Sustaining a critical legacy in Nigeria’s resurgent agric sector

AgricultureTHE June 20th edition of the Economist Magazine has an article on Nigeria titled: “After Oil”. The article stated among other things that falling oil prices have left a deep hole in the government’s finances, but the economy is beginning to diversify. Furthermore, the magazine argues that investment in agriculture carries more promise compared to other sectors.

It is no news that Nigeria’s agriculture is on the rise and the average Nigerian sees the sector as one that is working and that was a bright spot of then President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. Even the prestigious Economist in the aforementioned article recognized that “although the naira has fallen sharply against the dollar, food inflation has not speeded up as it usually does when the currency weakens because Nigeria has vastly expanded its own food production over the past few years.”

To further quote the Economist ‘to be fair to Mr. Jonathan’s government, his agriculture minister, Akinwumi Adesina, one of the few stars in a generally lacklustre cabinet… pulled the government out of the corruption-ridden business of distributing fertilizer and seeds to poor farmers, introducing smart cards and electronic vouchers distributed through mobile phones. Almost overnight he (Dr. Adesina) eliminated a major source of corruption and created booming private markets that attracted investment by big agricultural suppliers’. There is no gainsaying that Nigerian Agriculture found a champion in Dr. Adesina, who has moved on to become President-elect of the African Development Bank. Sustaining this legacy would be to the benefit of Nigeria and Nigerians and provide an early success story for the new administration.

Under Dr. Adesina’s watch, national food production grew by 21million metric tonnes (MT) between 2011 and 2014. As a consequence, there was a sharp reduction in food imports. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s food import bill fell from an all-time high of N3.19 trillion in 2011 to N635billion in 2013; a 403% reduction. Direct farm jobs rose by 3.56million in the period 2012 to 2014 due to interventions in agriculture.

There is more. For the first time in the country’s history, a farmer database of over 14.5 million farmers was amassed and used to efficiently deliver inputs and services to farmers. Total number of verifiable farmers – complete with address, phone number, crop grown, among others, that redeemed farm inputs from 2012 – 2014 was 14.3 million farmers. The North West region of the country accounted for the highest redemption, 30% of the total, followed by North East (22%), NC (17%), South South (12%), South West (11%), and South East (9%).

The efficient delivery of inputs to farmers combined with other interventions in commodity value chains has led to a sharp growth in productivity, primary production, processing capacity, and net value going to farmers. An estimated additional N778 billion has gone to rural farmers as a result of increased productivity from the use of improved seeds and fertilizer. Seed companies have grown in number from 11 in 2010 to 134 to 2014, while $5 billion new investment has gone into the fertilizer sector. The seed and fertilizer sector leveraged loans worth N40 billion from banks in 2014 alone who now see the agriculture sector as a worthy investment.

With the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), the country’s agriculture is on an unmistakable path to greatness that has to be sustained at all costs. Input distribution under ATA rose from 1.5 million farmers in 2012 to nearly 7 million farmers in 2014 and reached 14.5 million farmers in three years; Nigeria can easily reach another 32 million farming households by the end of the new Muhammadu Buhari administration in 2019, at a rate of 8 million farming household per year. Besides the input delivery program, the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS), is transitioning from cell phones to smart card technology (Near Field Technology) that enables farmers combine access to inputs with bank cards and linkage – for financial inclusion and delivery of inputs, micro credit and loans to farmers, and identity management. Farm inputs, credit, and markets will greatly expand the food and nutrition security of Nigerian farming households with the concomitant effect on improved livelihoods of farmers nationwide.

But perhaps the most spectacular story of ATA that needs to continue has been in the production of seeds of improved varieties; seeds of high yielding varieties that have been described as the engine of modern agriculture.

In 2011, Nigeria, a country with a farmer population exceeding 50 million farmers, produced and sold a pittance 14,788MT of seeds in 2011; by 2014 this had risen to 170,692MT, a 1,054% increase, and 134 seed companies, including the return of the two largest seed companies in the world, Monsanto and Syngenta.

ATA has set commodity value added chains of key staples in the country on a path to recover our envious position of the 1960s. To take a few examples: according to NBS rice paddy (raw material for milled rice) production was 5.3millionMT in 2011, it rose to 7 million MT in 2014 and is poised to rise to 12 million by 2019 if ATA continues. Besides, rice mills are on track to add another 2million MT of milling capacity by 2017, an accomplishment, which will end rice importation.

Wheat production was 80,000MT in 2011 before ATA but peaked at close to 235,000 in 2014; if ATA continues, the target is for Nigeria to produce 600,000MT of wheat grain by 2019 drastically reducing our wheat imports and bringing back life to the violence and poverty ravaged wheat-producing areas of Borno State and NE Nigeria in general. Same also with the cash crops: before ATA, Nigeria produced a mere125,000MT of cotton lint; by 2014, production had risen to 240,000MT and set to rise to 500,000MT by 2019 should ATA be sustained. The story is the same with cocoa, oil palm, soybean, maize, and many other crops.

From all of the preceding, it is clear that continuing Dr. Adesina’s reforms is good for the current administration headed by President Muhammadu Buhari; it will help the new administration deliver quick wins to Nigerians with respect to food security, employment, and diversification of the economy away from oil.

A successor to Dr. Adesina furthermore, if he appoints somebody who is conversant with the ATA programme and commands the confidence and respect of private sector investors, banks, donors, and the farmers will ensure that the country will seamlessly continue the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS) in the 2015 wet season by July 2015 – ensuring that farmers get enough seeds and fertilizer to maintain the same acreage planted last year and ensure enough food production to continue to buffer the decline of the naira. The programme to buy and install rice and cassava mills, set up storage and aggregation centers, and establish the badly needed market corporations will also continue.

Finally, it is not too far-fetched to expect that given ADB’s role as Africa’s foremost development Bank, Dr Adesina as its President will be a strong advocate with other donors to support Nigeria’s agricultural sector. Nigeria’s Agricultural Sector (as indeed the entire African agriculture sector under such a dispensation will be well placed to continue its march to regain its former position as a global agriculture power-house.

• Dr. Martin Fregene, a renowned agriculture development expert with global experience in Africa, Latin America, South East Asia and the United States of America, served as a Senior Technical Adviser to Dr. Akinwumi Adesina as the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development under the just ended administration and President-Elect of the African Development Bank.

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1 Comment
  • Eroli Reuben

    Give ceaser what’s ceaser’s!