By Mariam Mohammed
Recently, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, caused a buzz when he was shown visiting his expansive farm showcasing diverse crops including animal husbandry. The import of that media blitz of the Speaker is that the elite clearly understands that agriculture holds the key to sustainable development. Before Dogara’s, we are witnesses to President Muhammadu Buhari showcasing his herd of cattle most times when he is in his hometown of Daura. The cheering news about this is that it is not just the elite that are given to the idea of investing in agriculture.
We have entertainers like music star, D’Banj, who has commercialized his farm produce with the popular Koko garri, actress, Halima Abubakar, veteran actor, Yinka Quadri, the ‘jaga-jaga’ crooner, Eedris Abdulkareem, film producer and actor, Taiwo Hassan amongst a host of others. In an interview not too long ago, D’Banj was quoted as saying: “I engage in agriculture personally to encourage millions of African youths who look up to me as a role model. I need to let them know that unlike the old stereotype of farming which was considered as a form of punishment, modern farming, on the contrary, is a cool source of employment for many graduates.
Agriculture is life and it is everything that we live for. It is the only way forward for us in Africa. There are so many potentials in it and if we could focus on it, the continent can actually feed the rest of the world.” Nothing can be farther from the truth that the value chain in agriculture is immense if properly harnessed. Let’s take the case of former journalist Rotimi Williams who is reputed to own the second largest commercial farm rice in the country. Williams, 35, has a farm that measures 45, 000 hectares in Nasarawa state and employs more than 600 indigenes of the state without counting the spiral effect of the job creation and investment in the area and beyond. As a country that consumes more than 5 million metric tons of rice every year, with a significant portion from imports, people like Williams are exemplars that with the right policy by government, the country’s quest for self-sufficiency is possible after all.
It is in this regard that the Federal Government’s Anchor Borrowers Programme powered by the Central Bank is a vital instrument. The significant aspect of the intervention, which I find compelling, is seeing agriculture as a business driven venture and not simply as a subsistence endeavour. Therefore, taking the route of business-driven agriculture to the grassroots through the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), by deploying an innovative nation-wide field structure to support 225,000 farmers should be applauded.
Under the Project Monitoring Reporting and Remediation Office (PMRO) with units located in each state and the federal capital, the NIRSAL is realizing its core mandate of making agriculture more attractive for private sector investment by de-risking the agricultural value chain.
Speaking not too long ago on the importance of the PMRO, Managing Director/CEO of NIRSAL, Aliyu Abdulhameed, explained, “The PMRO structure is very critical to our operations. Agriculture is a field business. They would act as our eyes to ensure that agricultural projects that we facilitate finance for are executed in line with agreed terms and also serve to extend the reach of our interventions.” Despite all of these, they are people who think that it is still a long road to Uhuru, and rightly so.
In a country that even productive ventures are seen as tools for political patronage, there is the urgency by these agencies to demonstrate that they are insulated from the vagaries of politics and the shenanigans of politicians.
Besides this, policy inconsistency is a major drawback. We have seen government rolling back programmes only to reintroduce them either under a new nomenclature or with slight modifications. In a situation where farmers and investors are unsure of the policy of government for a sector that requires medium and long term planning, then there is little hope of getting the right people to show genuine interest and commitment.
While most Nigerians think this government has done well in boosting agricultural entrepreneurship, the new worry centres round President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent visit to President Donald Trump of the United States. On many strategic fronts, the visit is a plus and reinforces the vital nature of Nigeria in global affairs, the nagging doubt of what type of agreement was entered into by the president persists. It is a given that with myriads of security challenges, the country needs the security might of the U.S in tackling the threats of Boko Haram and other existentialist groups but are we counting the cost when there are other alternatives to our common good? In the global agricultural and trade war, countries like Nigeria become pawns in the hands of the major players, therefore, a lot of tact and guile is required if we are to protect our local markets and investors.
Without a doubt, the U.S. and China are in a bitter trade war with agricultural produce at the centre of it. It is known that owing to some Trump’s business decisions on Chinese businesses that China is enforcing new tax policies on American agricultural products and to absorb the outcome of the enforcements, President Trump is looking to countries like Nigeria, Argentina and Brazil as buffers. So to sign a deal that will see U.S. agric produce, which by the way are heavily subsidized, flooding the Nigerian market at a time that America is not buying our crude is to adversely undermine the potential of the efforts of government to not only ensure food security, grow our economy and job creation, but to seriously eat into our forex market.
What government needs to do is to create a buffer of tax exemptions for farmers and other incentives to keep our farmers afloat while seriously tackling the menace of armed banditry and insurgency on farming communities, as well as properly ensure that all imported produce pay the correct tariffs and duties.