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•      Agriculture is vital to the economic development of Nigeria but farmers do not have adequate information about health, management, production, marketing, processing and storage and extension services amongst others, to enable them achieve sustainable productivity and maximum returns.

•      In a 2013 lecture delivered in Lagos, by Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, Nigeria’s minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, he said “Nigeria has huge agricultural potential. It has 84 million hectares of arable land of which only 40 per cent is cultivated. It has 279 billion cubic meters of water. By 2020, it is projected there will be close to 110 million youth in the labour market”.

•      The agricultural sector will absorb half of the Nigerian youths if revived.

•      Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in agriculture has been shown to be at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth originating in other sectors (World Bank, World Development Report 2008).

•      Also, World Bank report, “Growing Africa: Unlocking the potential of agribusiness”, says that, Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030 if they can expand their access to more capital, electricity and better technology.

•      The face of agriculture has changed in Nigeria. Agriculture is no longer a development programme but now a business. The government has embraced the full value chain approach, from the farm to the table. As we grow agriculture, non-farm income and employment opportunities will develop, through multiplier effects in the local economy.

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The farming principles

Returning farmers to the centre of policy decisions is fundamental to sustainable development. Governments, businesses, scientists and civil society groups must focus attention on the source of our food security. All these groups must work together to enable the many millions of farm families, especially smallholders, to grow more crops sustainably through effective markets, more collaborative research and committed knowledge sharing.

A broad-based, knowledge-centred approach to agricultural development is needed. The approach starts with focusing on farmers and the tools and information they need to steward land, grow crops, bring in their harvest and then get it to market. While modern agricultural technologies and management approaches have doubled the production of world food calories over the past half century, many smallholder farmers struggle to achieve even the most basic level of subsistence.

New investments, incentives and innovations are needed to achieve greater social and environmental sustainability, while delivering increased agricultural production. These benefits must be made available to all farmers and agricultural workers, recognizing their role as guardians of our shared environment, biodiversity, and ecosystems. There is a need for a radical shift in thinking which places the farmer at the centre of sound and sustainable agricultural practices.

This approach – delivering productivity and sustainability – must also lead to more equitable and efficient production and distribution systems. Combined with better functioning markets and sustainable local and regional infrastructure, an enhanced farming system will contribute to improved economic development, providing food security, decent work, fair prices and improved land management.

To succeed, any new approach must be based on a stable policy environment within which farmers can work and invest. This, in turn, requires us to establish stable, long-term policy and regulatory frameworks for the development of agriculture; to enhance national financial allocations; to direct international development assistance towards the agricultural sector in developing countries; and to undertake comprehensive stakeholder consultation processes in the design and implementation of agricultural programme.

Unlocking Wealth for Nigerian Farmers

 By Dr. Akinwumi Adesina

Nigeria has huge agricultural potential. It has 84 million hectares of arable land of which only 40 per cent is cultivated. It has 279 billion cubic meters of water. By 2020, it is projected there will be close to 110 million youth in the labour market. With low wage rates, this is a massive pool for the intensification of agriculture. With a population of 167 million people, Nigeria is the largest market in Africa.

In spite of this huge agricultural potential, Nigeria, which used to be the major player in agriculture in the world, has lost its place in the global agricultural market. In the 1960s we had glory. That glory was visible for all to see. Nigeria accounted for 42 per cent of the world’s exports of shelled groundnuts. Our total export volume was 502, 000 metric tons, MT. This declined to zero by 2008. The major problem we had was aflatoxin, which we did not bother to fix.

Nigeria lost her leadership position and was overtaken by USA, China and Argentina. Nigeria was also the largest exporter of palm oil in the world and accounted for 27 per cent of the global export volume for palm oil. Total export volume for palm oil by Nigeria was 167,000 MT in 1961. This declined to 25,000 MT by 2008. As the global export volume rose from 629,000 MT in 1961 to over 33 million MT in 2008, Malaysia and Indonesia took over using the oil palm seeding obtained from Nigeria! Today, Malaysia earns $18 billion from export of palm oil alone, and Nigeria imports crude palm oil from Malaysia.

Let us take a look at the case of cocoa. The entire Western Region built its economy on cocoa in the 1960s, Nigeria accounted for 18 per cent of the global export volume for cocoa in 1961. While Nigeria’s cocoa sector stagnated, the global market for cocoa rose from 1.8 million metric tons in 1961 to 2.7 million metric tons by 2008. Nigeria’s share of the global market for export declined from 18 per cent in 1961 to eight per cent by 2008. Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia overtook Nigeria. The story is the same for Cotton. Nigeria, which was the largest exporter of cotton in West Africa, has lost this position to Mali and Burkina Faso.

The neglect of the agricultural sector, as Nigeria became dependent on oil, has been a disaster for the country. For if Nigeria had held to its market share in palm oil, cocoa, groundnut and cotton, it would be earning today at least $10 billion per year from these commodities. Nigeria is now the largest food importer in the world. It spent over N1.3 trillion per year on imports of wheat, rice, sugar, and fish. In 2010 alone, Nigeria spent N635 billion on import of wheat, N356 billion on import of rice, N217 billion on sugar imports, and with all its marine resources, rivers, lakes and creeks, Nigeria spent N97 billion importing fish.

This is not fiscally, economically or politically sustainable. Nigeria is eating beyond its means. While we all smile as we eat rice every day, Nigerian rice farmers cry because the import of rice undermines domestic production. Our farmers sow in hope but reap in tears, as cheap food imports dash their hopes of better prices and incomes.

Our taste for imported food items has contributed to high levels of unemployment for our youths. Our imports provide jobs for the youth of the countries we import from, while our youth wander about our cities and towns looking for jobs. This is unacceptable. We must use the power of our population to our advantage by buying local foods. We must produce what we eat and eat what we produce.

We must work differently. We must recognise and harness the power of the private sector. The government needs to get out of certain aspects of agriculture and turn this over to the private sector in order to improve efficiency. We need to focus on agricultural value chains and not just on increasing production. What will happen to the increase if there are no markets and no agro processing firms that will help mop up the increased yields?

Nigerian agriculture has potential, but no one can eat potential. Potential must be transformed into food supply to deliver nutritious food and wealth to our growing population. To reverse this trend, we have articulated a clear vision to make Nigeria into an agriculturally industrialised economy, to create wealth, jobs and markets for farmers, and revive the rural economy. We plan to grow the size of the agricultural sector from the present level of $99 billion per year today to about $300 billion per year by 2030. We envision a Nigeria without oil. For nobody drinks oil and nobody smokes gas.

Nigeria has no business being a food importing country. With vast water resources, abundant land and cheap labour, we should be feeding the world. But we are not, because we have romanticised with industrialisation, while forgetting that agricultural industrialisation is the key for economic recovery and prosperity for the continent. Our vast lands should be turned into prairies, water should be well managed to produce more grains per drop, our labour enhanced with mechanisation, and everything produced should be processed. Nothing should be lost, for the labour of our farmers must be turned into wealth. Nigeria should not manage poverty in agriculture. Nigeria must create wealth from agriculture.

Creating that wealth is what is at the heart of a major revolution underway in agriculture in Nigeria. To achieve this, government launched in 2011 the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, ATA. The goal is to add 20 million MT of food to the domestic food supply by 2015 and stimulate the creation of 3.5 million jobs.

We made some fundamental paradigm shifts. We ended the approach of treating agriculture as a development programme. We now treat agriculture as a business. We have also ended the era of government crowding out the private sector. The role of government is to provide the needed enabling environment, policies and incentives for a private sector led agricultural transformation to unlock the potential of Nigeria’s agriculture. Our approach is for the government to enable the private sector to grow the agriculture sector, noting that farmers are the largest private sector participants.

Achieving the transformation of the agricultural sector also requires a structural change in the labour composition of the sector. The farming population is ageing rapidly and unable to meet the increasingly complex challenges of markets and technology. To feed our rising population well into the future, we will need young commercial farmers. We also need to create jobs for our many unemployed youth and the agricultural sector holds the greatest potential to create millions of jobs. In the past two years, two million jobs have been created in the agricultural sector.

My Ministry will soon launch a presidential initiative on Youth in Agribusiness to attract the youth into agriculture. The new initiative will target the creation of about 700,000 new young commercial farmers in the agricultural sector. These will be the farmers of the future, under mechanised agriculture who will make Nigeria’s agriculture competitive for decades into the future. To achieve this, the Federal Government will work with partnerships with state governments to put in place technical training facilities, business skills acquisition centres and entrepreneurship development centres. They will be complemented by access to land, finance and mechanised service centres.

Already we have some of them. Take the case of Mosunmola Umoru, who left a profitable career in banking to become a commercial farmer. Today she runs her own 20 ha farm and makes a lot more than when she was in banking. Take the case of Kofo Adegoke, who sold his car and moved from Abuja to his village in Kwara state to start a cassava farm. In less than one year, he has already a 20ha farm and has joined our exporters of cassava chips to China. These young people found the secret: agriculture in Nigeria is changing rapidly into a business and only those that get into it will reap the benefits.

As we support farmers, we must recognise that the majority of farmers are women. Without women farmers, Africa cannot unlock its agricultural potential. Empowering women farmers will change the nutritional status of children in rural households, as women spend a greater share of their incomes on household nutrition. I was inspired, two weeks ago, meeting Ladi Maladi, a woman rice farmer in Bakolori irrigation perimeter in northern Nigeria. With her one hectare-rich farm, which she double crops, she takes care of 30 orphans. Her labour gives hope and a future for the next generation. But we must address her challenges.

Women farmers need greater access to affordable credit, secure access to land, and labour saving technologies for planning, weeding, harvesting their farms and processing food. They need labour saving technologies to save them hours of back bending work. There can be no future for African agriculture, unless we create a future for Africa’s women farmers. This is why I am pleased to inform you today that my ministry will be supporting the creation of a Nigerian Women in Agricultural Research Award programme, NIWARD that will reward top performing women scientists and link them to women farmers, to help them unlock wealth.

The Agricultural Transformation Agenda is a journey. On this journey, we have arrived at the place now where the best performing companies on the Nigerian Stock Exchange are the agricultural companies. Agriculture is now the new source of wealth. The tide has turned. While a lot of progress has been made in the past two years since we started, with some bumps along the way, there is still much ahead to do to get to our desired destination.

As one nation, indivisible, we must continue to pursue rapid agricultural productivity growth, policy and institutional reforms that will make agriculture a viable business – one that is more productive, efficient and competitive. For only through this can the power of agriculture be unlocked, to secure Nigeria’s food supply and create robust wealth that touches millions today, and well into the future.

As a government, we will continue to work hard to create new opportunities for our farmers, to remove the shackles that hold them down and the oppression of decades. Then our barns shall be filled with plenty and a new song shall be heard across our villages. Then you will hear the voices of the children of our farmers as they sing a new song: “better at last, better at last, thank God Almighty our lives are better at last”!

(Excerpts from a lecture delivered in Lagos, by Dr. Adesina, Nigeria’s former minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, at the Reverend Wilson Badejo Foundation Annual lecture series)

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