Agricultural experts have expressed concern at the effects of insecurity, climate change and poor budgetary allocations to Nigeria’s agricultural sector, which are threatening the country’s long term food security.

Challenges in the sector have in recent times led to farmers abandoning their farms, and harvest destroyed due to climate change, natural disasters and diseases.

With high expectations for the year 2022, experts in the agricultural sector have canvassed for more research, funding, and tackling of climate change and insecurity to herald a viable agriculture sector.

They believe that sustained funding, especially in the area of agricultural research and innovation will bring about breakthrough and value addition that would drive the federal government’s diversification policy for job creation, foreign exchange earnings, and GDP growth.

While setting the agenda for the agricultural sector in 2022 with high expectation of a fruitful outcome, some experts who spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend in separate interviews said the current 1.8 percent allocation to the sector is grossly inadequate to put the country on the path to economic prosperity.

Although the Maputo Declaration mandates all African countries to set aside at least 10 per cent of their yearly budgets to agriculture, since 2003 when the agreement came to effect, Nigeria has failed to abide by the treaty as budgetary allocation to agriculture currently stands at 1.8 percent in the 2022 budget.

Agriculture remains a strong pillar to tackle Nigeria’s economic misfortunes and, as such, paucity of funds and lack of robust research could deprive the sector of its viability.

The national president of Potatoes Farmers Association of Nigeria (POFAN), Daniel Okafor, called for more research in the agricultural sector for the development of crops, animals, the transformation of agriculture by-products, and making available raw materials for improved farming.

Okafor also said, “I want the government to intervene in all the value chains of agriculture by providing low-interest loans directly to farmers and also look into value addition for every sector, especially the processing and marketing of agricultural products.”

On the issue of climate change, he urged the federal government to develop a sustainable framework to tackle its effects, saying climate change has destroyed a lot of agricultural produce and has led to poor harvest.

He said, “Let NiMet (Nigeria Meteorological Agency)  and other government agencies set up a sustainable framework to tackle climate change to achieve a favourable weather condition for improving production.”

The helmsman of the potatoes farmers also urged the federal government to consider more training for farmers on good agricultural practices.

According to him, “Government should consider training farmers on good agricultural practices in line with international best practices because most of Nigeria’s food produce are not acceptable in the international market. We want more exportation for farmers to make more money and attract young people into agriculture.

“I expect the federal government to move the Anchor Borrowers Programme to the Bank of Agriculture and use Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation (NAIC) to reduce insurance premiums for farmers.”

On his part, the national president, Agricultural Produce Sellers Association of Nigeria (APSAN), Comrade Aloys Akortsaha, advised the federal government to increase budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector to guarantee economic growth.

He said in the year 2022, “if the federal government is truthful about diversifying the economy into agriculture, they should take the budgetary allocation to the sector seriously because practising farming nowadays needs a lot of equipment and money. At least they should encourage mechanised farming and give more loans to farmers directly.

“Farming is the only thing that when you invest in it, you will not be disappointed because every kobo given to farmers, you will see results. For instance, if you give each farmer N200,000 to farm, the next year you will be surprised at the output, the result will be marvelous.”

On budgetary budget allocation to the agriculture sector, he maintained that it is grossly inadequate.

“I want to emphasise that budget allocation to agriculture all these years is grossly inadequate so my opinion is that the money should be increased and again the federal government should take the agricultural sector seriously in the real sense of it.”

While urging Nigerians to support efforts that will reduce substandard agro-produce in the country, Akortsaha noted that the lack of acceptance of Nigeria’s agricultural produce at the international market due to safety and health concerns has created a dented image for the country and has depleted foreign exchange earnings as Nigeria’s cannot export most of its agricultural produce to Europe and other countries.

Speaking on his agenda for the government this year, the national president of Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN), Adeola Adegoke similarly called for increased investment in the agricultural sector to deliver a sustained economy.

Adegoke also sought protection for farmers and stressed the need to put an end to farmers-herders crisis as well as kidnapping in the nation.

He said government at all levels must collaborate with the private sector and research institutions to invest and facilitate agricultural research and transfer of breakthrough innovations to farmers for improved food production.

“We have realised that the agric sector gives the highest foreign exchange earnings to a country and for industrialisation of the sector, they must be key things that must be done, which is food sufficiency and food security,” he said, adding that increased import of food in the nation shows a lot of weaknesses of the economy.

“A lot of things need to be put in place for economic growth in terms of increased spending and investment and diversification of agriculture across the value chain.

“We must look at the processing and marketing and value addition of all agricultural produce, and to see how we can improve our exportation; this, to me, is going to sustain the economy and diversify it in real terms.”

Speaking further, he said there must be a collaborative effort between the public and private sectors to drive the economy and utilize research Institutes.

He said, “This will bridge the gap and transfer of research breakthroughs and bring in private investors to look at ways of making sure that we as a nation build our capacity to sustain the economy because we have seen that no country can develop without the agric sector being revolutionised.

“It is not only to increase funding- that is important, but to improve our security on all sides and make sure that our people go to the farm and produce in commercial quantities, and at the same time empowering other farmers to produce more.”

Adegoke noted that a viable agricultural sector will ensure the availability of locally made raw materials for the country’s industries.

He also canvassed an increase in the exportation of cocoa as one of Nigeria’s commodities with huge potential in foreign exchange earnings that can aid GDP growth.

Meanwhile, the executive secretary of the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), Prof Garba Sharubutu, said that the council will, in 2022, be concentrating on early maturing crops to enhance food security.

Speaking on his 2022 vision to LEADERSHIP Weekend, Prof Sharubutu said the federal government was concerned about the rising prices of food items, adding that the council in the coming days will work with the private sector and foreign partners to develop a mechanism that will make food more affordable to Nigerians.

The professor added that the council was bracing up strategies to change the direction of agricultural research and innovations towards addressing climate change, natural disasters, and diseases that might hamper effective food production.

“We are going to concentrate on early maturing crops which is meant to solve the problem of food security because the more we produce what we consume, the more we stabilise the economy.

“We are starting the year 2022 on a very good note with renewed vigour. The National Agricultural Technology and Incubation platform, which is the new policy that is coming up, has vested on ARCN more responsibility and the minister has challenged us – that we must bring in problem-solving innovations. The direction now is for us to research into areas that will solve problems

“Before the end of the first quarter, we are expected to hold a meeting with all the agricultural research institutes together with the private sector, especially those that are into agricultural development.

“This meeting will also involve our foreign partners, to look for solutions to most of the problems and the number one problem is from a research point of view – how do we bring down prices of foodstuff? We will offer our advice to the government on the issue of prices of foodstuff. “

He said the meeting will also look at agriculture in terms of the devastating effects of natural disasters, climate, and diseases and set research targets for the various research institutes.

The professor said with the introduction of the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation, farmers are going to improve their productivity.

“Farmers should expect more of extension activities; the minister is very concerned about the issue of extension and the impact it has on the farmers, as well as the high prices of food items linked to our inability to produce more food,’’ he concluded.

by Adegwu John (Leadership)