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FG: Insecurity, Funding Bane of Agric Sector's Growth – THISDAY Newspapers

James Emejo and Sonia Mayomi in Abuja
The federal government has stated that despite its commitment to developing the agricultural sector, the current wave of insecurity bedeviling many farming communities in the North has crippled food production in the last three to four years in the country.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Mohammad Abubakar, who gave this hint, explained that the killing of farmers by herders, banditry, and cattle rustling have continued to pose serious setbacks in the nation’s food systems.
Abubakar, who spoke during a ministerial press briefing at the weekend to commemorate the 2021 World Food Day celebration, added that the non-importation of the planned 10,000 tractors has jeopardised the government’s mechanisation scheme.
The minister said though it is on record that President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration had invested so much in agriculture and provided funding across various food and agriculture sub-sectors, funding still remained a big challenge.
He said the federal government’s plan was to continue to engage with the states and local governments across the country to be committed to the Maputo/Malabo Declaration, to allocate 10 per cent of their budgetary funds to agriculture.
He said this would increase access to funding at the grassroots level as well as increase food production in the country.
The minister also lamented that the failure of the federal government to take delivery of about 10,000 tractors within the past seven years was frustrating attempts to mechanise agriculture and achieve self-sufficiency in food production.
It could be recalled that right from the inception of the current administration in 2015, the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh had hinted at the plans by the government to take delivery of the tractors to boost efforts to mechanise and reposition the sector. But the equipment was never received.
The immediate past Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Sabo Nanono had harped on the government’s plan to import the same 10,000 tractors, which didn’t materialise before he left office.
However, the incumbent minister at the press briefing expressed shock that the much- talked about tractors by his predecessors were not on the ground when he assumed duties.
The development is particularly worrisome as according to the minister, mechanisation remained an important part of the federal government’s policy towards achieving food security and increasing production.
He said, “In those periods, I also heard about the number of tractors to be introduced and I did ask when I came here.”
Apparently short of words, Abubakar who was asked to comment on the continued delay in the availability of the tractors, had, in turn, invited the Director, Federal Department of Agricultural Extension Services – Mrs. Karima Babangida, to offer an explanation on the issue.
In her response, Babangida blamed the COVID-19 pandemic, which slowed down the process of negotiations with the Brazilian Government from whom the machinery was being expected.
She said: “The Nigerian government has actually entered into collaboration with the Brazilian Government to bring about those 10,000 tractors.
“The government is working with the Brazilian Government and other private sector investors to see how we can mechanise agriculture.
“Because this is something that is capital intensive but unfortunately what happened last year was that the COVID-19 brought a lot of things to a standstill and Brazil was once of the countries that were worst hit by the pandemic after the US.”
She said, “So, we have started the discussion again with them; there were restrictions of partners coming to Nigeria and we going to Brazil.
“But I can assure you that this year, already the National Assembly has already passed a law on that, and going forward, by the first quarter of 2022, we hope to see the first batch of tractors on the ground and that is where we are on tractors.
“And of course we believe that for Nigeria to modernise agriculture, we have to engage mechanisation and it’s very important.”
The minister, however, said the country would definitely have mechanised agriculture as this remained the only way to boost production.
He added that global mechanisation had played a tremendous role among countries that have excelled in agriculture, adding that Nigeria couldn’t be an exception.
Earlier in February, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Agriculture, Dr. Andrew Kwasari, had said all appeared set for the implementation of the much-awaited Green Imperative project to modernise and introduce mechanised agriculture going forward.
According to him, agriculture mechanisation remained a major priority of the federal government to boost the sector.
In fact, mechanisation is effectively captured in the $1.2 billion green imperative agreement recently signed between Nigeria and the government of Brazil for the production and deployment of 10,000 tractors to be assembled in the country.
The National Assembly had reportedly approved the loan request.
However, the minister who also spoke on the achievements and challenges in the agricultural sector said about 4.21 million Nigerians had been taken out of poverty in the last two years through the various empowerment initiatives of President Muhammadu Buhari- led administration.
He said the interventions, which are largely along production, processing, and marketing of agricultural commodities had empowered the people adding that the government would continue to initiate policies and programmes to transform the food and agricultural sector as well as develop the food systems.
He pointed out that the sector harboured great potentials for economic development.
He stressed that a “nation that cannot feed itself is not food secured and is not truly independent”.
The minister said efforts to revitalise agriculture would be sustained as part of Buhari’s commitment to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty within the next 10 years.
He expressed hope that the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) would address all the problems associated with livestock production activities and guarantee an adequate supply of quality meat for domestic consumption and export for foreign exchange earnings.
He also said that the passage of the Agricultural Trust Fund Bill, which had passed the first and second reading in the National Assembly would provide the needed emergency support funding for agricultural activities in the country.
He added that the ongoing recapitalisation of the Bank of Agriculture (BoA) represented another giant stride to funding agriculture in the country.
According to him, other challenges hampering the growth of the sector included weak linkages between the agricultural and the industrial sector, lack of consistent agriculture data from the three tiers of government, ineffective capacity for quality control, standard and certification for production/marketing.
Others are poor access and quality of information impeding investors’ abilities to properly plan investments, the effect of climate change on sustainable agriculture, and weak connection between research and extension leading to poor adoption of technology.
The minister said: “One of our greatest threats to food security in Nigeria is food wastages from farm to table.
“To address this menace, we have launched the ‘Zero Reject’ programme aimed at improving the quality of our domestic production to both local and international markets standard.
“Zero Reject production would guarantee the nation increase supply of food to the people and revenue from export activities.
“I want to assure you that the federal government is committed to welcome, at all times, the support, collaboration, and partnerships of all concerned stakeholders towards ensuring food and nutrition security for Nigerians and the world in general.”

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