Renewed filip on revamping agriculture

Cocoa farm

Cocoa farm

A barn of yams

A barn of yams

FOUR decades ago, Nigeria’s agricultural sector was the backbone of the country’s economy, contributing significantly to domestic production and employment. Besides, it was the principal foreign exchange earner for the nation.

The yields of that era such as the 25-storey Cocoa House in Ibadan still define discourse on how to deploy resource to ginger infrastructural development of a nation. But suddenly, the oil sector in the oil boom years overtook agriculture and the rest is now history as Nigeria continues to grapple with economic instability and its attendant manifestations in socio-political and economic dyfunctions on top of which is unemployment among teeming Nigerian youths.

The perceived abandonment of agricuture notwithstanding, reports as recent as 2009 indicated that agriculture contributed 41.84 percent to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product that year.

The disposition of President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration which listed agriculture as critical element in addressing challenges confronting Nigeria stems from the understanding that agriculture remains the only sustantially viable sector that can counter unemployment challenge frontally.

This point has been corroborated by the Encyclopedia of the Nations, an authoritative source of information on 193 countries in the world, including Nigeria.

Already, it is on record, although operating largely at the subsistence level, that the nation’s small-scale farms produce about 80 percent of the total food in Nigeria.

Curiously, however, agriculture and poverty are sometimes perceived as Siamese twins owing to the fact that poverty is mostly prevalent in rural areas where agriculture is pre-dominant and practised at the subsistence level. To chart a new course for agriculture, a coalition of Nigerian graduates inaugurated the Youth Initiative for Sustainable Agriculture (YISA) Nigeria, a body that leverages education to liberate small-scale farmers from primitive agriculture practices.

YISA’s programmes are set out to re-orient young people not to see agriculture as a development project, but as business. This reinforces concerted efforts by the governments at the federal and state levels in reorganizing the agricultural framework to boost food production.

Akinwunmi Adesina, former Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, said at the launch of Youth in Agriculture at the Federal University of Technology, Akure that the government is committed to encouraging more skilled farmers and also changing the ideology of majority of people about agriculture.“With the launch of the “Youth in Agriculture”, farmers of the future that will make Nigeria’s agriculture competitive for decades have emerged. Agriculture is changing rapidly. Today, only countries that move into commercial agriculture have a chance to compete. We must change the way we train students, what we train them and what we prepare them for,” he added.

Significantly, vital interventions from the private sector have also complemented government’s efforts in alleviating poverty through agriculture. For example, the British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) and a few other organisations have been in the front-line of private sector initiatives in social development and poverty alleviation. The company has consistently been playing a significant role in partnering with communities, groups and governments through its strategic agricultural interventions which have transformed the lives of many smallholder farmers.

BATN has received encomiums and recognition for its efforts in raising agricultural productivity through strategic interventions that have created veritable livelihoods for many smallholder farmers in Nigeria.

The company was recently lauded by a group of smallholder farmers in Nigeria during the 10th year anniversary of the BATN Farmers Productivity Award ceremony. The event was held to honour best practices among smallholder farmers who were drawn from over 30 farmers’ groups in Oyo state.

Some of the prizes received by the farmers include motorcycles, generators, sprayers and water pumps with accessories. Other prizes include over-head water tanks. The awards were for their efforts in the 2014 farming season.

A lawmaker in the 7th Assembly who was member, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Anthony Adeniyi at the award ceremony said BATN’s effort in supporting smallholder farmers was most commendable and worthy of emulation. “It is very encouraging to see an organisation, such as BATN, supporting smallholder farmers through agricultural interventions that have transformed the lives of many smallholder farmers, thereby reinforcing government’s effort in alleviating poverty and creating employment,” he said.

Adeniyi urged “other organisations that engage in production in Nigeria to emulate this example. The more an organisation gets closer to producers of its raw materials, the better for them. By adopting this practice, such organisations will be able to advise appropriately on how to advance the cause of the industry.”

Some of the beneficiary associations at the award presentation ceremony included The Arigidan’s Farmers’ Group, The Asaju Farmers’ Group and Sakedu Farmers’ Groups, among others. Three beneficiaries of motorcycles, Saka Semiu Ojo, Oyedokun Mosunmola and Ayantokun Matthew commended BATN for its tradition of rewarding smallholder farmers regularly. Matthew, who spoke on behalf of the awardees, said: “We express our gratitude to BATN for coming to our aid. Today marks 10 years of consistent support from the organisation. We are grateful for the support they give us.”

Speaking during the award ceremony, Thomas Omofoye, Head of Leaf, British American Tobacco Nigeria, said: “The productivity award is designed to motivate the farmers for greater efficiency and productivity. This is because most smallholder farmers have misconceptions about farming by not seeing it as a business. As a result, we deemed it necessary to reward them by appreciating their efforts and commitment while also ensuring they earn a better living from their farming business. ”

Freddy Messanvi, Legal and External Affairs Director, BAT, said that it is imperative for BATN to support smallholder farmers as agriculture remains a very significant element of human life. “Agriculture is an important aspect of human life that contributes immensely to the economy through export, thus generating foreign exchange. Not only has agriculture guaranteed us food security, it has also served as a source of foreign exchange. It also supports reduction in the rate of unemployment,” he said, adding: “At BATN, we recognise the impact of agriculture on the Nigerian economy, and as a global company committed to local development, we are proud to invest more in grassroots agriculture by empowering farmers with our leaf growing scheme.”

On the challenges confronting the organisation in its agricultural interventions, Messanvi said: “Responsible farming practices are usually faced with challenges, one of which is child labour, a practice that is inconsistent with BATN’s operational standards. As an organisation, we are firmly against child labour and always encourage our contracted farmers to ensure their children’s education is unaffected by traditional agrarian practices.”

There is no doubt about the fact that the focus on smallholder farmers has the potential of improving farming practices. The farmers, who stand to benefit the most from such initiatives, will be empowered to be more productive and efficient. Who knows, he may move his game from subsistence to a commercial level. Organizations ought to be encouraged to invest more resources in running the game of smallholder farmers.

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