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Time to salvage Nigeria’s agricultural sector

However, as laudable as the initiative of the Federal Government under the leadership of President Yar’adua towards revitalizing the nation agricultural sector is, this sector…

However, as laudable as the initiative of the Federal Government under the leadership of President Yar’adua towards revitalizing the nation agricultural sector is, this sector is gradually collapsing due to inept and self-centered leadership.

From his educational background and throughout his career up till the time he was appointed Minister of Agriculture, he, had no relationship with the sector.  His educational background reveals that he holds a Bachelor of Arts in History, a Post-Graduate Certificate in Public Information Management, a certificate in Labour Relations, Masters in International Affairs and Diplomacy, ABU, Zaria, and a PhD in International Relations, University of Abuja.

Since his appointment as agriculture minister, there has not be the regular meeting of the agricultural council.  Records show that the council’s meeting only held on a few occasions in the last three years, and those were when there were emergencies. For a meaningful development to take place in the sector, for the national programme on food security to be realistic, focus should be on the implementation of the programmes.

The councils meeting on agriculture comprises the stakeholders of the very important sector across in the 36 states of the federation.  The regular meetings of the council would have afforded the country the opportunity to inject fresh ideas into the sector. Despite the introduction of the N200 billion commercial agricultural credit scheme, all over Nigeria, there is looming scarcity of food, with prices of food items gradually becoming unaffordable for an average Nigerian.

It is no longer news that as laudable as the scheme is, it is not making the desired impact because only very few states have been able to access the credit scheme. Even in the few states, the credit is being withdrawn again.   Let the minister of agriculture tell Nigerians how much has been realized as bank interest through the fixed deposit of the fund.  The minister also needs to explain the beneficiaries of the interest accrued from the fixed deposit.

It is dis-heartening to note that the council on agriculture that would have raised questions on the grey areas as regards the implementation of the federal government’s policy on agriculture is already rendered ineffective due to lack of regular meetings.  The fact that Nigeria spends an estimated $5 billion annually on food importation is a challenge and a consequence of government’s inability to achieve food security.

Unfortunately, the provision of adequate financial scheme as a process of food production is already a mirage in the country.  The success in the drive to attain the goals of food security and economic development of food security and economic development is premised on a good agricultural policy and adequate financial backing.  All over the country, Nigerians are struggling for an access to sufficient, safe and nutritious foods to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for active and healthy life.  However, it is painful that several billions of naira was being wasted annually on policies that were never implemented. Nigerians have been short-changed and there is need for stakeholders in the agriculture sector to rise up and demand their rights.

Throughout the country, Nigerian farmers are suffering they are being cheated by those meant to protect their interest.  Fertilizer procurement and distribution is being shrouded in scams. Development of improved seedlings and manpower development through regular training for farmers remain only a propaganda.  Already, there is public skepticism and apathy over the campaign for food production.

In a related development, one may add, where has the N240 million Natural Resource Fund realized from deductions for allocations to the 36 state governments gone into? Is it gone down the drain? We understand that the deductions were made over a period of 10 years.  The money, it is being speculated, was diverted from its original purpose into an un-intended purpose of building silos all over the country.  In spite of the fact that a large sum of money was spent on building additional silos for food reserve sand storage, there is no food price stability in the country.

Presently, it is most likely that the state of Nigeria’s agriculture when juxtaposed with the amount expended on the sector, is the least productive in Africa.  This is evident in the degree of high level of rural poverty and recurring food crisis which is penetrating the urban centres. It is now called an aspect of urban poverty.

Nigeria may afford to pay lip service to other sectors of the economy, but it can’t do so to agriculture and food security.  This current scenario, where by the ministry of agriculture seems to be playing politics with Nigeria’s agriculture sector portends a grave consequence, not only now but also for the future of Nigeria.

There is need for the federal government to get it right in the key sectors of energy, agriculture and national security.  This can only be achieved by putting right what has been done wrong. By ensuring that round pegs are put in round holes. In the agricultural sector, except drastic measures are taken to check the situation, Nigerian farmers will continue to operate under a heavy burden, irrespective of the huge budgetary allocations to the sector annually.

Sotunde wrote this piece from Lagos

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