Architect Kabiru Ibrahim is the national president of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN). In this interview with Daily Trust, he outlines three qualities that President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu must consider in appointing the Agriculture and Rural Development minister. Excerpts:
What score would you give the departing administration in agriculture as the voice of farmers?
The Buhari administration has put agriculture on the front burner right from the time the Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) came up, we would say that with all pride. We contributed in no small measure to the evolution of the APP. When Buhari was campaigning, he told the whole world that he was going to make agriculture the cornerstone of his administration and restore the dignity of agriculture and all that.
So we convened a meeting at ABU Zaria. We called all our farmers’ leaders, the chairmen in all our chapters in all the 36 states plus FCT and then came up with our resolutions but to make it effective, we approached the agricultural foundation of Nigeria where I’m also a board of trustee member, and you know, Sen. Abdullahi Adamu is the chairman. They liked what we did, and we got some experts and they put more flesh on what we had and then we were lucky the president just appointed Audu Ogbeh whom I know while I was president of the Poultry Association of Nigeria before I became president of AFAN as a member.
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I know he’s a farmer so we welcomed his appointment and then we approached him and he agreed. We brainstormed and the conclusion was what we took to the ministry and which gave birth to the APP.
The CBN actually bought into APP to bring about the Anchor Borrowers’ scheme because this was the first assignment that the president was invited to and made to formally launch the Anchor Borrower’s Programme in Kebbi State for the production of rice and wheat. But along the line, they put in too much money on rice.
I don’t know the reason but whatever it was, they jettison the issue of wheat and the rice farmers association became the darling of the CBN on the Anchor Borrower Programme and the rice millers and all that all joined hands, so it was a programme that was popular.
Many people were taking up farming because of that. As time goes on, they expanded it to other crops and as you can see the rest is history. It’s a lot of money that was pumped into the sector.
There is a mixture of success and failure. The biggest failure is the non-repayment because you know farmers who benefit should pay for others to also get, but that is not happening. Therefore, for us, it is a failure. And then while that was going on, it was just domicile in CBN it was between the CBN and the commercial banks.
So there was no role for the Ministry of Agriculture or for AFAN, you reached these farmers through AFAN, the individual’s commodity associations. Personally, I came from two commodity associations. I was the head of the most important commodity association in Nigeria at some point because poultry was sitting on an asset of 2 billion dollars.
We wanted the role of the ministry and AFAN because of sustainability since what they are doing is an intervention. So if the policies were implemented properly, the Buhari administration would have approached food security. My prayer is that the Tinubu Asiwaju and Shettima administration should continue with what Buhari has done but make sure that they reappraise the Anchor Borrowers and appoint a minister of agriculture who knows what to do.
Having identified some challenges that affected the performance of the outgoing administration, where do you think the incoming administration should confront without delay?
Well, we are privileged to have read the manifesto of what they want to do and we have heard Asiwaju’s utterances on agriculture. There are four pillars in the food system: production, processing, storage, and distribution; but there’s also a fifth one, marketing, and a sixth one, which is consumption because you also need to know how to consume properly.
As far as agriculture is concerned, it will do better if the energy sector is also doing well because the remaining perishables that we produce, no matter what you would on the genetic engineering, there are limits to shelf life; you need to keep it in an ambient temperature that is supportive of the lifespan, so power has to work. Transportation, too has to be okay.
I think the Tinubu administration should appraise everything, and appoint people on merit. It should ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. It is then you would get something from agriculture, and attain the much elusive food security. Because when you have an empty stomach, there’s no way you can think outside the box, even your children will not grow very well.
The new administration should please continue with modifications to some of the programmes of the CBN and then get all the actors involved and in the whole process the biggest stakeholder is the farmer. You must involve the farmer, and they should also try to do some investments in mechanization, on science and technology. We must do innovation; it must take care of transportation, take care of energy, and all the cross-curtain issues that affect agriculture security and all those things. Because if there’s no security, the farmer cannot go to his farm then he cannot produce.
You have encountered many agriculture ministers. As a farmer with so much expertise, what characteristics would you tell Tinubu to look for in the candidate to lead the agriculture ministry?
Well, the person I would want to see is one who is passionate about agriculture, and who will do all the things that are desired transparently. The president should subject his appointee as minister of agriculture to three things: competence, hard work, and integrity. No matter how hardworking, no matter how competent the person is, if the person does not have integrity, don’t appoint him. You will have to look for these three things.
The person should know what to do, should be competent, should work very hard and should have integrity then all the necessary things will be implemented to the letter. And once you implement these very good programmes we will record sufficiency in agriculture. There is nothing wrong with the policies, I have them. Once you deviate, I know where you’re going, you’re going to fail.
You noted that a lot of attention has been paid to rice. Do you think that this administration needs to reassess that policy, or do you think it is fine as it is?
Well, you see, rice has become an important food item in Nigeria by commission. I will tell you this, when my mother was alive in the village, processing rice into food was much easier than even maize. If you give her a bag of maize, for instance, she will have to go to the grinding machine to make it into flour.
Then you have to buy condiments to make soup before you can eat it but if it is rice, they can even boil it and put oil on it and eat. So it is always easier for us to manage rice. So I never gave her corn, I gave her rice. By the same token, most farmers, most families and most people in Nigeria tend to think that rice is the in-thing but I said this, even on TV, when I was a youth corps member in Owerri in 1983, I would go to a restaurant and ask for food, they will tell me there’s no food, but there’s rice. So in Owerri at that time rice was not food; food for them was pounded yam, garri and other things.
Therefore, we have by commission, made rice the number one food item and we thought it would be a staple everywhere in Nigeria, but the best way to get food security is, since we are divided into six regions, look at all these regions and the staples in them and work on the staples that are value chains in those regions. That way, every region will contribute its quota to the centre and everybody will perform very well and then you will get food security.
By Hussein Yahaya & Vincent A. Yusuf
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