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Nigeria Must Be Serious With Agriculture Else… –IFAD President

Nigeria is setting a paradoxical investment of large arable land, but gross inadequate food resulting in huge foreign exchange on food importation is a serious challenge. How can she address this?

You know that agriculture in Nigeria is at the level of subsistence; small farmers or what most people often describe as peasant farmers cultivating very small areas of land, and that may be because the system of agriculture is not very productive. The productivity is very low and so one tends to believe that by investing in large-scale agriculture we can address the problem, forgetting that most of the food we consume in Nigeria and parts of Africa are produced by small-scale farmers.

Now what is paradoxical according to your question is that, Nigeria has 84 million hectres of arable land, but only 40 per cent of this is cultivated and, like I said the cultivation is highly unproductive. Also Nigeria is blessed with adequate supply of rainfall, just as like the rest of African continent. And the West African region is not an exception; we have good tropical conditions with good supply of rainfall. The information that we have is that between July 2014 and June 2015, (a year period), Nigeria spent over $5 billion to import food, And that is 1.7 percent, into Africa.

Africa as a whole spent $35 billion on food importation within the period. For Nigeria alone, we imported 1.7 percent of that. That is not a small number because, if you are looking at that, you are having about 14 percent of the food imported by Nigeria alone. Basically, the solution to our problem is that our agriculture has to be more productive, more efficient, and more competitive. And it means we have to invest in smallholder agriculture to be productive; farmers have to be organised.

They have to have access to new farming technologies so that they can at least, use existing technologies to increase soil fertility so that the soil remains productive; they have to have rural infrastructure because these farmers live in rural areas which often time do not have good   roads, electricity or water supply. And Nigeria has to have the right agricultural policies that act as an incentive for both small and commercial farmers to thrive. On the other hand, we need access to inputs; and the other hand, we need access to agricultural policies that are able to incentivize producers, farmers and the commercial sector to be engaged in agriculture.

This way, we can stop importing food unnecessarily. Look at it this way. If we are importing food to meet our demand, we are using money that should have been invested in Nigeria, to invest in the people producing the food elsewhere. So, we are giving money to those countries exporting food into Nigeria, and we are creating jobs for them. Is it not ridiculous to be creating jobs for your neighbor when you don’t have jobs yourself? Nigeria is a market by itself. Over 170 million people, is a big market. It is not a question of people not buying the food. People are there and they want to   eat, but we do not have enough. We have a vibrant market. We can produce enough food to feed Nigerians, but we have to have the right policies that act as incentive for people to produce; and we have to have the necessary infrastructure so that those who produce these foods in the rural areas can transport them to market.

African agriculture has not grown substantially beyond subsistence despite huge budgetary allocations by governments and inputs by international organizations such as yours. What is your take on this?

First of all, we have to dispel this perception that Nigeria or African countries are investing massively to agriculture. We have a misconception because, we think that African countries are allocating substantial amounts of budget to agriculture and we also think that international organizations like, IFAD are doing same; in actual fact, although in 2003, the African Heads of states and governments decided that they would allocate 10 percent of their budget to agriculture.

It is referred to as to as the Maputo Declaration of 2003. You know, 10 percent of their budgets would be assigned to agriculture. As far as we know, they were supposed to achieve this in 5 years; that is by 2008, they ought to have achieved this level of budgetary support to agriculture. The information we have from the African Union (AU) is that only seven countries out of a total of 54 countries -that is Burkina Fasso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi, Mali, Niger and Senegal have kept to their promises. For Nigeria in particular, for the 10 years after the Maputo Declaration, which is between 2003 and 2013, the maximum that Nigeria allocated to agriculture was about five percent of its budget. It was very low in 2003, because it was just 1.3 per cent; but gradually it has gone up to about 5 per cent. It is unfortunate that it has dropped again in 2012 to about 2 per cent. Am sure that it went up when Dr Akinwumi Adesina came in as Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria. However, and basically too, we have no excuse to be importing food because, Africa is a very rich continent.

In fact, I think Africa is the richest continent in the world   owing to the fact that we have oil, petrol, gas, diamond, gold, copper; you name them. Many countries like Nigeria have grown economically. In fact, the statistics is that of the fastest growing 20 economies of the world, 11 of them are in Africa and Nigeria is one of them. But the paradox in all of this is that, this economic growth has not translated into social development and the well-being of the people remains very bad; poverty and hunger remain very high and health and education systems are still very weak. However, if you look at it that our population is mostly rural and their livelihood is agriculture, does it not make sense that, for us to experience social and economic development, we must have investment in rural transformation?- the rural areas have to be transformed; they have to be socially and economically viable themselves.

So, IFAD believes that if you want social and economic development the agricultural sector has to be vibrant and prosperous. Otherwise, we will continue to live in poverty in spite of our economics. I can give you an example. If you look at Rwanda and Ethiopia, these are two countries that have agriculture at the top of their development agenda both in agricultural investment and rural transformation. And if you go to Ehiopia, which I have visited almost every year for the last 10 years, you can see the tremendous improvements not only on infrastructure but on livelihood of the people. I do not know if you are familiar with the crisis in Ethiopia in the 1980s when there was a lot of famine due to drought, I mean extreme drought. A lot people died.

Today Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. They invest about 14 percent of their budget in agriculture and rural infrastructure. And Ethiopia today, is the largest producer of honey; the second largest exporter of horticulture (its horticultural industry is the second largest). It has a functioning commodity exchange platform; and many other things I can say about that country. Rwanda has the same trend. Today Rwanda is exporting tea and coffee, and the country has been able to reduce rural poverty to less than 50 percent in just five years because agriculture is the backbone of their development.

In the 1960s, agriculture grew exponentially accounting for more than 70 percent of Nigeria’s gross domestic products (GDP). It also served as a major source of foreign exchange earner. But since late 80s, contribution of agriculture both to GDP and as an engine room for economic activity has waned considerably. How can agriculture be revived again in Nigeria?

This was what the former minister of agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina tried to do. He was set to revive agriculture and this led him to embark on the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) in Nigeria in the last administration. And it is an agenda I hope his successor will also pursue. This is because he (Adesina) is a strong believer and a practical person when it comes to food production. You see what you have just said, in the 1960s; Nigeria was a global player in the agricultural market. We were the largest exporter of groundnut; when it comes to cotton and cocoa, we had major inputs into the global markets.

But do you know what happened? We discovered oil (petrol) and agriculture collapsed. That was what happened. Oil then replaced food production then, we forgot that nobody can eat oil; but food is what we eat and, food grows in the soil that raises poultry farms and the rest of them. The oil sector generates large economic benefits only if there is equitable distribution of these benefits for the social good of the population. But agriculture not only gives us food, it also creates wealth because it gives us money.

Farming is business, just as it is the highest or major employer of labour. And it ensures that communities can live in cohesion, meaning they can live together. So agriculture not only feeds people, it generates wealth (money), and it creates jobs larger than any other sector. Therefore we have the potential in our country Nigeria to feed the whole world, with the right investments in the right places, which are agriculture and rural infrastructure. We need to create the conditions in villages and rural areas so that young people can find it attractive to stay there and not to migrate into the big cities, and this way, Nigeria can become and should be the powerhouse economy in the whole of Africa. We just have to get our house together. This is where I have great hopes for the new government under President Muhammadu Buhari because, Nigeria is poised for a great phase if the leadership and the political will are invested in the right places.

Recently, the Republic of Niger and IFAD signed an agreement to finance the Family Farming Development Programme (FFDP) in Maradi, Tahoua and Zinder regions of that country comprising   a US24.25 million loan, a $24.25 million grant and an additional $13 million grant from IFAD’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agricultural Programme (ASAP). What has IFAD done in Nigeria?

What we are doing in Niger is what we have done in Nigeria since 1980s. IFAD has financed 10 programmes (projects) in Nigeria since 1985. And the total cost of these 10 projects is about $800 million, of which IFAD contributed $320 million. This is quite a large amount of money because almost 4 million Nigerian rural households (exactly 3.8 million) benefitted from it. Now, one household is about five people. So, if you look at 3.8 million multiplied by five, you will have close to 20 million rural Nigerians that benefitted from these projects. That is quite a sizeable investment. Two, I am saying this that you should know.

In the whole of West and Central Africa, Nigeria alone gets close to 40 percent of all our resources; I mean out of close to 21 countries in West and Central Africa, Nigeria solely receives close to 40 percent of IFAD’s resources. That is quite huge and if other countries should know this, they will not be happy with IFAD. We have three ongoing projects in Nigeria being financed by IFAD. One is the Community Based Natural Resource Management Programme (CBNRMP) which is in the nine states of the Niger Delta region of this country. Another one is the Rural Finance Institution Building Programme (RUFIN); and there is another one called the Value Chain Development Programme, which is looking at the development of rice and cassava in Nigeria. Actually, you have over 177 million people in Nigeria. This is almost half the population of West Africa. So, we cannot afford to neglect Nigeria.

Again, Nigeria has the potential -it has people who are intelligent; the highest number of educated people in West Africa is in Nigeria. We equally have people who have business acumen whether there are small, medium or large scale businesses. Nigerians are very good. But we have neglected the rural areas -the farmers, the fishing folks and of course the youths. The youths of Nigeria are the leaders of tomorrow; we have to invest in them because our farming populations are getting old. If   we don’t invest in agriculture and these youths continue to see it as a back-breaking and as a poor man’s occupation; and they don’t see agriculture as a business that can generate money; who is going to feed Nigerians?

We will continue to import   food from outside creating jobs, for other countries while our people are jobless. But we have a responsibility; I mean institutions like IFAD and members of the press to tell the story about what agriculture can do for countries and their population. We have squandered oil (petrol) money. That is why we are talking and complaining of falling oil prices; but if we had invested in agriculture (because people will always buy and eat food), we will not have the crisis that we have today.

Lately, IFAD and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) maintained that, “helping farmers adapt to the impacts of climate change can also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions”   which according to the two bodies is good news for the planet and for future generations. How can this be achieved, sir?

I think it would require us to understand the basic concepts and practice of what exactly is climate change and how it can be arrested or slowed down. Of course, there is a lot of science that has gone into the impact of climate change, causes of climate change and how we can mitigate the effects of climate change.

Agriculture and associated practices like forestry have been blamed to contribute to extreme weather conditions because of the greenhouse emissions and extreme high-level carbon dioxide emissions as a result of land use practices. So, the question is what should we do to reduce greenhouse emissions (that how we bury the carbon into the earth or other systems)? Also, we should know that live-stocks production results in the emission of methane gas as well as carbon dioxide indirectly. Therefore, it means we have to improve land restoration to reduce land degradation; we have to manage waters from live-stocks (manure management for example). For this, there is a system now that can transform manure into bio-gas, which is can be used for electricity as well as for cooking in rural areas. It is important that we shift focus to modern agricultural practices.

For instance, zero-tillage, better land uses management culture as I have mentioned. IFAD is supporting the CGIAR. We finance research projects by the CGIAR centres and we actually have a joint activity with the group which climate change and agricultural food security programme. It is called CCAFS. And some of these projects are being done in East Africa. So, the whole concept of climate change is not only in agricultural system; it is also in industries and factories and how they produce food and products that come out from industrial activities, and even how buildings are built today.

So it is not just in agriculture- although agricultural practices like live-stocks, forestry, etc may be contributing close to 25 percent to climate change, but what about the remaining 75 percent due to human activities. However, agricultural systems can become wiser and better to reduce its contribution to climate change using climatesmart agriculture. Currently, there are global alliances to ensure the effects of climate change on human lives are reduced, and I hope that we also in Nigeria are paying more attention on how we produce food. That is why IFAD has the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP) where we do grant money to countries. As far as I know, it is the only climate – smart-agriculture programme that is global in addressing that adaptation of small agricultural produce producers to climate change.

-On 13 February 2013, Kanayo Nwanze was appointed, by acclamation, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for a second four-year term. Nwanze has a strong record as an advocate and leader with a keen understanding of complex development issues. He brings to the job over 35 years of experience across three continents, focusing on poverty reduction through agriculture, rural development and research. Under Nwanze’s guidance, IFAD has stepped up its advocacy efforts to ensure that agriculture is a central part of the international development agenda, and that governments recognize the concerns of smallholder farmers and other poor rural people. As an intellectual leader on issues of food security, Nwanze has been a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Food Security since 2010, and formerly chaired the group. During Nwanze’s tenure, IFAD has increased the number of outposted country programme managers and country offices. This heightened field presence enhances IFAD’s direct supervision of its projects, benefiting Member States, partner institutions and project participants alike. As a result, IFAD has become a valued and results-focused international development partner, delivering a much larger programme of loans and grants, and extending its reach to more rural people as disclosed in this interview with Edward Nnachi, where Nwanze bared his mind on the challenges scuttling the agricultural sector in Africa, using Nigeria as a case study and the way forward.

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