Nigeria: Revamping Agriculture

Published on 15th November 2013

Last year,  we faced a serious challenge posed by  floods.  Many panicked. The press was awash with predictions of massive famine and food crisis. I declared that Nigeria will not experience a food crisis or famine. We responded effectively to the challenge thrown at us by the flood. Mr President responded very decisively and approved for us to launch a flood recovery food production program, with massive distribution of improved seeds and fertilizers for farmers affected by the flood. The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture also distributed free of charge, 40,000 metric tons of food all over the country. We achieved 100% success in delivery to affected states and beneficiaries. Our policy decisiveness averted a food crisis or famine that pundits predicted. We came out stronger and more resilient, to continue the drive to transform Nigeria’s agriculture, to create wealth.

We turned adversity into new opportunities. We launched a major drive to move into dry season rice production – the first ever effort in Nigeria’s history. We provided high quality seeds to rice farmers, free of charge. We provided fertilizers free of charge as well, across 10 states in northern Nigeria. State governments mobilized farmers, from Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Bauchi, Kano, Kastina, Niger, Kogi, Jigawa and Gombe. Over 267,000 ha of rice land was planted by farmers. The federal government and state governments provided thousands of water pumps, as farmers and communities took advantage of small scale water diversions, tube wells and wash bores to grow rice in the dry season.

The result was amazing. Nigeria produced over 1 million metric tons of paddy rice in one single dry season – in other words, we produced one third of all Nigeria’s rice needs in one season. Bumper harvests were witnessed from the stretched irrigated fields of Kebbi and  Bakolori  in Zamfara, down to the newly cleared rice fields along the banks of river Niger in Kogi State.

A rice revolution was unleashed. As trailers could not get into farmers fields in Suru in Kebbi, young men used Camel’s to transport piles of bags of rice to the market. Over N 32 billion was added as net income to farmers and farm communities. Youths trooped to the fields, in their tens of thousands, gainfully employed in the midst of a dry season – where previously they did nothing but fold their hands, gazing into hopeless sunny horizons. We proved the sceptics wrong – who doubted Nigeria’s ability to produce rice and be self-sufficient in few years.  New rice mills by private sector keep springing up. Quarra rice just set up 30,000 MT rice mill in Kwara state. Ebony rice has added a new 30,000 MT mill in Enugu. Labana Rice mills is getting ready to start operating in Kebbi State. Lagos State has established a rice mill, which bought 17 trailer loads of rice paddy from the lush rice fields of Kebbi State, where a rice revolution had occurred; instead of relying on imported brown rice from Asia.

Nigeria will soon be free from rice imports, if we continue this remarkable drive. We must not relent or listen to those who are paid by rice importers to deride or outrightly deny the gains we have made. They would rather the rice farmers of Thailand and India become richer, while they refuse to acknowledge or patronize these hard working farmers of Nigeria.

We are working hard to turn around our dependency on wheat imports. Some international agencies make the case that Nigeria should not produce wheat, but import. What they don’t tell us is that farmers who produce wheat in the US and Europe are heavily subsidized by their governments. This is why they can flood our market with cheap wheat. Our wheat tariff policy is working to reverse this trend.

We have introduced new high yielding tropical wheat varieties, which give yield of 6 MT per ha compared to just 1 MT per ha which farmers got when Nigeria tried wheat production in 1980s. Federal government has launched a massive effort to get these high yielding wheat varieties to farmers all across the states in wheat growing zones of northern Nigeria. This dry season, we will support farmers to cultivate over 150,000 ha of wheat, reaching 200,000 ha by next year. If all goes well, we expect to produce 1.5 million MT of wheat in two years, which will reduce wheat imports by 50%.

The Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) continues in giant strides. We ended corruption in the seed and fertilizer sectors. We reached 4.2 million farmers this year alone with subsidized seeds and fertilizers via electronic wallets on their mobile phones, bringing the total number of farmers that have benefitted from the GES program in the last two years to about 6 million farmers. This has impacted on close to 30 million members of farm households. This year, we registered 10 million farmers all across the country, including new people who have turned to agriculture in response to government incentives. We will expand the program to improve finger printing for automated farmer identity management, automatic reconciliation and use of a new android phone system that will be independent of network coverage. This will further improve the speed of redemption and management of transactions. As a woman farmer said “no one can steal our fertilizers anymore.” For the first time ever, fish and livestock farmers are receiving GES support across the country.

We have restored dignity to farmers. The National Assembly has agreed to develop a bill to make GES a law, which cannot be changed by future administrations. Nigeria is leading the way in the use of electronic subsidized input vouchers, as it is the first country in Africa, and indeed globally, to design and deploy such a system. Other African countries, as well as India, China and Brazil have expressed interest to learn and adapt the electronic wallet system for their own farmers. Nigeria is now exporting transparency.

This year, we are expecting a bountiful harvest of all crops – we expect to double food production, from the massive distribution of inputs. All over the country, our land is green. We will secure the harvests. To achieve this, Government will put in place financing to buy back and guarantee prices for farmers. We are working to reduce post-harvest losses farmers face. The ministry of agriculture has initiated the process to acquire and install temperature-controlled solar-powered warehouses for farmers. A total of 800 modern warehouses will soon be established and every local government will have one warehouse, to be run by farmers and the private sector. For the first time ever, farmers will be able to to store their farm produce, for a fee, and reduce post-harvest losses.

We are making good progress towards the development of agricultural commodity exchanges that will provide better opportunities to farmers to access markets and secure better and more stable prices. The federal ministry of agriculture has already embarked on the process to concession it’s silos across the country to the private sector, for use in establishing agricultural commodity exchanges.

Today, as a country, we are witnessing the lowest inflation level since 2008. The higher domestic food production in the country has led to a significant drop in food price inflation. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recognized Nigeria this year with an award for reducing by half the number of people suffering from hunger. The proportion of Nigerians suffering from hunger declined from 19.3% in 1990 to 8.5% by 2012. We are clearly feeding Nigerians with increased food output.

The rapid transformation of the agricultural sector is not going unnoticed by the banking sector. Bank lending to the sector increased from 2 to 4 percent of total lending. Banks’ lending to the GES program increased from N 3.5 billion to N 25 billion between 2012 and 2013. Banks are now recognizing that their risks of lending to the agriculture sector are rapidly declining due to the aggressive effort of the government to fix the agricultural value chains across the country. So far, the default rate on these loans have been zero percent. There is need for greater lending to the agricultural sector, at lower interest rates, to support farmers and agribusinesses, to fully unlock the potential of the sector.

There are some that say they do not see the need for a federal ministry of agriculture. They are simply playing politics of mischief. I am proud that today, more than ever, the federal government is working very closely with state governments – and helping them to achieve significant results. The results speak for themselves. Whether it is rice, cassava, cocoa, oil palm, fisheries, livestock, cotton, maize or soybeans, all that is happening in agriculture today is being led and inspired by the agricultural transformation agenda of the Federal government. Our goal is to help the states succeed in agriculture and this is happening. The federal government complements the states, it does not displace the states. That is why 34 of the 36 states and FCT are actively participating in the agricultural transformation agenda.

With our decentralization of the ministry with offices in all states, we are better able to work closely with states. No nation has achieved agricultural transformation without a coherent national strategy and implementation and effective regulations. We will not be deterred. To further strengthen the agricultural sector and improve market opportunities for farmers, new marketing corporations are being developed, to replace the defunct marketing boards. The first set of marketing corporations, which will be run by the private sector, will be ready within the next few months, to focus on cotton, cassava and cocoa, respectively.

As a government, we are concerned about the high rate of unemployment among the youth, the high rural to urban migration and the lack of industrial growth in our rural areas. With the aging of the farming population, unless something is done to engage the youth in agriculture, there will be no farmers to feed Nigeria in another 10-15 years. This is why President Jonathan launched the Youth Employment in Agriculture Program (YEAP), with the goal of engaging over 750,000 “nagropreneurs” – young graduates and school leavers in commercial agriculture and agribusinesses.

We are addressing the challenge of mechanization, with the establishment of 80 agricultural equipment hiring centers across the country, with 90% financing from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. The equipment centers, which will be run by the private sector, and will have full sets of agricultural equipment, with over 400 tractors and mechanized harvesters. We will support farmers with subsidized electronic coupons to allow them to lease these agricultural equipment. This will go a long way to reduce the drudgery of farming and speed up the mechanization of agriculture.

The private sector is rapidly expanding financing in the agriculture sector. The number of seed companies in Nigeria rose from 11 to 77 within the past two years. Global seed companies such as Syngenta have established operations in the country. Over $5 billion investments have come into the fertilizer sector within the past year, with Dangote, Indorama and Notore. Over $ 4 billion of additional private investment commitments have been established across the agricultural value chains.
Dansa Foods has committed €36 million to establish what will be Africa’s largest high energy food plant, to process sorghum and transform it into a high value crop for farmers. LZ company in Kano now supplies all the fresh milk in the Shoprite supermarket, replacing imports. Halal-certified beef industry has taken off with meat a modern processing plant in FCT area. Food Concepts has invested $55 million to develop a fully integrated poultry and feed farm in Ogun State.

Dantata Farms have revived a large once abandoned large Anadariya poultry estate in Kano, and currently produces 20,000 to 30,000 broilers per week. And Dansa company has invested $40 million to establish a 6,000 ha pineapple plantation and processing plant in Cross Rivers State. Presco and Okomu oil companies have established thousands of hectares of new oil palm and rubber plantations, and now post some of the highest returns on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

The success of the agricultural transformation agenda is galvanizing global development finance institutions to support Nigeria. So far, about $ 2 billion has been committed by the World Bank, Africa Development Bank, IFAD and others in support of the agricultural transformation agenda. We are developing new staple crop processing zones that will attract private sector to set up food processing facilities in rural areas. They will be complemented with the provision of social and physical infrastructure (power, roads and water). The Federal Government will soon launch the development of new agro industrial towns, with supportive social infrastructure, to attract the youth to new economic zones that will be created.

So much has been achieved in two years. Nigeria produced 9 million MT of additional food last year. Farmers are using improved varieties more than ever before. The area cultivated under improved varieties rose from 400,000 just two years ago, to 4 million ha today. Nigeria’s food import bill declined by 857 billion Naira in 2012 and exceeded our set target of 350 billion Naira. Our agricultural exports grew to 822,000 MT and exceeded our set target of 364,000 MT in 2012. We created 2.7 million seasonal farm and permanent jobs across the agricultural value chains, especially in the rural areas, where unemployment is high.

We all can be proud that the broken walls of Nigeria’s agriculture are being rebuilt. We are rebuilding on solid foundations. Nigeria has never witnessed this kind of transformation of its agricultural sector. It is a new dawn. These are great days for Nigeria’s agriculture. After decades of neglect, we are finally poised to control our own destiny in food production, processing and value addition. Our future will be very bright, as we continue our bold reforms of the sector. For agriculture was Nigeria’s past and in agriculture – as a business- lies Nigeria’s greater future.

By Dr Akinwumi Adesina

Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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