This is perhaps one of the most important meetings I am attending since we came on board just over one year ago. And the reason is simple.
- After thirty years of wandering in the economic wilderness, we are back where we started. Sadly, we are now compelled to look forward to the past- to the glorious sixties, seventies and early eighties when we lived a more realistic, more organized and more productive life. Pressure to adopt economic policies which made very little sense but forced were forced on Africa. We were forced to devalue, deregulate, globalize. Other realities which mitigated against these ideas were ignored. Malaysia, India, China rejected them and opted for more defensible options. Today, they are praised. We are condemned to penury and recession.
- But how did we arrive here? A short history of this sad journey is necessary even though we never seem to be interested in history. It began in 1986 and slowly, week after week, we watched our own currency slide from N3 to 1 USD to N455 to 1 USD presently. Why? We allowed ourselves to become a nation of importers and traders. The recession we are witnessing today was going to come no matter which regime is in power. The former Minister of Finance even said so this year that the recession started in 2012.
- Accordingly, the theme of this address ‘Agriculture in a Recessionary Economy: Challenges and Prospects’ is timely and appropriate as we have in recent times been experiencing a period of negative economic growth and we need to begin to take steps to record positive growth. The recession has been largely attributed to financial crisis occasioned by twin crises of collapsed crude oil prices at the international markets and militancy in the Niger Delta area of the country. The fall in petro – dollar revenue triggered financial crisis which made it extremely difficult to source foreign exchange from official sources. The attendant consequence is the free fall in the Naira exchange rates against major currencies; Dollar, Euro, Pound Sterling, etc. We would have been able to avoid this present unhealthy situation if we had paid sufficient attention to agriculture over the decades.
- The recession poses a number of challenges to Nigeria’s agriculture. There are import induced increases in the prices of staple food items particularly rice and wheat products. The cost of farm machinery and equipment skyrocketed pushing up the cost of production and processing of farm produce. The job absorbing capacity of agriculture dwindled and in few occasions, processing plants and farm plantations have to shed their work force thereby compounding the precarious labour market. This added to the loss of millions of hectares of fertile farm land in the North East owing to the destructive activities of the dreaded Boko Haram religious sect. At the same time, Agriculture is contending with negative impacts of climate change, a new climatic phenomenon manifesting in forms of flash floods, delayed rains, erosion, and excessive heat, among others.
- Realizing the potency of agriculture as a veritable vehicle for steering our economy away from recession to the path of growth and prosperity, the Federal Government, under the able leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, crafted and launched the Agricultural Promotion Policy, 2016 – 2019, tagged “The Green Alternative”. The Agricultural Promotion Policy (APP) is private sector-driven; while the Government collaborates with development partners to provide the enabling environment for the sector to thrive. By launching the Green Alternative, the seeds of quick growth and sustainable development in agriculture have been sown. The expected results in the near future will be in the forms of reduced food import and significant increases in foreign exchange earnings through exports of agricultural produce and products. Our cardinal goal is to achieve food security. In essence, the national security will be bolstered with food and nutrition security provided through rebranding the agricultural sector and making it an attractive profession for the Nigerian youths. The Green Alternative will unbundle the main constraints impeding growth in agriculture including access to land, mechanization, inadequate inputs, finance, lack of storage facilities, rural infrastructure deficit, among others.
- More than ever before, shaper focus is being devoted at addressing the needs of youths, women and the vulnerable including those that are physically challenged to bring their energy and skills to bear in agriculture. The drudgery and crude farming of the old will be completely eliminated. By this, the solid foundation for resilient and all inclusive economic and social growth pivoted by agriculture is laid and the lost glory of agriculture as the main stay of our livelihood will be restored.
- Farmers are not having good values for their produce. This is not acceptable. The current effort, therefore, is geared towards enhancing access to local and international markets through a programme of certification, quality control and standardization. To this effect, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is leading the process of attaining zero reject for our produces and the country will soon have Globally Accepted Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), which will guarantee standards and wholesomeness of our produce and products. The ongoing process of instituting GAP involves all stakeholders, local and state governments, farmers’ groups, non-governmental organizations, development partners and relevant private actors to attain unqualified success.
- In direct response to global warming and climate change, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is pursuing a programme of climate smart agriculture with a view to sustainably increase agricultural productivity and incomes. Essentially, farmers are being encouraged to adopt and build resilience to climatic changes following the protocols and procedures being advocated by the FMARD. In this direction, farmers are enjoined to look out for early maturing varieties of crops to beat shortfalls in rains, drought and diseases / pest resistant crops, water resilient crops in flood prone areas, more adherence to the scheme and advice of our meteorological service in production, harvesting, processing and even in marketing schedules. Most importantly, we encourage our farmers to embrace better management of land, water, soil nutrients and other natural resources.
- Your Majesty and Royal highnesses, Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen, you will agree with me that agriculture holds the key to attainment of the much desired social economic stability and enduring peace that we desire for our beloved nation. To unlock the potentials in agriculture we all have crucial roles to play now and when the recession is over. Our attitude and orientation must be positive. We cannot be doing the same thing over and over again and be expecting different results. Our penchant for foreign goods and services must change in favour of locally produced foods, goods and services. The era of lavishing scarce foreign exchange on foreign goods as frivolous as tooth picks is over. Before the policy intervention that froze foreign exchange against certain products, Nigeria spent over $46 billion annually on tomato paste, fruits and other concentrates. This is rather boosting the economy of other countries and providing jobs for them while our own youths remain jobless.
- Equally important is the need for more Nigerians to embrace agribusiness. It is a viable source of empowerment and income generation. Officers in public service are allowed to practice agriculture while in service without violating any law or creed of their profession. There are high yielding enterprises in agriculture ranging from vegetable production, dry season cropping, poultry, aquaculture, animal fattening, snailery, beekeeping and pollination service, cottage processing, storage services and marketing of agricultural produce. Sky is the limit and our youths and women are advised to tap the low hanging fruits in agribusiness. The constraints of access to finance are being tackled headlong. Many financial windows are available through the intervention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Bank of Industry (BOI), Bank of Agriculture (BOA), and Federal Government supported Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The Anchor Borrower programme of CBN / FMARD is leveraging fund to critical value chains of rice, tomato, wheat, etc. The Youth Empowerment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP) is providing opportunities to the youths and women to embark on bankable enterprises in agriculture. These interventions of the Federal Government will bring about the jobs, wealth and food security.
- A special interventionist dry season programme is being targeted at the North East region ravaged by Boko Haram insurgence. The Federal Government will spend over N1.5 billion Naira to empower the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in agriculture through short term skill acquisition and input support for production and processing. This will bring succor and hope to the IDPs.
- Let me reiterate the obvious that agriculture occupies a pedestal position in options being considered for economic diversification particularly in this period of economic recession. Although the challenges to agriculture are numerous, the Federal Government is leaving no stone unturned in making sure Nigerians tap various interventions of the Government to create jobs, generate wealth and ensure nutrition and food security. It is also imperative to underscore the roles all Nigerians have to play for the economy to bounce back. We should consume locally produced goods and partake more in lucrative agribusiness.
- In closing this address, let me also reiterate that the northern part of the country has no reason to be poor judging by the abundance of land in this region and the huge potentials in agriculture that have not yet been tapped. We are encouraged by the steps being taken by some of our Governors to respond quickly to our call to tap into other sources of revenue beyond the monthly revenue allocation from oil and gas. The response is already producing some impressive results going by the success of the Anchor programme in rice production, the bumper harvests we are recording this year in millet, sorghum and other crops and the collaboration we are enjoying from our governors in the implementation of our change agenda in the agricultural sector.
- I urge you all to mobilize the teeming youth in the north to embrace farming to enable us return to the glorious days of the past when we achieved food self sufficiency in Nigeria and actually met the food requirements of other parts of the country, and indeed beyond Nigeria. I urge you to continue to support our efforts in permanently resolving the conflicts between pastoralists and farmers not only in this region but in other parts of the country.
- In this regard, I wish to propose that we ensure a strong and effective rappour between pastoralists and zonal leaders in each local government area, promote regular/monthly meetings between herdsmen and farmers about the importance of peaceful existence, and ensure that troublesome herdsmen and farmers are tracked and reported to the appropriate security agencies promptly. I urge you to mobilize our people to take advantage of the abundance of the opportunities in the agricultural value chains beyond agricultural production, in recognition that agriculture is a vast enterprise for each and every one of us to engage in, and to flourish. This is the only way we can return Northern Nigeria to an enviable place of pride and reckoning in sustainable national development. We, therefore, need to march forward with agriculture because this challenging time presents us the best opportunity to embrace agriculture and prosper with dignity.
- Once again, I thank Your Royal Majesty and Royal Highnesses, as well the organizers of this programme, for giving me the opportunity to be the guest speaker on a subject that touches the nerves of each and every one of us. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I, respectfully, thank you for your kind attention.