‘FAO does not force GMO technology on countries’

Nourou

Nourou Macki Tall, is the Country Representative, Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO); he spoke with MATHIAS OKWE, and JOKE FALAJU, in Abuja, on a wide range of issues. These include the FAO Nigeria Country Framework Programme, which is winding down this year; the next plan of action; the FAO intervention in the North East humanitarian crisis; the joint United Nations agencies’ initiative to end constant farmers/pastoralists clashes and the new increased yield farming technologies to ensure food security in the country.

Could you brief us on the portfolio and the implementation of the Nigeria Country Framework Programme that is gradually rounding up and the next step?
The Nigeria Country Programme Framework (CPF), is an agreement between the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), and the Government, which indicates the main area of cooperation for achieving agricultural development and food security for the country. Some key achievements that can be presented included, the International Programme for Food Security which supported crop productivity, livestock and fisheries in Nigeria. For the Banana-in-Planting development in Nigeria, we developed free seedlings by opening a National Laboratory, which was able to develop the technology. We are also doing fisheries and aquaculture; as you can see we cannot find fisheries everywhere in the country, even though Nigeria is one of the countries that could be used as example for other countries, people can come here to learn fish farming practices.

We have also supported fish farmers to have cooperatives to do aggregation in terms of input supply as well as aggregation for output. It means they can benefit from better pricing in term of inputs and market. We have also supported Youth employment in agriculture programme, FAO supported the development of this programme in close collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. As you know youth employment is a key concern not only to Nigeria but African continent. We believe that with the success we are achieving in Nigeria, it would create another model to other countries; we have an International Workshop where Nigeria would play a vital role coming up next week in Accra, Ghana.

How realisable have these plans been?
Not fully, as you know, if you have a plan you need funds to implement. We are facing lack of funding; the Nigerian government is one of our major partners to fund our strategy but we are also depending on other key donors, like the European Union, and Venezuela, who are the key people funding the FAO programme in Nigeria. We have key donors participating, but as you know, Nigeria too as a country has been facing some difficulties, funding wise.

Are you saying Nigeria has not been able to meet its counterpart funding commitment as a result of financial challenges?
It’s a partnership programme; FAO is a facilitator and an enabler. We are creating an enabling environment for fostering investment in agriculture and food security. One of the key investors is the Nigerian Government who also trying to discuss with other donors to support agriculture in the country. For example, we are partnering with World Bank in transforming irrigation in the country; it is funded by the World Bank, but with technical support of the FAO. Mostly, the Nigerian Government has tried to pay its counterpart funding, but with crude oil crisis with its impact to the global economy, not particular to the Nigerian Government, funding arrangement is a challenge to this present dispensation but over all government funding is very important.

What was the size of the Country Programme Framework for Nigeria between 2013 and 2017?
It was less than $100million. And that is why I’m talking about more enabler, facilitator role of the FAO. But I think we were able to get more than 50 per cent of the money.

What is the next step after this phase?
It is to develop another CPF in close cooperation with the Government. Like I said, the programme is an agreement with the government; mainly our national counterpart is the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, so we will start the dialogue this year in other to have it ready for next year. What we should highlight is that we need to have the CPF aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. It should align with the Malabo Declaration, and it must align with the United Nations Development Action Framework for Nigeria (UNDAF), which is almost ready this year. So we are expecting the UNDAF to be ready for us to start our CPF, because we need to have something comprehensive that will align with the International Policy Strategy as well as national policy, the Nigeria Agricultural Promotion Policy.

What place will this new Plan have in the Economic Recovery Growth Plan launched recently by the Nigerian Government, and how will the FAO assist in seeing its realisation?
In this plan, we are talking about diversification of the economy and agriculture can play a key role in the diversification agenda. If you use the agriculture value chain approach related to crop, livestock, fisheries Development we can create employment upstream and downstream of the value chain. For us, it will be key to really work at the Federal, State and LGA levels to see the opportunity agriculture can offer in terms of driving the economic growth in Nigeria. For instance, if you look at rice, we are importing $2billion worth of rice yearly, it means there are rooms to explore in terms of rice development in Nigeria, and I think the federal government is taking the rice steps, but we need to think about this. The rice, fisheries, livestock value chain need to be supported in order to foster regional trade, because Nigeria is key in West and Central Africa. Nigeria has a comparative advantage in terms of agro-ecological potential and human potential to foster agricultural development.

What role has FAO played in providing a lasting solution to farmers/herdsmen clashes in the country?
Two weeks ago, we supported policy dialogue on ranching. FAO is trying to put the Government and all the stakeholders on a roundtable, because if you have many stakeholders, it means there are several interests. And if there are several interests, you need to know who is supporting the idea, who is not supporting the idea, and then why? Based on the discussion, you can develop a comprehensive strategy, because it is challenging to talk about herdsmen, grazing routes and ranching. In June, we are planning a roundtable with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to discuss the issue again with key stakeholders.

Analysts believe that Nigeria’s indecision on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is really the issue surrounding the farmers/herdsmen clashes. It is equally being suspected that the clashes are the outcomes of some international organisations’ conspiracy to force Nigeria to accept GMOs. As one of the organisations in the food sector, how would you react to this?
FAO is not forcing any government to do something. We are an organisation where the countries are designing their policies and strategies and they are validating our mandate, and vision. On the issue of GMOs, we are supporting technologies, not anything in particular; if these technologies are accepted and can foster agricultural development, food security and nutrition, we can support the country’s request. We are basing our approach on the countries’ request. The member states are the countries; we are not forcing any country to do anything. And Nigeria has not applied to FAO to help them develop GMO technologies.

What is FAO doing in providing livelihoods for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the North East?
We are trying to restore agricultural production in the North East. For instance, in 2016, we did a food security survey in Borno State. Only 25 per cent of the farmers were able to cultivate their land, so we supported about 146,000 farmers to cultivate their land. During the dry season, we also supported the farmers by giving them vegetable seeds, fertiliser, boreholes and water-pumps. It allowed people to continue cultivating during rainy and dry season, so that they don’t keep depending on food aid, they would be able to produce their own food.

This year, thanks to better security, in May-June 2017, we are targeting one million persons in the three North-East in agricultural activities. We need to do this in cooperation with other agencies, because if we provide seeds, and they don’t have food, they can’t eat the seed. That is why we a working with World Food Programme and other partners so as to have combined approach. If we give them seeds, they also get food aid, so that during the raining season, people will be able to cultivate their land properly after the harvest, they could eat and market the produce. This is a combined strategy; we call it two-prong approach, where you provide immediate life-saving and also providing livelihoods.

What is your assessment of the impact of some of these intervention activities?
During the visit by our Director General, we visited one of the LGAs we supported for the dry season farming. If you discuss with the people, they will tell you they don’t need food aid, but if they are supported to produce food, they are able to eat and also sell part of it to have income to buy other stuff. I used to say if little investment of around $50-$70 for each household is able to generate food for six to nine months instead of providing food aid on a monthly basis, I think it’s something worth investing in food production not just food aid, helping people to provide food that they need. During the raining season, we are providing kits to farmer to provide them food coverage for six to nine months. For the dry season it was food coverage for nine to 12months, because the income generation for vegetable like tomatoes, cabbage, and onions is very high in the market.

What is FAO’s strategy for the Lake Chad Basin?
During the visit by the FAO Director, a three-year strategy was launched, between 2017 and 2019, to cover the four countries in the region. For us, there is a need to tackle the immediate needs, as well as the medium and long-term needs of the population. It means we need to address the root cause of the crisis, which economic opportunity is a big challenge, in terms of climate change. As we know, the north-east is also affected by climate change; we need to work with other partners to see how we can support access, social services, such as education, health among others.

These holistic approach means we all have a part to play as well as bring other agencies on board. We need to also work with the government, as also work with local institutions, as they have the knowledge, culture and the technical skills as well, so this is our three year strategy of addressing the immediate need and creating a long term approach to the crisis. We would, for instance, rebuild the seed sector, support the development of youth agro dealers at the LGAs, we would also support the reactivation of agricultural extension services, support rehabilitation of the irrigation sector, and provide barns for grains storage among others. It’s more of a recovery programme than an emergency programme.

How do you intend to achieve some of these plans?
I will say access to basic input is key, there are over 1.9million IDPs in the country, it means that if you are leaving a conflict environment you are running to save your life; they leave the villages, abandoning their livelihoods. We need to provide them with the basics, agric input in term of fertiliser, seeds and equipment so that they can resume agricultural activities. Second thing is to restore the extension services, because before the crisis, things were working normally, how can we bring back the extension services at the LGA level? How do we support them with minimum equipment to start their work? Another thing is to bring back the private sector. Government was doing the Growth Enhancement Scheme, but they were working with the private sector, so we need to bring back the key stakeholders, it’s an holistic package, not just agriculture, but health, education among others.

What budget size has the FAO expended in the Northeast?
Last year we expended about $6-7million, not necessary because we didn’t have a strategy but we need to have donors funding some of these plans. This year, we are expecting to have a minimum of $10million to $25million. We are asking for $62million but currently we have had commitment of $12million. We are seeking more commitment for the second half of 2017, because for the first part of 2017, we were targeting $30million out of $62million. The second part would be more of dry season farming, support of livestock and fish farming.

In what way can the FAO provide a lasting solution to the farmers/herdsmen clashes so as to have food security?
At the UN, there is a United Nations country team, and also the humanitarian country team led by UN humanitarian coordinator, Edward Kallon; what we are trying to do is to discuss the issue on a roundtable. Currently, we are discussing with the UNDP to see how we can partner with key stakeholders to address this issue around herders and farmers. But for the Northeast crisis, we have the humanitarian country team where in all UN agencies, NGOs are working together with the government to see who is doing what, and what to avoid duplication, and also see where the gaps are and address strictly the gaps in the hard to reach areas. We are trying to coordinate ourselves, trying to do an assessment to view the situation holistically to see who should do what, where and when.

To ensure food security in the country, is your focus only concentrated on the North East or you are expanding the scope to other states?
We are developing in close collaboration with the Nigerian Government, Bureau of Statistics, Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the Cadre Harmonise, which is a tool to analyse food security not only in Nigeria but in West Africa to do a comparative analysis. This tool is being implemented in 16 states including the FCT; we have the food situation in all the 16 northern state.

Do the 16 states include the Middle Belt region where activities of farmers/ Herders’ clashes have been rampant too?
Not at all, it’s just the northern states. The next cycle of cadre harmonise will be in October, may be then we will do an analysis on other states.

What’s the progress report about your rice implementation project?
The import bill for rice importation is too high for Nigeria, so we are trying to support rice production development in Nigeria by supporting better access to improved seeds. That is the entry point, because if you have improved seeds, you can have better yield to have enough for rice demand. We are also developing farmers-in-school, basically to develop the capacity of the farmers in rice production, because if you do a comparative analysis of yield per hectare for farmers, you will notice that that the yield is not comparative with other countries in the world. The rice variety was developed by Africa Rice Research Institute and we have a partnership with the Africa rice, we are only using the improved seeds developed by Africa Rice.



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