Nigerian Governors Forum has dispelled this fear.
“Further, it will empower farmers and agriprenures through self-employment as an option for their additional income or a full- fledged livelihood sustainability and create opportunities for private investors to invest in food chains and finally the business can be taken to the capital market in three to four years so that ALGON has a major benefit and sustain at its own,” he added.