By VICTOR OLAPOJOYE
Top officials from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), State governments, and Nigerian companies seeking to partner with and buy from American companies will converge in Washington DC this week to attend a trade conference on “Transforming Agribusiness in Nigeria through Investment”. The event organized by the Corporate Council on Africa expects to showcase Nigeria’s Agriculture Transformation Agenda, revealing opportunities in the agriculture sector.
Against this background, it becomes auspicious to provide some insight in this regard, and I will use the “Agricultural Transformation Action Plan” developed by FMARD, which appears to be the road map for transforming agriculture in Nigeria, as guide. I will start by acknowledging the willingness of the FG to make documents such as this, publicly available. It is really an indication of a change in governance style at the most important government ministry in Nigeria. Those who know what I am talking about will agree with me.
The document that I referenced above delved into how agricultural production has declined over the years due to a whole range of factors, and most importantly, I think, how Nigeria has become a net importer of food! The document also outlined success stories of agricultural transformation in Africa, citing the Kenyan and the Malawian examples. The document espouses a vision of “achieving a hunger-free Nigeria through an agricultural sector that drives income growth, accelerates achievement of food and nutritional security, generates employment and transforms Nigeria into a leading player in global food markets to grow wealth for millions of farmers”. The document also highlighted a number of policy objectives that can be summarized into core agricultural, financial, industrial and domestic policy objectives.
The remarkable success recorded so far in the area of fertilizer distribution has been one of the bright spots for the FG. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in achieving the vision set forth in the policy document.
The first thing that jumped at me is the coordination of all the efforts towards achieving these set objectives, the policy document talks about establishing strategic objectives for agricultural projects. If you are going to establish strategic objectives, you are going to require strategic partners, ranging from other MDAs, NGOs, and the private sector, with whom you would have to cultivate and maintain on-going relationships. However, FMARD as currently organized does not have a unit or department saddled with this responsibility.
Without a unit or department within FMARD to coordinate all of these efforts and relationships, the vision set forth will only remain a dream with no hope of realization. For instance, an Office of Strategic Partnerships should be created at the Ministry for this purpose.
Another is in the area of availability of seeds. Though the document identified liberalization of the seed production industry, as one of its policy objectives, the current situation regarding seed distribution in Nigeria is nothing to write home about. According to information provided by the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC), which is the specialized agency of Government saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the development of the Nigerian seed industry for improved quality seed production availability, access and affordability to farmers, over 80% of registered seed companies in Nigeria are located in Northern Nigeria (58% in the North-West, 19% in the North-East, and over 9% in North-Central), Just over 6% are located in the South-West and South-South respectively, and, wait for this, none in the South-East! Does it mean that no farming is taking place in the South-East? No, it means farmers in this region do not have easy access to improved seeds to achieve an increase in yield. This is a serious issue and I am glad it is part of the policy objectives of government.
While there is so much effort geared towards improving and increasing crop yields, the Ministry must not lose sight of the fact that the gains from yield improvements may be wiped out without a corresponding increase in secondary level support services, such as logistics (transportation, storage, grading). There is where strategic relationships with the Ministry of Works, Ministry of Transportation, the Nigerian Military through its Logistics Corps can offer some expertise, and the private sector, becomes very crucial in designing and implementing an overall logistics frame work for the Agric industry in Nigeria.
I have also noted there is so much emphasis on equipment purchase, to the total exclusion of opportunities to lease these equipment. Agricultural equipment cost a whole lot and leasing presents a cost effective option to outright purchase of these equipment. Obviously an international leasing arrangement will include a lot of guarantees and some structuring. This is where an Office of Strategic Partnerships at the Ministry becomes very important. This unit can coordinate all of the efforts required to establish mutually beneficial leasing agreements with equipment manufacturers through their dealers in Nigeria. Interested financial and development institutions can be co-opted to provide their services.
Other ideas that should be considered as part of this policy is co-locating processing and packaging facilities close to the farms. This will need some government support, and the rewards are that it substantially lowers the cost of entry into the agriculture value-chain business, in addition to helping to make horizontal integration within the value chain easy, as time goes on. It also helps to achieve overall reduction in logistics cost due to the value improvements made to the products.
As we gather in DC, it has to be borne in mind that we don’t have a choice as a country when it comes to improving agricultural production and distribution in Nigeria. I say this because with less than 10% of arable land in Nigeria cultivated, we have the basic requirements to achieve the government and the people’s vision, but our eventually success will have to be driven by a common will of the people and government. Remember, a nation that cannot feed itself cannot feed itself is, at best, a walking corpse.
Victor Olapojoye can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org