Fears over policy somersault –

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While developments in the sector have shown signs of hope, rising interest rate and constraints in credit expansion remain major concerns to players, DANIEL ESSIET reports.

For analysts, this year is likely to be challenging; one that would test the resilience of economy. This is because of the delays in projects spending, weak credit extension and political uncertainty.

According to the analyst, the  uncertain political    outlook   would prove  that  purposeful      leadership is  a factor in reducing regulatory burdens on farmers.

For months, businesses held their breath, awaiting the outcome of the forhhcoming presidential election.

Experts said the policy goals would go a long way in improving the outlook for agriculture.

Stakeholders are watching with keen interest the two major political parties – People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) – that are expected to produce the next president. Presidential and gubernatorial/assembly elections are scheduled for February.

Although citizens saw mild protests last year, the experts expect relative stability and growth to pick up from early March.

Speaking with The Nation, a World Bank Consultant, Prof Martins Anetekhai said stakeholders were awaiting the outcome of the elections before making business decisions. The uncertainty following the prolonged electioneering is expected to continue hanging over the economy, stifling private sector activity. In addition to the political outcome, watchers expect a drought or late rains which could weigh down agricultural output.

In most agricultural areas of the North, short rains could be below average. However, long rains in some areas will sustain high agricultural labour demand and facilitate food production.  As a result, deterioration in food security is most likely to be gradual.

The interest rate also remains a concern amid reported constraints in credit expansion, leading to reduced private sector investment. Although government development spending has increased considerably over the past two years, slow implementation of public infrastructure projects could limit growth, according to analysts.

Despite this, Anetekhai sees a promising economic outlook.

He expects the government to continue with its pro-business and pro-international investment approach.

The Federation of Agricultural Commodities Association of Nigeria (FACAN) President, Dr. Victor Iyama, said the sector would do well given the recent increased emphasis on increasing the sector’s share of Gross Domestic Product(GDP) in the coming years.

Iyama said infrastructural constraints weren’t the only obstacles in the sector.  He said there was an urgent need for the government to improve the productivity of the agriculture to foster inclusive GDP growth.

 

Budget for Agric

The Federal Government proposed N138 billion as the 2019 budget for the sector, representing 1.56 per cent as against 10 per cent recommended by the Maputo Declaration of 2003. If approved, the ministry would get N80, 290,007,947 as its capital budget with total recurrent expenditure pegged at N57, 677,415,129.

President Muhammadu Buhari during his budget presentation at the National Assembly in Abuja restated his commitment to developing the sector by refinancing the Bank of Agriculture (BoA) and the Bank of Industry (BoI) with N15 billion and another N10 billion.

Last year, the ministry proposed N53.8 billion as recurrent expenditure and N149.19 billion as capital budget as against N31.75 billion recurrent and N103.79 capital expenditure in 2017.

But the N80.29 billion proposed for the capital projects in the agriculture ministry is much lower than the proposed budget in 2018 (N149.19 billion), representing 2.2 per cent and N103.79 billion in 2017 representing 1.38 per cent.

Moreover, the budget for more than a decade has been marginal, indicating the government’s seriousness to feed its growing population projected by the United Nations to hit 398 million by  2050.

Anetekhai said Nigeria needs to enforce good agric practices that would ensure the long-term sustainability of the production systems for food security. He noted, however, that agriculture reform and development would form a major part of the government’s efforts.

Anetekhai said so much had been achieved on the continent towards formulating polices on addressing  food security challenge in Africa.

Iyama expects farmers to make efforts in growing crops, such as yams, cassava, citrus fruits and rice.  A key plank of his recommendations is ensuring farmers’access better input, notably seeds and fertiliser.

 

Coming of younger farmers

Farmers, who are younger and business- and tech-savvy, are transforming the shrinking agriculture sector with cutting-edge techniques and marketing strategies, giving new hope to an industry  that was in slow decline. They are bonding to improve the  sector.

Iyama said the federation has priorities, including working with youths this year, to push farmers to go high-tech, setting standards among farms, boosting productivity and lowering costs, building capacity and developing manpower.

On boosting productivity and building capacity, he said the federation hopes infrastructure could be built to help farms share resources, such as cold rooms or packaging areas, and to conduct technology-sourcing trips abroad. The sharing of resources will help to reduce capital investments for individual farms and lower operating costs.

He said the federation also wants to use young farmers to boost local demand for home-grown produce.

Low crop prices are here to stay as traders see gluts hiting bumper cassava harvests, which may make it harder for small farmers  to make money buying and selling   such  produce.  Gluts may push crop prices to near the lowest.

 

Value chain devt

Iyama said there would be huge efforts towards developing food and agriculture value chains. Companies, such as Transcorp, Honeywell, Flour Mills of Nigeria, Dangote, and Bua Group, are expected to make investments spanning multiple points along the food and agriculture value chain.

Iyama stressed the need for focus on market opportunities for food crops and engaging private sector towards promoting sustainability and resilience in food value chains.

 

Food export

Nigeria is expected to export food and earn foreign exchange of about $10 billion yearly over the next four years.

Iyama said there would be concerted efforts to reduce dependence on oil and increase income from the sector.

 

 Boosting rice production

Kano-based Amarava Rice Mill is targeting 500 tonnes production daily by June, just as it hits 250 tonnes to boost local self-sufficiency.

Many states will continue their programmes to encourage local rice farmers.

Agitation will be sustained to get the government to give farmer credit at five percent interest rate as part of the strategy to increase food production and self- sustainability in the country.

 

Farmers-herders crisis

Stakeholders will expect the conversation to continue on the anti-open grazing and cattle colony as states refused to let go of their lands.

 

GES Programme

Stakeholders expect the government to re-design the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) programme to boost farmers’access to farming input across Nigeria.

 

Investors coming for  agrifood start-ups

This year will witness the coming of more investors seeking  agrifood start-ups. Many  stage start-ups in agrifood technology have emerged promoting innovations that  will improve the efficiency and sustainability of the food supply chain. Founder of Tech Circle, Oo. Nwoye expects investors to provide hands-on assistance for early-stage startups to commercialise as well as mentor and connect them to potential clients.

 

Tackling weather problems

Torrential rains could destroy farms. The rains in some areas  struck fruit and vegetable production sites, leaving farmers devastated. Torrential rains could cause  heavy damage to agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries.  The government should plan how to ameliorate the effects of such disasters.

These should include the provision of interest-free loans to agriculture, forestry and fisheries enterprises for five years, and requests to financial institutions for a moratorium on debt payments by disaster victims. A crippling drought have ravaged  vast tracts of  pastorallands, decimating herds and putting desperate farmers under intense financial and emotional strain, with little relief in sight.

 

Govt’s  devt plan

Experts remain skeptical of the government’s agric development plan. An expert told The Nation that he was not confident of such a plan given the lack of consistency in government policies.

 

Ban maize import

Farmers, through Maize Association of Nigeria (MAAN), want the government to ban maize importation to encourage local production.

The association’s National President Alhaji Bello Abubakar, reacting to a recent publication by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) on a request by Grand Cereals Limited to import maize, said the move was ‘unpatriotic’and targeted at thwarting the efforts of farmers and the government toward achieving self-sufficiency in maize production.

According to him, farmers produce enough and better maize to feed the country than what is being imported.

“Our last year’s production was 15 million tonnes and this year, we produced 20 million tonnes of maize and the required quantity for all maize processors in Nigeria is about eight million tonnes.

“The government intervention in the agricultural sector has put in place the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) to encourage local production of agricultural commodities, including maize.

“MAAN is executing the ABP in 19 states which has empowered about 100,000 on and off farm employment. “This contribution of MAAN, if complemented by other large-scale maize grain users, will create more than one million on and off farm employment in the maize value chain.

“Therefore, we request that the importation of maize grain in any form is considered counter-productive to agricultural development in Nigeria and should be discouraged in its entirety,’’ he said.

 

Late distribution of input

Farmers have identified late distribution of input to beneficiaries as a major challenge to the Nigerian government’s Anchor Borrowers Programme.

Last year, farmers lamented that seeds, chemicals and fertiliser were distributed late to beneficiaries while some of the input were substandard and had expired by the time they got them.

They identified provision of input, credit facility at single digit interest rate and good market prices for farmers as critical factors that government must consider if agriculture was expected to drive the economy.

Repayment of ABP loans

So many rice farmers defaulted in repaying the first phase of the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP).

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