How States Pay Lip Service To Agriculture
NOTHING describes the defectiveness of Nigeria’s revenue generation, and expenditure better than the current mentality of ‘sharing,’ which prevails among the political class, especially, the state governors. The current system is one that places premium on the distribution of proceeds, with very few states taking the responsibility of attempting to generate revenue for themselves.
Nearly every state in this ‘feeding bottle’ system of Nigeria waits impatiently for a magnanimous Federal Government to supply the financial needs of all the states. Month-in month-out, the 36 state governors, through their commissioners of finance, arrive Abuja to collect their so-called monthly allocation. The governors promptly retreat to their enclaves in the states, and spend monies they, essentially, did not have to work for.
With oil rent trickling in, depending on the extent of its price volatility in the international market, the states manage to get by on the basis of this flawed system that promotes indolence in the 36 federating units of the country. There, is therefore, no incentive or a compelling need for the governors to roll their sleeves and get their hands dirty trying to tap the potentials in their respective states.
For instance, since the coming of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the governors have expressed some excitement about the notion that more federally collected revenues would now be available for the usual ‘sharing’. This conversation as demonstrated by the so called bailout funds, which turned out to be proceeds from the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Project (NLNG), raises fundamental sustainability questions in the long term. Among the governors, the refrain is the same, and partisan divisions do not matter in these discussion. Everyone is wielding a knife to cut his share of the national cake, without a commensurate contribution to the baking of the cake.
Perhaps, mindful of the unsustainable nature of depending on oil revenue, the other day, President Buhari made a vital point about the need for Nigeria to end its dependence on oil revenue. Identifying the direction the country should go, the President, with a sense of urgency, harped on the importance of returning to till the land with a view to revamping agriculture.
Swathes of arable land are available for young and able-bodied Nigerians to work, and earn a decent living. Within the context of the nation’s developmental aspirations, agriculture has been pin-pointed as the lowest hanging fruit. If aggressively pursued and positioned, there are projections that Nigeria would surpass the achievements in those glorious early years of independence when agriculture was the mainstay of the nation’s economy.
However, certain fundamental challenges in the Nigerian environment have blunted the President’ well-reasoned call for a return to agriculture. In the first place, agriculture does not happen at the federal level, it happens in states and local councils. Until these tiers of government demonstrate seriousness with respect to squarely positioning agriculture and its attendant value chain, in the drive for good jobs and revenue.
During the administration of former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the Federal Government made some progress in revamping agriculture. That administration’s Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA) articulated a robust plan to make Nigeria self-sufficient in areas like, rice and wheat production, among several other crops. ATA, as vigorously implemented by Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, the former Minister of Agriculture, who is the President of the Africa Development Bank in-waiting, was heavy on the need for Nigeria to explore the value chain for each of the identified crops.
There was also talk about processing hubs in various parts of the country to drive the value chain approach. Though the ATA document seemed to have created a leeway for big businesses to dominate Nigerian agriculture, there were entry points for job creation with the gamut of the value chain.
However, one critical point in the implementation of ATA is that a lot of the state governments did not show sufficient enthusiasm about tapping the potentials in agriculture. While rice production bloomed with an attendant positive impact as seen in the announced drop in the figures for rice importation, same cannot be said of other cash crops like cocoa in the South West. It is apparent that the states needed to put in place structures to activate the benefit of agriculture and use it as a trigger for employment generation.
Unfortunately, the states have remained passive with respect to agriculture and have not shown sufficient commitment to get this important sector off the ground.
In Osun, for instance, initial attempts by the Rauf Aregbesola administration to create train services so that farmers could take agricultural produce to the Lagos market seems to have fizzled out. In Akwa Ibom, Delta and Rivers, there are no soundbites around how agriculture has added to the internally generated revenues of the states.
Similarly, Edo State, which has just had a loan of N14billion approved for it by the Senate, has not fared too well in agriculture. A number of state owned enterprises, which could have emerged, as launching pads for value chain agriculture, have not been functional.
Some of these are the Juice Fruit Company in Ehor, Uhumwonde Local Council, the Cassava mill in Uromi, Esan North East Council, and the Fertiliser Company in Auchi, Etsako West local government among others. However, as at today, none of the companies are working to serve the purpose of revamping agriculture, and generating employment in the state.
Relatedly, former President Olusegun Obasanjo laid the foundation stone of the Auchi Fertilizer Processing Plant and Chemical Company in May 2000. The project was established to blend NPIL fertilizer primarily to help farmers in the enrichment of the soil to improve agricultural yields.
The location of the project was informed by the raw materials; availability in Edo North Senatorial District of Edo State. The sum ofN300 million was to be spent on the project. Following the state Government’s application for a loan facility, the Nigeria Bank for Co-operative and Agricultural Development approved a loan of N250 million to complete the factory building, buy substantial raw materials and commence production.
In the end, the inability of the governors to consistently put agriculture on the radar of their priorities is responsible for the over reliance on oil revenues and monthly allocation that has continued to dwindle over the months.
It is important for President Buhari to follow up on his call to a return to agriculture by impressing it on the governors to take more responsibility with respect to revamping agriculture as a vehicle for creating opportunities for young Nigerians in these states.
The urgency of the unemployment situation has made stakeholders to call for an efficient diversification of the economy from oil. They have therefore called for the enunciation of an agricultural legislation, policy and strategy that create synergy between industrial agriculture and small-holder farmers with a focus on internal food security and food export is a necessity.
DELTA: Still Not Beyond Oil
IF rhetoric were anything to go by, Delta State would have since become the foodbasket of the nation. From promises to train thousands of unemployed youths in different farm techniques at Songhai Farm, Amukpe, near Sapele, to giving of money to start uptheir own farms, and a January 2013 actual doling out of a princely sum of N5. 8 billion for agricultural productivity in the state to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there is still no sign that capacity for agro production in the state has increased.
In the spirit of the highly trumpeted Delta Beyond Oil campaign by ex-governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, agriculture was supposed to be the magic wand that would wean the state off its over dependence on oil. It was equally supposed to be a panacea for youth unemployment and restiveness. But reverse seems to be the case. Delta is still not beyond oil.
Uduaghan explained that his administration was spurred into engaging in programmes that would be beneficial to the masses, because of the dream of having a buoyant economy without depending solely on revenue from oil.
Only on June 16, 2010, in Asaba, the state government and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, proprietor of Obasanjo Farm Nigeria (OFN), had signed a pact on agricultural development.
At the ceremony, the Group Managing Director of the farm, Mr. Daniel W. Atsu, said the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was a result of the exchange between the state delegation and the management of the farms.
He explained that the farm has over 30 years sustained commitment to agriculture and has diversified into virtually all aspects of food production, environmental protection and preservation.
Former Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Chief Tony Nwaka, said the broiler farm project would comprise 220,000 birds per cycle of 6/8 weeks, a layer farm of 150,000 laying capacity, a rearing unit of 50,000 point of lay hens in each cycle of 16 weeks, and a feed mill and a broiler processing plant.
Also, on April 16, 2012, Uduaghan presided over the disbursement of N1b Federal Government and Central Bank Nigeria (CBN) agricultural loan to farmers. He didn’t mince words when he advised the beneficiaries to judiciously utilise the loan in increasing production so that the purpose would not be defeated. He used the occasion to call on Deltans to take to farming in order to increase food production.
Under Uduaghan, the state government inaugurated a programme tagged, Youth Empowerment through Agriculture and Farmers Support Programme (YETA-FSP), which was mandated with various responsibilities of identification and training, facilitation and assistance, market development, and linkages and sensitisation and other strategies.
After the training, the youths were sent on internship to Songhai and other established farms across the state for practical experience, after which, they were to be provided with agricultural inputs and financial assistance to start their own farms. The idea was to create new generation of successor farmers to take over from the aging peasant farmers in the state.
Uduaghan advised the management of the agricultural training centre to improve the capacity of local farmers, particularly, in the processing and packaging of agricultural produce.
The Delta State Micro Credit Programme had not been left out too. Several fish farmers at Ekpan, Warri and other towns were given loans to set up their farms.
Uduaghan promised that if the money were effectively used, the state government would give out more loans to farmers to create employment and wealth for the state.
Another former Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Mr. Misan Ukubenyinje, said that 934 cooperative societies would benefit from the loan, an initiative of the apex bank in collaboration with the Federal Government and state Ministry of Agriculture.
Ukubenyinje charged the cooperative societies not to divert the money, which is supposed to be re-paid within seven years at an interest rate of 9 per cent yearly.
However, Uduaghan’s determined bid was certainly not enough to turn the tide and give farming an ‘appeal’ in the state.
The former governor seemed to have tacitly admitted the failure of the several empowerment initiatives when he remarked, on September 16 last year, during an unscheduled visit to Songhai Farm, that the government would restructure YETA for better result, adding that new sets of participants will be selected through a rigorous process before being sent to the centre for training.
Not to be left out, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa had on June 29 rolled out six entrepreneurship schemes, which are aimed at creating 6,000 direct jobs in the next six months.
They are, Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP), Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP); Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP); Tractorisation; Extension of Loans; and development of agro-industries.
Okowa added that his administration was determined and poised to deliver prosperity to everyone in Delta through its five point agenda and was the reason for the speedy launching of these job creation schemes.
Okowa said that so far, over 60,000 applications have been received for the Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurial Programme (YAGEP), and the Skill Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP) of the state government and assured that merit would be the watchword in choosing the 6,000 persons that would participate in the first phase of the programmes.
Only on July 3, Okowa swore in Mr. Austin Chikezie as the new helmsman of the ministry to champion his determination to make Delta really a state ‘beyond oil.’ Even at then, it is still too early to tell if the governor’s renewed initiative will translate to more affordable food in the state.
During a visit to the integrated agro-based company, Songhai, at the small town of Amukpe on July 27, the Deputy Governor, Kingsley Otuaro, remarked that the farm would, no doubt, be the driver of the socio-economic programmes of the state government and was determined to its expansion and up grading of the infrastructure.
Otuaro said that the farm was established to create employment and thereby alleviating poverty among the people as well as impacting the youths with skill acquisition in the different departments of agriculture.
With a wave of the hand, a top official of the 137 hectares Songhai Farm said that apart from propaganda, nothing has really changed at the farm between last year, when The Guardian visited and now. An official, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said that aside the well-paved road to the farm, which is located off the Sapele-Eku Road, it was still in a sorry state.
The story of the farm, the official insisted, ends with the roads within the farm, which are well coated. Beneath the roads and the clean environment, the farm is grossly under-tilised, as there are not enough livestock and crops on the vast land.
The farm, which was built by former Governor James Ibori and commissioned by former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, with the aim of, among other things, weaning the state off its overdependence on oil, provide jobs for the teeming youths, enough and affordable food for its citizens is yet to realise any of its objectives.
Fourteen years after, the dream seems to be still elusive going by the under-utilisation and decay of the infrastructure.
The crumbling state of the farm is still evident, as most of the cages and pens are empty of animals. Devoid of any activity, the environment is more of a relaxation spot than a farm, which is in a solitary state. None of the locals from either Amukpe or nearby Sapele seem to care about the farm.
ENUGU: Government Suddenly Wakes Up To Agro Reality
ONE area that Enugu State was highly celebrated in the past was rice production. Vast and arable farmlands at Adani, Uzo-Uwani Local Council, as well as the cashew plantation in Oghe, Ezeagu council were effectively utilised.
To ensure that their produce were well harnessed, government set up the Adarice Company and the Premier Cashew Industry in Oghe, which also had in its employ, several persons from the state.
These agricultural yielding facilities suddenly gave way with increase in states’ allocation, as a result of the upsurge in Federal oil revenue. The Enugu government lost interest in supporting agriculture, and started looking up to the Federal allocation to run its services and sustain the economy of the state. Enugu then transformed into a pure “civil service state.”
Apparently to remove that stigma and return the state to one of the agricultural producing areas of the country, the immediate past administration of Sullivan Chime moved to revive its agricultural potentials.
Government selected 17 youths from 17 council areas of the state, which it sponsored to the Shongai Farm in Benin Republic to understudy their agricultural practices, with a view of replicating it in the state.
The initiative was such that modern farms would be established in the state to enable those who understudied the Shongai method impact their skills on others, for overall agricultural growth, as well as create alternative revenue.
But the initiative fizzled out, as soon as the trainings were concluded in Benin. The Enugu-Shongai Farm set up in Adani by the state government to replicate what had been learned could not be sustained.
Currently, thick bushes have completely taken over the large expanse of land in Adani, where the mother farm was set up. Animals are also occupying the buildings and other facilities erected at the place. Access into the vast agricultural initiative where millions of naira was invested by the state government has become difficult.
The state commissioner for Agriculture, Mike Eneh, an engineer, blamed the development on those charged with the responsibility to run the place, saying that they did not understand what they were called to do.
“Those people that were there, when it was created, did not read the documents. It was supposed to be an incubation and training centre for youths, including women. They were to be trained in all facets of agriculture, and by the time their training (about a year) is concluded, they will be given land by government where they can start practicing what they had learnt as an enterprise. I have dismantled the rubbish because the people who were there did not understand what the man was doing,” he said.
Eneh, however, told The Guardian that the Enugu-Shongai Initiative would be restructured in line with the redefined agricultural policy of the state, which is now private sector driven and aimed at job creation, empowerment and food security. He said that with the new policy, government now sees agriculture as business and no more a development project, adding that the policy had greatly impacted on the revenues of the state, created jobs and empowered the people.
He said: “We are working closely with the private sector to develop our agriculture through joint partnership. There are many types of it, sometimes, government can put equity of about 40 per cent, or even nothing, but because you have provided the land, the investors will give up 10 per cent of their equity to government in consideration of the land they had given and part of that equity will go to the community.”
He continued: “We have a joint partnership with the Brazilian company, the Sancalos Pineapple Farms. We have developed the pineapple farm in Awgu, managed by Sancalos. With this new policy, in less than one year, we were able to drive that investment from 100 hectares to over 250, in one year. We made first export of pineapple out of Enugu on December 17, last year, and for the 250 hectares, created over 213 jobs for people of the state. Our monthly bill in the farm is now N9m. The first shipment of pineapple was done in December 2014. When we harvested it gave us 285,000 fruits, which we made N14.8m. World Bank has visited the farm.
“We are developing another 250 hectares of banana plantation in Ibitolu, Ezeagu Council. The poultry industry in Enugu has grown in leaps and bounds. From the last World Bank report on poultry industry in Enugu, total sales from poultry product last year was N1.488b. We have discovered that agriculture is one of the fastest ways to create employment and we are exploring the opportunity to employ our people.”
On poultry, he said: “Government has assisted in producing day old chicks in Enugu. We have what we call commercial agriculture, which is a World Bank project in the state targeting poultry, fruit trees and maize. The quality of cashew from Enugu is one of the best in the world. We are going to outsource the Oghe Cashew Industry. It is no more government involvement in agriculture; all we do is to provide the enabling environment and support.
“The Sunchi Integrated farm in Emene is producing day old chicks. Under this project, we have 21 poultry enterprises that we are establishing (government and World Bank assisted) at the cost of N366m. What happens is that World Bank gives you a grant and we bring about 42 per cent to support. There are 22 fruit tree enterprises producing cashew as a business. Sunchi Integrated Farms have a hatchery capacity of 240,000 producing 240,000 day-old chicks every month. The project cost was N65 million; the grant we gave was N27million. There is no company in the whole of Southeast and South-South producing day old chicks, except Enugu state. Sunchi has supplied over 3million day-old chicks from December 2013, when they took off. The cost of day old chicks has dropped from N250 to N130. We are no longer importing day old chicks from the West. We now have it in Enugu.
“There is Animal Health Farms Limited. It is the second hatchery farms that will be producing day old chicks located at Emene. It has the capacity of 30,000-day-old chicks per week. The World Bank has also supported them with about 42 per cent investment cost. When it takes off, Enugu will be producing 360,000-day-old chicks per month. Currently, some of their products are sold in the north. The contribution to the local economy from this investment is about N1.8m yearly. Over this period, the poultry industry in Enugu has grown in leaps and bounds, producing over two million create of egg, 200,000 broilers monthly”.
He said that various other fruit trees were growing in the state, stressing that the target of the state government was to ensure a “hunger free – state through agricultural sector that drives income, growth, food security, generate employment and transform the state into one of the leading economies and food markets.”
BENUE: Long Wait To Harness Agricultural Potentials
BENUE State is referred to as the food basket of the country. All year round, yams are transported from Zaki Biam and Ugba in Ukum and Logo local councils, respectively, to the major cities of Lagos and Port Harcourt, thus, serving as a major income earner to the people.
Similarly, year in and out, fruits, especially, mangoes and oranges, get wasted due to the long distance of transporting them under unfavourable conditions to markets up North and Lagos and other urban markets
At the beginning of his administration, the immediate past governor of the state, Gabriel Suswam, said he would prioritised agriculture, as well as, pay attention to rural roads to ease the movement of agricultural produce from the rural to urban areas.
Tagged, Our Benue Our Future, the blue print also contained in it, the electrification of rural areas so as to support farmers in the preservation of perishable products and encourage massive production of dairy products.
Our Benue, Our Future document had provided for the setting up of cottage industries in the three senatorial zones in the state, depending on the kind of farm produce every zone is known for.
For instance, a flour mill was to be set up in the Katsina Ala, Ukum and Logo axis, known for yam production, while a fruit processing factory was to be established in Vandeikya, Konshisha, Kwande and Ushongo area, which have lots of wasting mangoes and oranges.
In the same vein, a rice mill would have been set up in the Makurdi, Guma and Gwer axis for the same reasons advanced earlier, thus, providing a ready market for farmers. With the epileptic power supply in the country, coal deposit in Owukpa would have been used to generate independent power for the proposed agro allied industries as was contained in Suswam’s developmental blue print.
Also, farm produce price regulatory board, as encapsulated in the blue print was to be set up by the government to regulate the prices of these products to ensure farmers get their deserved earnings from their labour.
Unfortunately, not one single content of the document saw the light of the day as it was apparently jettisoned, as soon as that regime took over the reigns of power even as the state continued to draw backward in terms of of development.