As President Muhammadu Buhari prepares to round off his first term in office and begins his second term, farmers and major stakeholders in the agricultural sector have challenged him to ensure the right person be given the portfolio to manage affairs as Minister of Agriculture.
According to stakeholders in the sector, for the country to really move from its present situation to where it is supposed to be in terms of development, Economic diversification, restoration of agriculture as an important employer of labour, a major foreign exchange earner, the mainstay of the national economy and attaining food sufficiency, the appointment of a technocrat and a practising farmer has become imperative.
The stakeholders also pointed out that the next Agric minister must be able to address and find lasting solutions to some of the fundamental issues that have debarred the growth of the sector before now. Speaking further on the agenda for the President, Adeniyi Sola Bunmi, an Agric strategist advised that an active professional should be considered as the next minister.
“We should look at someone who is an active industry player, not necessarily to be a farmer because we need someone who understands more of the value chain than the production, because at the end of the day, it is about processing.
“We have been producing in this country, production is not our problem, but what have we done with what we have been producing? We have not done much with what we are producing. The time is now that we need technocrat; someone that can do a lot across the board, someone who has the exposure, the experience, the connection with the network of people in the industry, not an old man.
“We need someone who is agile and who is up to date with current realities in the agricultural sector. “He or she must be proactive and must be able to address the real issues,” he added.
Speaking further, Oyekoya said that some of the problems bedeviling food and agriculture in Nigeria were about the leadership, policy summersault, mismanagement, embezzlements and corruption of public funds. He stated that food, agricultural industrialisation and privatization are supposed to eradicate global hunger and poverty but the reverse was the case in Nigeria.
Femi Salami, Chief Executive Officer of Oamsal Nigeria Limited said that he desired a much younger Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development that the current Minister, Audu Ogbeh had been around the corridors of power under various governments for many decades.
He said that Buhari should bring in a more vibrant and tested Nigerian with ears and eyes of many international donors and development agencies, stressing that most of the development partners have shifted their base to neighbouring countries due to some friction of ideologies with the current Minister, adding that many of their projects are headquartered in the Benin Republic and Ghana, among others.
“Also I am much pained by the neglect of Cassava Bread Fund initiative of former Agric. Minister and the government. All achievements of that administration had been abandoned with the fund now being used for power and housing among others while the Cassava Bread Fund Value Chain has collapsed,” he said.
Nurudeen Tiamiyu, a renowned fish farmer and the National Vice President of Tilapia Aquaculture Developers Association of Nigeria (TADAN), suggested that President Buhari should appoint a practicing farmer with track records of achievements both in private practice and politics.
“The only thing he can do is to get a practicing farmer that is successful in private practice and a politician. Such a person should not be hard for them to get, he can get a politician that is a successful farmer in Nigeria.
He must appoint someone who is competent and who can deliver. He must be someone who has been successful in managing his own farm, in terms of producing in his farm, in terms of employment on his farm. If a minister does not have these criteria, I wonder what impact his appointment would have on the ministry,” he said.
Speaking further he disclosed that there are several policies that are on ground which government has not implemented, that the new minister should be able to avail himself to look into such policies and implement them to the latter.
“For us in the aquaculture sector, how much have we implemented the ban on farm fish, especially tilapia, if we don’t implement the ban there is no way the aquaculture industry can compete.
“Look at the poultry industry, for instance, there is a total ban on poultry products, the industry is now getting bigger and bigger every year because people cannot bring in smuggled poultry products, but we still, have smuggled fish been dumped in Nigeria. The policies are there but the government is not implementing them, the new minister must look into this,” he added.
However, the stakeholders pointed out some of the fundamental issues to include the provision of credit facilities to support farmers, a grant of repayable loans with zero interest through agricultural banks to farmers to support their businesses. Also, provision of government-owned extension services, which should be saddled with the introduction of new farming techniques and new or hybrid farm inputs to the farmers. This, according to them would help boost the overall productivity of farm produce.
Rehabilitation of feeder roads is another issue they believe required urgent attention as many of the roads that link farm settlement are t be worked on to facilitate easy movement of farm produce to the market.
They also called for a total ban on importation and encouragement of value chain partnership with farmers and also for the provision of modern irrigation techniques that support all year round production.
Oyekoya stated further that the realization of the importance of the agricultural sector in the overall development of the in the area of food sufficiency, shelter provision and its contributions to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) should formulate and implement policies that would encourage farmers as well as encourage more people to venture into agriculture. As a way to guarantee the success of such policies, he tasked the government to ensure adequate budgetary allocation for at least 10 per cent of the nation’s budget; review of the subsisting schemes and reforms to make them more supportive of farm output.