In the 1960s, Nigeria was at a vantage position regarded as an agro-economic country which later changed to a mono economic-based country with total dependence on crude oil.
Recently, there has been a tilt to rejuvenate and overhaul the sector, going by the number of international and internal interventions to salvage the situation.
Intervention, according the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, is an intentional act to become involved in a difficult situation in order to improve it or prevent it from getting worse.
This definition seemingly applies to the current state of agriculture in Nigeria.
The current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has, without mincing words, declared an emergency to resuscitate the agriculture sector.
It is also driving diversification of the country’s economy via various policies specifically, the 129-paged “Green Alternative’’, signed by President Buhari on Wednesday, July 26, 2016.
The Green Alternative is to ensure food security; ensure government’s capacity to meet its responsibilities on safe, quality and nutritious foods to Nigerians; increase the country’s foreign exchange earnings via exports of agricultural produce and grow non-oil exports up to 75 per cent.
It will as well increase agriculture’s contributions to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP) to a minimum of 23 per cent which currently stands at about 22 per cent.
These are policies that the Federal Government alone cannot achieve, hence, the need for international interventions such as the World Bank and other funding bodies to drive sustainable agricultural developments in terms of productivity, increased livelihoods, employment generation and marketing.
Also, the belief that Nigeria’s agriculture is largely at the subsistence level calls for a paradigm shift to commercialised agriculture, solid enough to make the sector the mainstay of the economy by creating jobs, guarantee food sufficiency for its growing population currently at over 200 million people.
It is targeted to adequately improve agricultural contributions to the GDP.
On this premise, there is need to increase farmer’s capacity to produce exportable and quality products through adoption of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).
According to experts, interventions are inevitable going by the dynamics of the country’s agriculture sector.
One of such significant intervention is the World Bank’s 200 million dollars (about N72 billion) credit to support the Federal Government in its efforts at enhancing agricultural productivity of small and medium scale farmers in six (6) participating states (Kaduna, Kogi, Lagos, Kano, Enugu and Cross-River), under the aegis of the Agro-Processing Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support (APPEALS) project.
A former World Bank’s Country Director to Nigeria, Mr Rachid Benmessaoud, on March 23, 2017, described agriculture as key to long-term economic growth and diversification.
Benmessaoud said: “The project supports the country’s policy thrusts on food security, local production, job creation and economic diversification.
“It responds to the recurring issues of low productivity, limited farmers’ participation to agribusiness supply chains and institutional realignment in the agricultural sector.’’
According to him, the project will help to increase agricultural productivity, improve processing and marketing, foster job creation, and increase household income and livelihood in participating states.
The project will benefit women and youth businesses such as horticulture, poultry and aquaculture.
The project will tackle the key constraints of Nigeria’s agriculture sector, such as low productivity, lack of seed funds for establishing agro-processing plants, lack of access to supportive infrastructure, and low level of technology adoption and limited access to markets.
El Hadj Adama Toure, a Lead Agriculture Specialist, at the World Bank said: “Priority value chains under the project will include products with potential for immediate improvement of food security; products with potential for export and foreign currency earnings (cocoa and cashew); and enhancement of the national production of crops, including rice, maize, cassava and wheat.
“The number of the project’s direct beneficiaries is 60,000 individuals, 35 per cent of which will be women. Overall, about 300,000 farm household members are indirect beneficiaries.’’
The Lagos State Project Coordinator of the APPEALS project, Mrs Oluranti Sagoe-Oviebo, says that interventions are necessary for countries such as Nigeria because a lot of Nigerians yet live below poverty line making such interventions very timely.
Sagoe-Oviebo also believes that capacity building and introduction of new technologies in the farming space are all geared toward reviving the sector and improving farmers’ livelihoods.
“We have a lot of our people that live below the poverty line.A lot of Nigerians are still poor and these grants are coming at the right time.
“Recently, 350 women and youths, including physically challenged were graduated after a two-week intensive training. You could see the excitement; it was like their future just became promising.
“The truth is, there is no better place than Nigeria for these interventions and we look forward to more because we have a lot of our youths that do not have something to do but with these interventions from the World Bank, the Federal Government and the different state governments, a lot of things will happen and we are looking at better ways of doing business.
“It is not just giving grants but teaching them improved ways of doing things even beyond agriculture.
“It is a development that we have welcomed wholeheartedly and we look forward to more grants coming into Nigeria,’’ she said.
On ways to improve the country’s often-scarce foreign exchange, Sagoe-Oviebo says adopting new technologies will help to achieve a vibrant, agriculture-based economy.
“The project has also demonstrated new technologies in the poultry, aquaculture and rice value chains.
“The project seeks to look at the export potential for these agriculture value chains.
“So, beyond the project is looking at infrastructure and common elements because we are conscious of the fact that farmers ply through the roads and some of them in the process incur losses, especially if they are in the poultry sub-sector.
“If you have very bad roads, most of your eggs would have been broken before they get to the market.
“Beyond the roads, we are also looking at energy, which is key to drive your machines and the new technology being introduced and these are the things that can directly or indirectly affect your productivity.
“Also, cottage industry for the agro processing sub-components where farmers are going to be supported with cottage industry. Like where we have farmers in a cluster, we will support them in the cluster,’’ she said.
Sagoe-Oviebo notes that the Lagos State is looking at building capacity for farmers.
According to her, knowledge is power; if you support people with grants and they do not have the technical know-how you may find out that you have entered the wrong enterprise.
“So, we are building capacities of our farmers, the officers like the technical assistants to research institutes that will at the end of the day build the capacity of our farmers and to ensure that we have value for money.
“We demonstrate improved technologies as well. If you have technology that you know will add value to what farmers are doing, we demonstrate these technologies and we expect that farmers will adopt when they see the technology.
“It is in the process of adoption that the project supports with the grant elements,’’ Sagoe-Oviebo says.
She explains how the intervention has opened up other lines of businesses for beneficiaries, thereby improving their livelihoods and creating job avenues for Nigerians.
“For rice, part of what we have done is the African rice technology that we demonstrated to have a pure stream of `Ofada’ rice, proper spacing and good agronomy practices, the netting of their farms.
“It is quite encouraging that you are not just wasting your time and resources but a lot of these technologies that we have introduced, people are adopting.
“During the graduation ceremony for the 350 women and youths in the first batch of capacity building under the Women and Youth Component, part of the things that they brought to the graduation ground was actually the rice product that was demonstrated in Ibadan.
“We were taught how to use rice to produce cakes, cookies, noodles and a couple of our farmers are already doing that.
“At the World Food Day on Oct. 16, 2019, the farmers showed how creative Nigerians could be because beyond what they were taught, they were going a step further with not just the farrow rice but with the Ofada rice and it came out very well.
“At the last World Bank Mission held in December 2019, we were well served the Ofada rice for breakfast, while some of the beneficiaries came up with their pancakes, buns, rice cookies, all made from rice flour,’’ Sagoe Oviebo explains.
According to her, on aquaculture, we introduced the cage culture.
“We noticed that in our waterways, we have a lot of water hyacinth.
“So, what the project did was to demonstrate how to build the ponds and how to harvest the water hyacinth so that it does not block the free flow of oxygen and water nutrient to the fishes.
“We demonstrated on the utilisation of water hyacinth to fertiliser and we have given some of the fertiliser to our farmers and in fact, it is wonderful with ugu (local pumpkin), it did so well for ugu farmers.
“So, what people will consider as waste or something causing problems in the waterways, can now be harvested and utilised via the decomposing process. In terms of adoption, a lot of Nigerians are really adopting it.
“Also, we demonstrated the Nipple Fitted Drinkers and Palletised Feeds for broiler farmers which some farmers adopted after the first demonstration, on their own without the support of the project,’’ she says.
She lauds the current administration’s policy on land border closure which has opened a whole lot of business ventures and increased production of local poultry and rice products.
“The policies by the current administration are laudable. My only appeal to the beneficiaries is to ensure that whatever projects the government puts in place, they should be ready to run with it.
“Everybody across board should ensure that we implement well, use grants and the different programmes are used effectively and efficiently.
“There is no better business to do than agriculture, like I tell people, you may not have money to buy clothes or houses but whether you like it or not you have to eat.
“When hunger is taken out of the system, then, most people will be able to think and act well and value will be added,’’ Sagoe Oviebo notes.
At the graduation of 350 women and youths under the Women and Youth Empowerment Programmes (WYEP) of the APPEALS, the Lagos State Deputy Governor, Dr Obafemi Hamzat, urges the beneficiaries of the project to put their training and subsequent support for the project into productive agricultural use.
Hamzat advises the beneficiaries to access the grant element of the project by developing viable investment plans that will not just make them agro-preneurs but also employers of labour.
Hamzat, represented by Mr Adedoyin Adesanya, Chairman, Epe Local Government, says the APPEALS project is aimed at supporting farmers’ productivity.
He notes that the beneficiaries should avail themselves of several opportunities of the collaboration between the Federal and State Governments as well as the World Bank offer to them by coming up with viable business plans that will see them move up the ladder in agric-entrepreneurship.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr Gbolahan Lawal, says the graduation of the Batch 1 WYEP signalled the beginning of a new concept to the APPEALS project implementation.
Lawal says the main thrust of APPEALS project is to increase productivity, production, improve processing and marketing of the target value chains, which will foster job creation along identified value chains.
He says one of the primary objectives of the APPEALS project is employment generation. which, according to him, is in tandem with Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s vision of providing employment for the youths of the state under “THEMES’’ agenda.
“The Ministry of Agriculture has been doing that through various projects such as Agriculture-based Youth Empowerment Scheme (Agric-YES), Commercial Agriculture Development Project (CADP).
“Today, I present to you 350 beneficiaries; 165 in Poultry value chain, 35 in Rice value chain and 150 in Aquaculture value chain as Batch 1 of the APPEALS project empowerment programme,’’ the commissioner says.
Lawal urges the beneficiaries to open up their minds as agro-preneurs and make the best use of the opportunities provided to ensure that the aim of the programme is achieved.
Also, the Special Adviser for Agriculture to Gov. Sanwo-Olu; Ms Bisola Olusanya, says there is a deficit of 188 tonnes for the broilers, 6.7 tonnes for eggs and 218 tonnes for the aquaculture supply respectively in the state.
She notes that the Women and Youth beneficiaries equipped through the training and the grant support from APPEALS project should be able to improve the demand and supply deficit of the value chains.
The APPEALS project Women and Youth Empowerment consists of provision of Technical Assistance in business planning, grants to finance sub-projects and mentorship for start-ups or consolidation of existing women and youth-led businesses as individual or a group of beneficiaries.
The basic strategy of APPEALS project is to increase productivity, production and improve processing and marketing of the targeted value chains which are expected to foster job creation.
By Itohan Abara-Laserian, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)