Discussants at a panel session at Agra Innovate West Africa 2019 have said that ending policy summersaults and finance bottlenecks for smallholder farmers would make agribusiness more competitive in Nigeria.
The panelists, who spoke on “Policy Dialogue on Food Security’’ at the just concluded trade show in Lagos, urged Nigerian farmers to unite in their common interests and utilize new research findings.
A discussant, Mrs Heather Akanni, Technical Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture on Quality Control and Standards, said that there was the need to sustain policies from one administration to the other.
Akanni noted that policies should not only be good but must also be in order, as bad policies would drive away foreign investors.
She decried the bottlenecks smallholder farmers experienced in acquiring funding from banks to expand or upscale their farms, saying it was an example of bad policy implementation.
“I can qualitatively say that Bank of Agriculture (BOA) is going through a lot of reforms to ensure that farmers themselves are shareholders in the bank.
“The Federal Government through the minister of agriculture was fighting to bring interest rates to single digits,” she said.
The technical adviser stressed the need for high-level public enlightenment to change farmers’ mindset so they could take up new innovations like improved seeds.
According to her, low uptake of innovations may be due to farmers’ mindset as well as redundancy in agriculture extension.
She also called for sustainability strategies to be put in place by government to sustain various funded projects, interventions and policies when their funding period was over.
Another discussant, Mr Laoye Jaiyeola, Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), said that there was need for proper coordination of risk factors in agriculture which included land, inputs and logistics.
Jaiyeola, who was represented by a NESG executive, Dr Tayo Aduloju, called for clearer milestones in terms of performance and tracking for the risk actors who are the regulatory agencies.
“Implementation must be cascaded, that is, stepped down to ensure that all state governments, local governments understand the high-level policy conversations that take place at federal level and ensure that they can implement these at their levels.
“Also, for agriculture to be competitive in the open African market, interest rates and cost of doing business must be implemented. Finance has to be unlocked for implementation to happen.
“We must have a comprehensive industry approach to capital for agriculture. It should no longer be viewed through pedestrian industry lenses,’’ he said.
He submitted that for agriculture to be competitive in the open African market, interest rates must be friendly and policies on costs of doing business must be implemented.
“For example, reforms on land titles and farm permits/approvals are too complex. Which essentially refers to ease in doing business in the sector,” he said.
A discussant, Mr Emmanuel Ijewere, Vice-President, Nigeria Agri-business Group (NABG), called for an active and participatory local government as most farmers were located at the local government levels.
He said that players in the agriculture sector were disorganized and rarely discuss and collaborate among themselves.
“They regard each other as competitors, which should not be so as quality products would always attract patronage,” Ijewere said.
He urged the private sector to stop competing among themselves, as there were markets for everybody’s products, given the country’s population of about 200 million Nigerians.
“Challenges in implementation we need to address is the lack of uptake of agriculture innovations. As we speak only two per cent of the farmer population in the country use improved seedlings for tomato, cassava and maize production.
“We also have low quality staff available, low knowledge base among farmers,’’ the NABG vice-president said.
Ijewere decried the knowledge gap in the sector, the lack of know-how and low quality staff available from the tertiary institutions.
He cited an example of young employees not knowing how to manage greenhouses, saying that Nigeria, with about 200 million population, had only 4000 greenhouses compared with those of Kenya with a population of about 50 million having 178,000 greenhouses.
Another panelist, Mr Bayo Sangobiyi, General Manager, Shonga Farms, urged government to subsidise land clearing for farmers, as this was the largest part of the cost of production.
Sangobiyi also called for a revitalisation of the agricultural extension department at all levels, so information could be disseminated to farmers.
“First and foremost, let the federal ministry concern itself and deal with policies. The bulk of what is required to feed the local industries falls on the state and local government.
“Let the state government supervise the local government, to ensure that policies work.
“All what we have been doing is paying lip service to the sector, let’s fish out armchair farmers by the state government creating a database for the farmers detailing their names, location, hectarage, and crops they are producing,’’ Sangobiyi said.