- Test-driving one of the tractors for mechanisation during the Dry Season Farming. R-L: Sen. (Dr.) Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, Hon. Minister of State, Agriculture and Food Security; Umar Namadi, Governor of Jigawa State; and Sen. Mustafa Salihu, Chairman, Senate Committee on Agricultural Production and Services.*
Although the quantum of Nigeria’s debt, domestic and foreign, has grown astronomically in recent years, with pertinent concerns about the utility of the debts, only an implacable few, if any, will disparage the intentions of the Federal Government in accessing the US$134 loan offered by the African Development Bank (AfDB) under the African Emergency Food Production Facility. That loan is being used to implement the National Agricultural Growth Scheme Agro-Pocket (NAGS-AP) project, beginning with the 2023/2024 dry season farming.
The programme is targeted towards increasing staple food production and guaranteeing food and nutrition security through the reintroduction and promotion of all-year round agricultural production in the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The stakes could not be higher. While a majority of Nigerians are farmers, the country has struggled to grow enough food to meet even domestic needs. Low yield per hectare, crop losses due to unreported perennial flooding, the savagery of bandits and terrorists against farmers and their produce, and lack of access to agricultural credit on favourable terms, are some of the drivers of Nigeria’s food insecurity and food inflation reflected in the monthly aggregate inflation numbers. In fact, no fewer than 88.5 million Nigerians are currently faced with insufficient food consumption with the figure projected to increase by six million in December 2023, the National Bureau of Statistics said recently.
According to the bureau, the country recorded a 121.7 per cent increase in the value of imported foods within a five-year period, rising to N1.9 trillion in 2022 from N857 billion in 2018.
It is a straight-forward argument whether in the light of the state of emergency declared on food security in the country by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Nigeria should rather rush to foreign markets to import grains and other staples; or, obtain a readily available facility offered by the African Development Bank and reap bountifully on many fronts. That is, get farmers engaged, thereby creating jobs, reducing unemployment, and bolstering the country’s food and nutrition security indices. The government rather opted majorly for domestic solutions.
The measures taken so far are a demonstration of faithful adherence by the Ministers at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, to their Strategic Work Plan. Abubakar Kyari and Sabi Abdullahi, two former Senators, came into office on August 21, 2023, about five weeks after the President declared a state of emergency on food security. After extensive briefings and consultations, the Ministers developed their road map encompassing four broad activity areas: immediate, short, medium, and long term.
The immediate priority actions include aggressive promotion and preparations for the 2023/2024 dry season farming through, among others, certification of available planting materials for some staple crops (such as wheat, rice, maize, and cassava); mobilizing for the blending of appropriate fertilizers while also reviewing, for vastly improved efficiency, the processes and mechanisms for delivering fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to farmers; and more essentially providing train-the-trainers for extension service agents.
Indeed, so critical and painstaking is the time, energy and attention devoted to not just the roll-out of the dry season farming but ensuring its successful management that the Ministers thought it prudent in the circumstances to postpone the impending National Summit on Food Security as well as the National Council on Agriculture and Food Security, essentially to enable stakeholders who would be participants at the two major events to also focus at this time on getting the 2023/2024 dry season farming right. And it was a decision widely applauded by all and sundry.
The Honourable Minister of Agriculture, Kyari; and the Hon. Minister of State, Sabi, can tick the boxes, in acknowledgement of work done, although they keep prompting all, especially the technocrats in the Ministry and the parastatals and agencies thereunder, that these are still early days and that the greater tasks still lie ahead, as they strive mightily for a new narrative about Nigeria’s agriculture and food security.
In more than a fortnight since the well-publicised flag-off of the dry season farming in Kadume, Hadejia Local Government Area of Jigawa State, there have been no reported cases of partisan political henchmen seizing control and turning the dry season farming into a patronage tool. This is simply because, as conceived, the programme execution is beyond their reach and partisan influence.
It is gratifying that a critical component in the implementation of the National Agricultural Growth Scheme is the incorporation of agric extension agents. This revitalization is particularly crucial, considering the globally recognised role of agric extension agents. Unfortunately, due to neglect and sheer inertia, Nigeria had witnessed a rapid decline in the number and role of extension agents who interface with farmers, assisting the latter with requisite information and advice that help maximize their farm output. At the official flag-off of the dry season farming, motor bikes with helmets and other kits to be used by extension service agents were on full display. The challenge is to make the most of the agents, their knowledge and equipment.
As it often happens, all states of the federation will not have the same level of enthusiasm about the NAGS-AP. Others may just be lethargic, as witnessed over the years with regard to the counterpart funding arrangements under the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) funding, where some states, for many years, neglected to take advantage of the 50 per cent matching grants offered by the Federal Government. Under the 2023/2024 dry season farming, there is no doubt that Jigawa State is a frontrunner.
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security announced that it needed about 70,000 hectares of irrigable land for the cultivation of wheat during the target period. Jigawa State offered more than half of the required land, by providing 40,000 hectares, and went ahead with clearing of the lands and getting farmers organised, in order to satisfy the requirements for the programme. A handful of other states in the northern part of the country have also offered less hectarage and had farmers pre-qualified for the unique dry season farming. These states include Bauchi, Gombe, Niger, among others.
But there is less news about states in the south that are clustering farmers and getting them to key into the dry season farming for a variety of other crops captured under the programme. Such crops include cassava, rice, and maize. What is happening? It is possible that the states missed the train this time, because the days are rolling by, and dry season farming ends in April 2024. Happily, the AfDB facility covers three consecutive farming seasons.
There will the next wet farming season from April/May to October 2024, and the following dry season farming from November 2024 to April 2025. So, those who missed the opportunity this time should plan ahead, to get onto the train during the next round of farming.