I am pleased to be here this morning to participate in this epochal event, the launch of this Administration’s Agricultural Sector Roadmap, befittingly described as “The Green Alternative”, Agriculture Promotion Policy 2016 -2020.
The present administration came into office to meet an economy essentially in meltdown. We realized that we had to take difficult decisions in the immediate and short terms in order to repair the huge damage done, especially by the dependence on oil but worse, in not investing in infrastructure or in deepening the diversification of our economy, or even building our reserves when oil sold at over a hundred dollars a barrel.
We knew that we had to set aright the economy and put that economy on the path to inclusive growth, with job opportunities for our huge population.
One of the most critical components of that plan is to position agriculture as the arrowhead of the economic recovery effort. There is no question at all that if we get agriculture right, we will get our economy right.
The roadmap that we are about to present, identifies two key challenges. The first is the inability to meet domestic food requirements: this is a productivity challenge driven by an input system and farming model that is likely inefficient, the lack of good seeds, fertilisers, irrigation, crop protection etc.
And two: the inability to export at the level required for marketing, which is typified by an inefficient system for setting and enforcing food quality, poor knowledge of target markets, a weak inspectorate system and poor coordination amongst relevant agencies.
With great clarity, ‘The Green Alternative’ sets out strategies for resolving these challenges. I am personally impressed that The Roadmap does not dismiss the Agricultural policies of the past. Indeed, the policy says that it is “building on the successes of the agricultural transformation agenda, closing the gap.”
The problem however has never been a lack of policy, it has always been the focus and capacity to stick to the plan, to modify when necessary and ensure also that the plan aligns with all aspects of the economic plan of the Government.
This particular issue of alignment is crucial. Just to give some obvious examples, you cannot have a policy encouraging local food production and on the other hand have a high tariff on imported agricultural equipment. There is no way that we can encourage local production, when we allow unbridled importation of the same things that we are trying to produce. There is no way we can do the scale of agricultural production both for domestic consumption and export, without ensuring local improved seedling development, alongside those that have been bought and of course encouraging the work of the Agencies, and the Ministry of Science and Technology, who have been making great strides in local development of agricultural improvement.
Still on the issue of policy alignment, our social investment programmes are deigned to align with our agricultural and other policies and so, of the 500,000 Teacher Corps that will be engaged, 100,000 of them will be trained as extension workers for our farms. Our Home Grown School Feeding Programme which seeks to provide a meal a day to primary school children is described as ‘homegrown’ specifically because the food will be from the farms in each state. Some of the states that have started the programme are already seeing the important multiplier effects in their agricultural sector.
Financing of agriculture is also a crucial policy. With double digit interest rate at the moment, we must develop some funding options in the short term. The Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme of the CBN has proved to be extremely useful. Indeed the phenomenal success of the Kebbi State rice programme where the farmers move from 3.5MT per hectare to 7.5MT per hectare was largely because of the single digit interest rate extended by the Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme of the CBN which they used to purchase the right fertilizer quality and other inputs.
The Ministry of Finance has practically concluded plans to recapitalize and re-engineer the Bank of Agriculture. We expect that before the end of this quarter, the Bank of Agriculture should be ready to give single digit interest loans to farmers.
Let me commend Chief Audu Ogbeh, the Hon. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for spearheading the effort of developing this roadmap which undeniably is our pathway to sustained and rapid progress in the agricultural sector. Indeed, not only has Chief Audu Ogbeh developed this roadmap effectively and within a very short time but he has also conducted advocacy of the kind we have not seen in a long time in the agricultural sector.
I congratulate also the Hon. Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Lokpobiri who has worked very hardly alongside the Minister of Agriculture as well as other key stakeholders in the agricultural sector of the national economy for working in synergy for us to develop this new policy. This administration is indeed very proud of you all for your dedication, resourcefulness and patriotism.
Ultimately, our commendation goes to President Buhari, for his renewed vision of an agriculture-led economy as an alternative proposition to an oil dependent growth.
You will recall your excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen that early in the life of this administration, Mr. President urged all Nigerians to return to the farms with an urgent call given on the need for us to liberate ourselves from the periodic cycle of boom interlaced with bust and meltdown. It is an urgent call for our nation to embrace the truth that oil dependent economy would never provide enough for 170 million people and still grow in leaps and bounds.
But Mr. President and Hon. Minister of Agriculture are farmers so they practice what they preach. The rest of us are being slowly converted!
This agricultural revolution calls for us all to farm, even small vegetable farms. The only conventional activity that our constitution allows a public officer is farming, so we have no excuse.
I like to thank you all for your kind attention and I hereby launch the Agricultural Sector Roadmap, the Green Alternative Agriculture Promotion policy 2016 – 2020.