The Federal Government’s plan to diversify the economy received a boost on Monday with the launch of a four-year agricultural blueprint tagged “Green Alternative: The Agriculture Promotion Policy 2016-2020.”
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, at the public presentation of the scheme, said it would involve the employment of 100,000 agricultural extension workers by the Federal Government, to provide support services to farmers. The extension workers will be taken from the 500,000 teachers currently being recruited by the Federal Government.
The Vice President explained that the government will address the problem of finance, which is the major hindrance to the development of the agricultural sector, by recapitalising the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) and mandating it to offer single digit loan to farmers. Current interest rates on loans available to farmers are double digit, which is not realistic for agricultural ventures.
In his remarks at the occasion, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, hinted that the Green Alternative is built on five major strategic thrusts. These include achievement of self-sufficiency in food production, reduction in import dependence, stimulation of agro export for foreign exchange earnings, enhancement of wealth and job creation, and achievement of economic diversification.
Ogbeh further explained that some of the government’s key targets within the planned period include growing the agriculture sector between six and 12 per cent annually, doubling agricultural household income in six to 12 years, integrating agricultural commodity value chains into the broader supply chain, driving job and wealth growth, as well as enhancing capacity for foreign exchange earnings. He said that government will work with state governments to put the over 200 dams across the country to use.
Interestingly, the minister made it clear that the new agric policy is not entirely new as it is built on the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) of the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
It is commendable that the government is shifting attention from oil and gas. This is quite understandable, considering the fall in the prices of these non-renewable products.
The beauty of the new policy is that it is a continuation of the previous regime’s agricultural policy, and will make low interest loans and agricultural extension workers available to farmers.
Like most previous agricultural policies in the country, this new policy looks good on paper. Nigeria has never been short of fanciful agricultural policies, our problem has always with their implementation.
We have had “Operation Feed the Nation (OFN)” and “Green Revolution”, but nothing much came out of them in terms of improved agriculture.
The high point of agriculture in the country was during the First Republic when there was massive production of groundnuts in the North, cocoa in the West and palm produce in the East and rubber in the Mid-West.
We, at that time, ranked among the world’s best in these agricultural products before the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantities in the country. With the oil boom, we ignored agriculture and became a net importer of food and other consumer products, including those food items that we can easily produce in the country.
Now that we are trying to diversify the economy through agriculture, all stakeholders must be carried along. All farmers, including subsistence, medium-scale and large-scale operators should be encouraged to be part of the new agricultural revolution.
Fortunately, we have enough arable land to grow the food we need and for export. We have the capacity to grow food and cash crops, as well as engage in fish and animal husbandry, to make us self-sufficient in food production.
Agriculture holds the key to the growth of the economy in terms of wealth and job creation. But, the type of agriculture that can fast-track our economic growth must be large-scale and mechanized. We should migrate from subsistent farming to large-scale and mechanized all-season farming.
Government should walk its talk and ensure that the single-digit agric loans are available for those who qualify for it. The relevant authorities should also ensure the availability of farm input such as improved seedlings, fertilizers, graders and other modern farm implements. All stakeholders, including states and local governments, should key into this new agric policy and make it work.