The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, has blamed the Nigerian elite for the underdevelopment of the nation’s agricultural sector.
Mr Ogbeh spoke at a town hall meeting in Dutse, Jigawa State, that focused on developments in the agriculture sector under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. The meeting was attended by federal and state government officials, representatives of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), traditional rulers and farmers’ groups.
“The cotton and textile industries died because of importation,” Mr Ogbeh said. “For nearly 30 years, foreigners had taken this country hostage. When we make efforts they demoralise you, they will tell you that you are not doing enough, your produce is bad, you cannot do anything.
“Nigeria’s elite absorbed this messages without asking questions. How many of the elite in Nigeria go to the rural areas and find out what farmers are doing? They are city based impresarios, beer parlour philosophers who know everything but know less of what is happening in the rural areas.”
The minister, however, stated that from 2015 to date, change has happened in the sector. He said the Buhari administration “has invested in agriculture more than any other regime in the history of Nigeria.
“There are five million members of the rice growers association, they were not happy because nobody was patronising their products, people complained that their rice is full of stones.
“We first recognised their obstacle to growth was the outrageous interest rate started from 1986 when our economic disaster began through the structural adjustment programme when the interest rate went up to 25 per cent.
“How can a farmer produce anything profitable at an interest rate of 25 per cent? How can a farmer grow rice if he borrows at the interest rate of 25 per cent and processes it and puts in the market to compete with what was imported from Thailand and India when those countries interest rate was three per cent?”
He spoke extensively on the impact of the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) of the CBN introduced in November 2015.
“The first outing was N40 billion to farmers, that money in one year brought a turnover of over N294 billion. This proves the point that if we can reduce interest rate for agriculture and industry, Nigerians will no longer complain of hunger, poverty and unemployment.”
“An agricultural revolution is taking place in the country, farmers are gloriously becoming stronger, independent and legitimately rich.
“Those farmers didn’t see electricity for years, they couldn’t pay their children’s school fees, they had no right to life. This revolution has given them back their lives. In Kano, there are 1,240 small rice mills. In Ebonyi State there over 800 and 21 in Jigawa, to mention a few.
“We are currently reforming the Bank of Agriculture. Bureau of Public Enterprises has almost completed its work, we are going to restructure the bank and farmers will become shareholders of the bank and looking forward to bring back the interest rate to five percent.
“Nigeria’s development efforts for many years have not yielded much fruits not because government has not tried but because government neglected the rural areas, we forgot the basic industry, which is agriculture in the rural communities.
“We forgot our history in the First Republic when Nigeria was a major exporter of foods to the rest of the world, when we dominated the sesame seed market, groundnuts market, hides and skin, when Nigeria accounted for 40 percent world’s consumption of palm oil and cocoa.”
Mr Ogbeh also said government was committed to ending the farmers and herders conflict in the country.
Stressing the contributions of herders to the socio-economic well-being of Nigerians, Mr Ogbeh said Nigeria needs more milk because the country spends $1.2 billion importing low quality powder milk.
“We need fresh milk to curtail the problems of malnutrition in our children. In the first five years of a child’s growth, if the child’s brain is damaged, the child will not be useful in the society.
“In Nigeria, we have 19.5 million cows but our yield of milk is very low, that’s why we have to improve. We’re going to engage in a mass scale breeding in every state using artificial insemination.That is the milk we will be giving to our children in the schools, that’s how our kids will have functional brain.
“You are imagining that a herdsman live in the bush and there’s nothing for them. But Lagos alone consume 7000 cows and 20,000 goats daily, not to mention parties, wedding ceremonies and burials.
“For the herdsman to produce more we need to eliminate the crisis, we don’t want the farmers losing their crops and make sure that the herdsmen is comfortable and peaceful, that he can stay in a situation where he can be protected by agro rangers.
“This is how we can solve the problems of self-sufficiency in food. I want to remind you that, over the years, a herdsman is a farmer. In Europe, every cow gets six euros per day as subsidy to support a cow.”
Mr Ogbeh stated that Nigerians must sort out the farmers and herders conflict. He lamented that the conflict is misinterpreted as a religious issue.
“It is not, but rather an economic problem. This administration is committed to addressing the issue, there will be no more waste of agricultural by-products after harvest, machines are coming to take care of the remnants to be given to the cows.”
In its remarks, the CBN said it has disbursed N160 billion to 850,000 small holder farmers under the ABP since November 2015.
CBN governor, Godwin Emefele, who was represented by his special assistant, Olatunde Akande, said the programme did not target only rice production as widely perceived, but 15 different commodities.
He named the commodities as cereals (rice, maize and wheat); roots and tubers (cassava, potatoes, yam and ginger); sugarcane, tree crops (oil palm, cocoa and rubber); legumes (soya beans, sesame seed and cowpea). Others are tomato and livestock (fish, poultry and ruminants)
“The programme thrust of the anchor borrowers system is provision of farm inputs in kind and cash for farm labour to small holder farmers to boost production of these commodities, stabilise inputs supply to agro processors and address the country’s negative balance of payments on food.”
Mr Emefele said the objective of the system is to create economic linkage between smallholder farmers and reputable large-scale processors with a view to increasing agricultural output and significantly improving capacity utilisation of processors.
“Other objectives include increase banks’ financing to the agricultural sector, reduce agricultural commodity importation and conserve external reserves, increase capacity utilisation of agricultural firms, create new generation of farmers/entrepreneurs and unemployment.
“Others, are deepen the cashless policy and financial inclusion, reduce, the level of poverty among small holder farmers and rural farmers to grow from subsistence to commercial production levels.
Also speaking at the meeting, the Minister of State, Trade and Investment, Aisha Abubakar, said her ministry is trying to create enabling environment for farmers to export their farm produce.
Mrs Abubakar urged farmers to observe the standardisation policy by ensuring that their produce are properly inspected before forwarding them for exportation.
She urged farmers to ensure their produce are inspected and free from any form of infection “because when a produce is rejected, it takes a very long time to get it accepted back.”
The chairman of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria in Jigawa, Maiunguwa Jaga, called on the members to pay back their loan to enable others benefit from the ABP.
Other farmers also urged government to ban importation of wheat so local producers can thrive.
One of the farmers, Isa Gerawa, said he lost about N20 million last year as a result of poor patronage by large-scale buyers who prefer imported wheat from the open market.
He urged government to declare an emergency on wheat farming like it did on rice farming some years ago by banning its importation.
Mr Gerawa said rice farmers across the country are benefiting from the ban on rice importation and assured if the same is done to wheat, it will generate similar impact on the Nigerian economy.
The Emir of Kazaure, Najib Usaini, called for funding of research institutions if Nigeria desires an agricultural revolution.
Also at the event, the Emir of Dutse, Nuhu Sunusi, said government should either revitalise the National Institute for Palm Oil Research or reallocate the plots back to their original owners for farming.
He said the institute has been in existence for more than 30 years but has not developed a single seed.