Counting gains of agric transformation agenda

Three days of rigorous brain-storming sessions involving the President, the Vice-President and over 10 ministers and scores of agro-processing investors, farmers and other stakeholders, at the 19th Economic Summit created a veritable platform for discussing the successes achieved so far in the Federal Government’s ongoing Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) and how best to use the agenda as the most vital hub for driving the national economy, towards global competition in the years ahead.

Indeed, the Summit in view of its only focus on the agricultural sector, was seen by stakeholders in the nation’s economy as timely and deserving serious dialogue as the agenda continues to trudge on in government’s efforts to demonstrate clearly that future of the economy hinges around how Nigeria could tap into the immensely huge opportunities availed by the sector to pursue government’s economic re-engineering agenda to its logical conclusion.

For instance, the Federal Government has over the past two and a half years harped on its intention to diversify the economy by committing substantial efforts to the development of the non-oil sector, using the ATA as the propelling force to drive the vision. The President and the energetic Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, have never left any forum without letting the world know about Nigeria’s cassava bread, rice, cassava, maize, sorghum, vegetables, fruits and livestock production improved capacities.

The overall destination of the journey is: make Nigeria a net exporter of food, use farming to curb the rising rate of unemployment, improve farmers’ welfare and returns on investors’ efforts and more importantly, re-enact the country’s old glory as a leading player in agro commodities’ exports into the global market.

In declaring the Summit open, the Chairman of the NESG Board, Foluso Phillips, said the Group decided to specifically focus the theme of the Summit on agricultural sector because it had become clear that without revving up ongoing policy measures drive and creating enabling environment for private investors to come in and play leading roles in ATA, the gains recorded so far would be ephemeral and the dream of economic diversification would be shattered, to the detriment of Nigeria and its potentials for development.

Phillips said the Group believed that the achievements recorded by government in the ATA so far were real, hence the need to engage stakeholders in discussions on all aspects of the value chain with a view to agreeing on how to leverage on the sustainable growth of the sector for overall economic growth.

In his remarks, Adesina stated that the ATA had changed people’s perception about farming and that more and more young farmers, foreign and local investors are gradually moving into agriculture in their efforts to improve their own socio-economic welfare through improved incomes, profits on investments and contributing to the economy by creating jobs and increasing Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings through agro-processed food exports.

President Goodluck Jonathan, during the Presidential Dialogue of the Summit, recalled that over the past two years his administration had through various policy measures and investment drives opened the nation’s agriculture sector for participation and that in furtherance of the ATA goals, efforts were being made to remove most of the bottlenecks, particularly infrastructure, in order to make farming and agro-allied ventures more attractive to young Nigerians majority of whom now are in the labour market.

The President, who also launched the Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP), spoke on sundry efforts being made by the government to strengthen the national infrastructure capacity, particularly transportation and power facilities and also explore cheaper funding opportunities at local and global financial markets to boost productivity and income earning potentials for all players in the ATA value chains.

President Jonathan said, “In order to ensure sustainable development of our nation’s infrastructure, the Government has recently developed a 30 year National Integrated Infrastructure Development Master Plan 2014-2043 with the active participation of the private sector. Of course, the Chief Planner is in charge. The government as at today has also sustained macroeconomic and other sectoral reform initiatives to complement the agricultural sector initiatives for enhanced growth and diversification of the economy.

“Let me use this unique opportunity therefore to call upon the private sector, just as the young men and women did, the key value chain agents to take ownership of articulating and executing the growth of the Transformation Agenda of this agricultural programme. A critical success factor in this attempt at transforming this respect is access to affordable finance of famers and agro businesses. I wish to commend the Central bank of Nigeria for its efforts in expanding lending to agricultural sector. The government will continue to develop innovative financing mechanisms to make agricultural credit more affordable.

“Of course, I listened to the contributors and they talked about the issue of financing and it is issue we have been discussing. A team headed by the Finance Minister is talking about how government will link up with the private sector to make sure that farmers get loans at very low interest rates. Probably the Finance Minister would take about this later to explain further on what government has done and what government is planning to do”, the President added.

The President said he was convinced that agriculture as a business held a bright future for Nigeria, especially the youths, adding that unemployment amongst the youths is one of the biggest challenges. For most of the donor agencies and development partners, including the African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) as well as foreign and local investors in the agricultural sector, whereas the Federal Government’s agenda remained the most promising to pursue in the efforts to diversify the economy.

However, despite the success of the ATA, analysts noted that the issues of infrastructure, prioritisation of irrigation, cheap funds, reversal of post-harvest wastages and strengthening the linkage between farmers and processors and marketers still needed to be properly prioritised in order harvest the gains of agenda on a sustainable basis.

For instance, the World Bank Country Director in Nigeria, Mrs. Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, who spoke on the support the Bank had been providing to the Nigeria’s ATA, noted that development of the irrigation system held the potential of increasing rice, sorghum, millet and livestock productivity exponentially for the country and by implication, address the lingering crisis of poverty in the economy.

As the Summit ended on Thursday with stakeholders’ looking forward to implementation of the recommendations, the Federal Government in demonstration of its commitment to heed stakholders’ advice, confirmed that approval had been given to the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) to privatise the BOA to allow in private sector investors to participate in order to make cheaper access to credit more readily available to farmers.

This is even as it also released a N15 billion grant to the Bank for on-lending at single- digit rate to farmers for the 2013 farming season. Vice President, Arc. Namadi Sambo, who revealed at the closing ceremony of the 3-Day 19th National Economic Summit, said these policy measures was informed by need to make the bank more responsive to the challenges of lack of access to cheap funds by farmers and also remove other bottlenecks in the agriculture sector in order to allow for growth and development of the economy.

The Director-General of the NESG, Mr Frank Nweke II, while presenting the Summit Report stressed the need for agricultural sector to explore the capital market for long term funding in order to address the funding challenges facing the sector.

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