OPINION: DEVELOPING AGRICULTURE SECTOR

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono has said the Federal Government has earmarked N600 billion to enhance farmer access to agricultural financing in the country. Nanono said that about 2.4 million farmers were targeted to benefit from the interest free facility, designed to encourage application of modern technologies in rice and cash crop cultivation. The minister made the disclosure at the inauguration of the 2020 wet season rice cultivation support programme at Tofai community in Gabasawa Local Government Area of Kano State. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the programme is being implemented under the Agro Processing Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support Project (APPEALS).

Nanono said the initiative would support farmers to achieve improved productivity, enhance self-sufficiency and food security in the country. He said: “We have commenced farmer registration exercise to capture their information, number of farmlands and locations. “Also, the beneficiaries will be monitored to ensure effective utilisation of the facility, and mobilise participation in subsequent programmes.” Nanono commended the APPEALS project for supporting rice farmers in the state, noting that the gesture would go a long way to encourage agricultural activities in the country. The minister urged the beneficiaries to make good use of the fertiliser, seeds and inputs given to them to boost their production capacity. “If you make proper use of the inputs, you could employ other people and it will enable you to participate in subsequent programmes.” Also speaking, the Coordinator, APPEALS Project in the state, Hassan Ibrahim, said the project was being executed in a joint collaboration between the World Bank, Federal Government and the six participating states. Ibrahim listed the participating states to include Kano; Kaduna, Cross Rivers, Enugu, Lagos and Kogi. He said that about 100 farmers drawn from six rice farmer groups participated in the programme in Gabasawa, Kano.

The coordinator noted that the gesture was to augment the Federal Government’s policy on agriculture, designed to encourage productivity, enhance farmer enterprising skills, food security and value addition as well as promote export. “The APPEALS Project in Nigeria is to enhance agricultural productivity of small and medium holder farmers, to improve value chains in the six participating states.” he said. He added that 480 tons of rice were expected to be produced by the selected farmers in Kano State. On his part, Alhaji Zubairu Ibrahim, Chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) in the state, lauded the Federal Government’s agriculture transformation programmes. Ibrahim said the association would adopt proactive measures to assist its members benefit from viable agriculture development programmes and farmer support services initiated by the government.

Recalled that, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, has reiterated the Federal Government’s commitment to boosting paddy rice, cotton, and livestock production in the country. Nanono made this known in a statement issued in Abuja recently by Mr Theodore Ogaziechi, the ministry’s Director of Information. Ogaziechi quoted Nanono as saying that the government’s commitment would go a long way toward creating more job opportunities, ensuring food security, and increasing Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). Nanono, according to Ogaziechi, made this known when he visited the Emir of Dutse, Alh. Muhammadu Sanusi in his palace. The minister noted that plans had been concluded to distribute more than 10,000 tractors and inputs to farmers in the 774 Local Government Areas of the country

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According to him, tractors, fertiliser, chemicals, and other inputs will be distributed to farmers under a soft loan scheme designed to boost agricultural mechanisation. He said that the gesture was to enable farmers to boost their production capacity so that the government could mop up excess produce for storage in its strategic reserves. “What we need is that the beneficiaries must be genuine farmers and indigenes of the participating local government areas. “The Federal Government will commence implementation of the programme in the second quarter of this year 2020,” he said.

In his remarks, according to Ogaziechi, the emir, who was represented by Alh. Basiru Sanusi, praised President Muhammadu Buhari for his commitment to reinvigorating the agricultural sector. The emir said that the council had set up a committee to ensure participation in the agricultural transformation programme of government. He said, “When we heard about the Federal Government’s plans to give soft loans to farmers in the 774 local government areas, we set up an awareness creation committee to mobilise participation in the programme.” He said that the committee would identify suitable crops in each of the seven local government areas in Dutse Emirate Council for cultivation in commercial quantities.

Moreover, the Federal Government has disclosed the distribution of distributing 10, 000 tractors and inputs to farmers ahead of this year’s planting season to boost productivity and supply of food to Nigerians. The disclosure was made by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Muhammad Nanono, in Jigawa State, during a courtesy visit to the palace of the Emir of Dutse, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi. According to Nanono, the Federal Government will continue to put in the effort to ensure more tractors get to farmers across the country in order to achieve the diversification plan, which farmers will receive farm inputs including fertilisers, chemicals and other inputs under a special soft loan scheme designed to boost agricultural mechanization.

He said: “Farmers in each of the 774 Local Government Areas through their Councils would be allocated tractors worth N150,000 million each and inputs as soft loan to be repaid in an 11-year plan. “What we need is that the beneficiaries must be genuine farmers and indigenes of the participating Local Government Councils. This gesture is to assist farmers to boost their production capacity so that the government could mop up excess produce for strategic reserves. “The Federal Government would commence implementation of the programme in the second quarter of the year 2020.”

The Minister also maintained that the government remains resolute to accelerate production along the cotton, rice paddy and livestock value chains to increase food production, security, employment, profit, Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, foreign direct investment, and others in the sector. Meanwhile, the Emir of Dutse, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi, represented by Alhaji Basiru Sanusi, commended the effort of the Buhari-led administration in the agricultural sector and was excited over the gesture of the government to give 10, 000 tractors to farmers including other farm input. The Emir also told the Minister that his council had set up a committee to mobilize farmers in his emirate for full and active participation in agricultural programmes such as this. “When we heard about the federal government’s plans to give soft loans to farmers in the 774 local government areas, we set up an awareness creation committee to mobilize participation in the programme. “The committee would identify suitable crops in each of the seven local government areas under the Dutse Emirate Council and we will support the Federal Government’s policies and programmes in the sector”, he said.

Furthermore, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, weekend, disclosed that 5.1 million youth will benefit from Federal Government’s $1.1 billion agriculture mechanization programme, called the ‘Green Imperative Programme’. This was made known by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, while inaugurating an 18-man implementation committee, whiling emphasizing that the government is committed to mechanized farming across the country to boost food production and security as the country’s population is over 200 million and the dependence of other neighbouring Africa countries on food from Nigeria.

According to Nanono who chairs the committee, the Green Imperative Programme is estimated at $1.1 billion, which will be funded by the Brazilian Government through a loan from the Deutsche Bank (DB), Development Bank of Brazil and Islamic Development Bank. He further explained that the loan will be repaid at a three per cent interest rate over a period of 15 years for Development Bank of Brazil and seven years including two years moratorium for the DB. He said: “The programme, which is expected to benefit 100,000 young people directly and 5 million indirectly, is designed to enable Nigeria to acquire 10,000 units of tractors and 50,000 units of assorted implement and equipment for assembly in Nigeria. “It is also meant to ensure training of project beneficiaries for over 10 years and establishment of 780 service centres to assist smallholder farmers prepare the soil, cultivate and harvest farm produce. “GIP is further designed to enhance agricultural mechanisation specialised extension services and agro-processing in the 774 local government areas and the six area councils in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

However, the Minister also decried the abysmal 7,000 functional tractors across the country, said with the move by the government there will be a boost in the country’s tractors with service centres in 632 local government areas and 140 processing centres, hence will bring about a quantum leap in the sector for greater food production. “We have only 7,000 functional tractors in this country. We have only seven tractors by 100 square kilometres. Compare that with Kenya that has 27 tractors by 100 square kilometres. The standard is 127 per square kilometres. So, you can imagine the task before us”, he said.

In a related vein, the Federal Government has rolled out details of its ambitious agricultural programme, which it is undertaking with $1.2 billion loan support from Brazil, saying the project would inject $10 billion into the economy, create five million new jobs and empower no fewer than 35 million Nigerians nutritionally and economically.

Additionally, the take-off of the programme would entail the reactivation of six motor assembly plants in the six geopolitical zones of the country for assembling tractors and other implements and the importation of Completely Knocked Down (CKD) parts of about 5,000 tractors and numerous implements (for local assembly) annually for a period of 10 years. Overall, the federal government estimates that the programme would train and engage no fewer than 100,000 agricultural extension workers and eventually transfer the Brazilian technology to Nigeria. At the same time, the package also involves the establishment of 142 agro-processing service centres for value addition, with one centre in each of the 109 senatorial districts in Nigeria as well as the establishment of 632 mechanization service centres to support primary production in the 774 Local Government Areas and the Federal Capital Territory. Ministers of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and his Agriculture counterpart, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, unveiled the details of the agricultural programme at a joint press conference at the National Press Centre in Abuja.

The information Minister said: “This programme will create 774 service centres nationwide to mechanize our farming methods and process or add value to farm produce locally, leading to efficiency and eliminating post-harvest losses, thereby cutting down cost of food all year round Additionally, private sector operators will operate and manage all the service centres and the assembly plants and it will create about 5 million jobs and inject over US$10 billion into the economy within 10 years. Mohammed boasted that the new agricultural project, which is ambitiously codenamed “The Green Imperative”, would revolutionize agriculture in Nigeria within the ten year period that it is expected to be implemented. “The stage is now set for an agricultural revolution that will strengthen food security, create massive jobs, transfer technology, revive or reinvigorate many assembly plants, strengthen the economy, save scarce resources, mechanize farming and lead to the emergence of value-added agriculture, among other benefits,” Mohammed boasted.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, explained that unlike other agricultural programmes in the past, which failed, the present administration would ensure the success of the Green Imperative, which he said, would be private sector-driven and devoid of any form of political interference. Nanono said that the project had become imperative to enable Nigeria to mechanically cultivate more of its vast arable land, which has been under cultivated with only 34 million hectares yearly yielding between 1.2 to 1.6 tonnes per hectare but which can be significantly improved with mechanisation as is the case in neighbouring African countries. “We have enough land, water and inputs to produce more food for Nigeria but we need to mechanise the process in order to get more yield and output with the aid of machines as our neighbours are doing,” Nanono said.

The programme, which is worth $1.2 billion, is to be implemented over a period of 5-10 years with funding from the Development Bank of Brazil (BNDES) and Deutsche Bank; with insurance provided by Brazilian Guarantees and Fund Managements Agency (ABGF) and the Islamic Corporation for Insurance of Export Credit (ICIEC) of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), and coordinated by Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV).

It is the outcome of a Nigeria-Brazil Bilateral Agriculture Development Programme dating back to 6 June 2016 aimed at enrolling Brazil’s Government-to-Government More Food International Programme (MFIP), which has already resulted in several high level Ministerial and technical visits and exchanges have between the two countries and the signing of the Bilateral Protocol of Intention with the Government of Brazil in March 2017. As part of the effort to get the project off the table, Nigeria’s the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, formally launched The Green Imperative programme on 17 January 2019 in the presence of the representatives of the Federative Republic of Brazil, Deutsche Bank as well as Brazilian and Nigerian private sector.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the present administration is working assiduously to ensure that agriculture occupies a place of pride in the scheme of things in the polity through the diversification of the economy, more than any other government in Nigeria, this government has invested heavily in agriculture and the results are so glaring for everyone to see.

*** Written by Jide Ayobolu.