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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

FG’s call for return to agriculture: Where are the incentives?

By Babatunde Ayedoju

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President Muhammadu Buhari recently charged Nigerians to restore the old glory of the country in farming, adding that the bedrock of Nigeria’s economy was famously known to be agriculture.

President Buhari, who was represented in this year’s edition of Olojo Festival in Ile-Ife, Osun State, by the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, said farming is the only solution to end hunger and food insecurity.

While recalling that Olojo festival showcased Yoruba culture at its best, he noted that it was a socio-cultural event in the olden days which showcased farm produce, hardwork and declaration of agricultural profits.

“Olojo Festival was an event in the olden days to showcase farm produce, profits made in farming and agriculture at large. It will gladden my heart if Nigerians could restore the old glory of farming; this Olojo festival too should also bring back the old days of showcasing farm produce, hardwork and good character.”

It is no longer news that the president has been advocating a return to agriculture, especially among youths.

Early this year, President Muhammadu Buhari, in a television broadcast, said Nigerians must return to agriculture in order to become a self-sustaining nation, adding that agriculture could sustain the Nigerian economy, if properly harnessed. He said that although insecurity could pose a serious challenge to agriculture, Nigerian youths must be encouraged to embrace it.

His words: “Only 2.5 per cent of our arable land is currently being utilised and we need to take advantage of our vast arable land to produce what can feed Nigerians and other countries of the world. When we closed our borders to importation of foreign rice recently, Nigerians were able to grow rice that can now feed Nigerians and we can even export rice to other countries of the world.”

He also stated that if we had invested massively in agriculture several years ago, we would have grown our economy to a higher level than it is today, while noting that agriculture is a sure way to move Nigerians out of poverty.

As good as it is for Mr President to encourage the return of Nigerians, especially youths, to farming, one cannot shy away from the reality that some incentives need to be emplaced for agriculture to be able to thrive once again.

For example, in this 21st century, if Nigerians will go back to agriculture, are we still going to depend on crude agricultural implements like hoe, cutlass, spade, etc. like our forefathers did? It is no longer news that people practise farming all over the world, even in developed countries such as Israel and the United States. However, they do not depend on crude implements like most farmers do in this clime. Instead, agriculture is strictly mechanised in those places.

If we want to encourage people to go back to farming here, where are the state of the art equipment and facilities that will make it easy for our people? How many Nigerians will be able to afford them?

Aside that, what about security of lives and property? In the last one decade, Nigerians have witnessed unprecedented insecurity. Many lives, including farmers, have been lost to attacks by Boko Haram, herdsmen, kidnappers and bandits, to the extent that a lot of people are now afraid of going to farm. The number of farmers who have been attacked in their farms by herdsmen after their crops were destroyed by the cattle is endless.

Even if farmers manage to cultivate and harvest crops, they will have to transport them to consumers by road, which means that there is a need for good roads on which this transportation can take place and even security as well.

As the federal government clamours for people to return to agriculture, there is a need to check if all necessary factors have been put in place to encourage such a move among Nigerians.

In May, a group of farmers under the auspices of FCT Farmers’ Association lamented over what they called “apathy, total neglect and exclusion from socio-economic affairs by the government.” Speaking at the Senior Executive Course (SEC) 44, 2022, of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos, Plateau State, the group stated, “Most of us survive on individual efforts without government’s support. We need to be provided with agricultural incentives like credit facilities and fertiliser. Government should not give loans only to portfolio farmers, who do not have farms. Our major challenge is non-availability of modern equipment for agricultural production.”

The group equally called on government to demonstrate more commitment to the fight against corruption and the increasing spate of insecurity in some parts of the country, as, according to them, the situation was seriously affecting agricultural production and food security in the country.

Similarly, in July, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN, made a call to the Federal Government for incentives to produce more food to feed the huge population of Nigeria as the world’s population is predicted by the United Nations to hit 8 billion by November 15, 2022, with Nigeria’s standing at over 210 million.

President of the association, Arc Kabir Ibrahim, maintained that without proper incentives for farmers and a deliberate effort to boost farmers’ capacity to produce food, the over 210 million mouths in the country would face severe hunger.

He said: “The smallholder farmers should be properly incentivized to produce more by ensuring security, the provision of readily affordable seeds, fertilizers and other inputs as well as adequate mechanization and encouragement to adopt relevant technologies and innovations.

“The existence of large arable land, abundant water resources,other land resources and mineral resources should help to bolster agricultural productivity in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government, through the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Mohammad Mahmud Abubakar, claims to have approved new incentives for investors in the Nigeria’s agricultural sector.

While speaking recently at the 29th edition of the LAPO Annual Development Forum, the minister stated that the new set of incentives is targeted at improving high-level private sector participation in Nigeria’s food production and processing industry and they include: tax and duty-free holidays for a period of five years for agricultural production and processing in Nigeria; tax-free agricultural loans with a moratorium period of over 18 months and repayment period of not more than seven years; and zero-tariff rates on the importation of agro-chemicals.

Professor Oluwatosin Fashina from the Department of Agricultural Extension and Communication Technology, Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) cited insecurity as a major challenge that might make it difficult for people to return to agriculture, stating that many people want to farm but they are afraid.

The seasoned agriculturist also pointed out difficulty in targeting the right people as another factor that might inhibit any attempt by the government to help people adopt agriculture once again.

“Who are the farmers? Is it the government officials who also register as farmers and get the incentives instead of the real farmers who have no access to information?” He asked.

To bridge the gap between the government and the real farmers, Fashina recommended that the government should involve extension agents because they are the ones who can recognise the actual farmers.

While noting that we already have problem with food insecurity in Nigeria, Fashina warned that if we do not pay proper attention to agriculture, the food insecurity would escalate as the days go by.

Likewise, Dr Chris Ofonyelu from the Department of Economics, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko stated that a lot of people, armed with the resources, were ready to take up agriculture, but insecurity of lives and property would not let such people proceed.

He said: “I know people who have money and are ready to farm. If today they can be guaranteed security, they will go back to their farms. I am talking of people who have abandoned over 200 to 500 plots of land, well established, because they were not safe. Even in the north where agriculture is still surviving, I think it’s because of irrigation and the support they get in terms of soft loans.”

He, however, expressed hope that the narrative may change in the nearest future.

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