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Key issues to shape Nigeria’s agric sector in 2019

Photo credit: BD Image

Nigeria’s agricultural performance in 2019 depends on the Federal Government’s commitment to addressing fundamental issues that have continued to impact farmers’ productivity and the sector’s contribution to economic growth.

As a result, BusinessDay’s agribusiness section is taking a look at these issues that would shape Nigeria’s agricultural activities in 2019.

Climate Change

Extreme weather conditions such as droughts, storms and floods are putting pressure on the ecosystems that famers depend on.

As a result, it has continued to impact negatively on agricultural activities, making its mandatory for farmers to be trained to become more resilient to the impact of climate change.

The country’s 2018 agric output declined, owing to the high volume of rainfall in most parts of the country that resulted to floods which destroyed farmlands across the country.

This was a huge setback to the Federal Government’s diversification quest through the sector, as it affected the production of major crops such as rice, sorghum, sugarcane and millet, amongst others.

According to the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), the rainfall pattern in 2018 posed a great risk to farmers in the areas that were affected most by the floods. The agency urged concerned government ministries to carefully manage the situation.

NIMET is yet to give its seasonal weather forecast for 2019.

Experts who spoke with BusinessDay have predicted that climate change will play a key role in farmers’ 2019 productivity.

The experts says that extreme weather conditions are likely to affect not only the outcome of 2019 farming seasons, but also government’s plans to stop food importation which has been valued at over N1 trillion annually, or at least reduce it to the barest minimum.

The extreme weather condition does not only affect crop production, but also livestock and fish production.

“Climate change has become evident daily in our lives and the impact has been massive on the agricultural sector. The weather conditions will affect the quality of crops and the pricing,” said Desmond Majekodunmi, an environmentalist.

Farmers-herders crisis

Apart from the impact of Boko Haram in the North-East, that has displaced thousands of agrarian communities, farming activities have also come under threat in the middle belt region and other regions in Nigeria due to conflicts between farmers and herdsmen.

The recent attacks by herdsmen in Benue, Enugu, Bayelsa, Ekiti and Adamawa among others have impeded agric output in the affected states and market development.

“The crisis has implication for the agricultural sector and employment generation. It is a major risk to the growth of the sector,” said Muda Yusuf, director-general, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“This is also a threat to raw materials for industries. The agric sector provides the raw materials that feed industries, especially the food and beverage industries. This conflict is happening in a period of FX shortage,” said Yusuf.

Nigeria’s inflation rate accelerated to 12.8 percent, the highest in almost four years in March. Food prices rose 12.7 percent in March from a year ago, compared with 11.4 percent in the previous month, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Agro finance

Nigeria’s expectation from its agricultural sector may never crystallise if banks remain unwilling to lend to the sector.

Lack of access to adequate financing by farmers and other actors in the sector has remained a major impediment that prevents investments in basic farm inputs needed to raise productivity and sustain growth of the non-oil sector.

As a result, yields have failed to increase significantly, leading to pervasive hunger and poverty.

Similarly, agro entrepreneurs seeking to build businesses that could boost food production have continued to remain at a subsistence level in the country.

“Funding is the biggest problem we have in Nigeria’s agriculture,” Heineken Lokpobiri, Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development said at a breakfast meeting with bank CEO’s held in Lagos in 2017.

“We need finance to put all the factors of production together to drive growth in the sector. We know that banks are still finding it difficult to fund agriculture but until we have the money to fund agriculture at the production, processing and marketing level, we would not achieve anything from the sector,” Lokpobiri said.

Nigeria’s agricultural fundamentals are robust and include an estimated 84 million hectares of arable land, out of which only 40 percent is cultivated and only 10 percent of the 40 percent is cultivated optimally.

But with adequate financing, the country can put its 84 million hectares of arable land to productive use, experts say.

Inputs

Prices of key inputs such as seeds, herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers and agro machinery will be the determinants of food prices in 2019.

Also, access to adequate, secured and timely supply of quality seeds is a major hurdle in the nation’s quest to return to its heydays with agriculture.

Poor seeds have been identified as the major challenge facing farmers’ cultivation of crops efforts and it reduces their yield per hectare.

Despite efforts of successive governments to give farmers access to improved seeds, farmers are still unable to get access to good and quality seedlings.

Nigeria’s failure to invest in the seed industry has created a yawning seed gap estimated at N525 billion, leaving farmers’ to low quality inputs that portend danger to crop production and the country’s food-sufficiency target.

“Most of the seeds in the market today are imported and this is because we do not produce enough seeds. The research institutes that are mandated to produce improved varieties of seeds are not doing anything,” Abiodun Olorundenro, a farmer told BusinessDay.

“There are lots of adulterated seeds in the country today because demand is much higher than supply. The level of investments in the industry is low. To bridge the gap, a lot of merchants are importing these seeds for farmers,” Olorundenro said.

Despite the growth recorded in the numbers of seed companies in Nigeria, investments in the subsector is still low, as farmers still find it difficult to easily access improved seeds and seedlings to cultivate.

The total national seed requirements for eight major crops, including maize and rice, in Africa’s most populous country stood at 388,690.64 metric tons (MT) in 2015, while the quantity available was 126,173 MT, leaving a yawning gap of 262,518 MT.

Experts in the agricultural sector say that government needs to prevent the supply-availability gap from widening further to prevent creating a fertile ground for the proliferation of unregistered and incompetent operators who flood the market with fake or poor quality seeds.

They explained that legal backing from the National Assembly would empower the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) to carry out its statutory mandate of regulation and supervision of seeds more effectively and seamlessly.

To bridge the gaps, experts have called for collaborations between the government and the private sector to drive investments in seed production in the country.

The experts also urged the government to create an enabling environment that will spur investments in seed production while enforcing stronger regulations to protect local investments.

Framers seek hybrid seeds owing to their productivity advantage, but most of them are imported, leading to high cost of production of farm produce and high prices of food items in the country.

Poor research funding

Agricultural research institutes operating in the country are proving to be the weak link in Nigeria’s quest to boost food production and make exponential gains by way of earnings, employment and other spin-offs.

The institutes which are mandated to develop technologies and practices to improve farmer’s yields per hectare and ensure food security in Africa’s most populous country have failed to improve farm output.

Stakeholders attribute the inability of agric research institutes to reach their potentials owing to poor funding and total neglect of the institutions by the government.

They stated that there is need for the government to address this issue if it wants agriculture to play a leading role in the diversification process.

“Less than 5 percent of the yearly budgetary allocation for agric research institutes goes into core research, while 70 percent goes into salaries and emoluments, with the remaining going into procurements, renovation and overheads,” Baba Yusuf Abubakar, professor of Animal Science, Federal University of Abuja told BusinessDay in a telephone interview.

“We cannot conduct effective research which such stipends. Research plays a pivotal role in transforming the agricultural sector and that is why we must take it very seriously,” Abubakar said.

Data obtained from the budgetary allocation to the agricultural ministry shows that the research institutions get an average of N19.6 billion yearly in the last three years.

This means that the country cumulatively spent N59 billion on research institutes in the last three years without commensurate result.

Data obtained from the budgetary allocation to the agricultural ministry shows that the research institutions got an average of N28 billion ($70 million) yearly in the last four years.

Nigeria’s annual spend on its agric research institutes compares with India’s $2 billion, Brazil’s $1 billion and China’s $700million, BusinessDay findings shows.

Despite the country’s large size of agriculture in relation to other African nations, Nigeria lags behind its peers in the sector in terms of research funding.

A 2015 ActionAid report show that Nigeria only invests $0.42 into agric research for every $100 of agric output, as compared to $0.94 and $1.40 in Ghana and Uganda respectively.

Nigeria has the highest agricultural research system in Africa though, in terms of investments and number of researchers, with over 80 government and high education institutes and over 2,000 researchers engaged in research. However, official fraud limits funds from reaching their points of critical need.

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Written by NaijaRoko

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