Vice President Yemi Osinbajo Monday said efforts were being made to ensure that farmers secure financing from the Bank of Agriculture (BoA) at single digit interest rate in a determined move to boost agriculture as part of government’s diversification strategy.
He said the Federal Ministry of Finance had practically concluded plans to recapitalise and re-engineer the BoA adding that the bank should be ready to give single digit rates by the end of the quarter.
He said with the current double digit interest rate and reluctance by commercial banks to lend to agriculture, there was need to develop alternative model for financing the sector in the short term.
He said the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) Anchor Borrower programme has been useful and had recorded huge successes in local rice and wheat production through the provision of loans at single digit.
Speaking yesterday in Abuja at the unveiling of the “Green Alternative: the Agriculture Promotion Policy 2016-2020” which is a four-year blueprint on growing the sector, he said repositioning agriculture was critical for economic transformation.
He said the sector would not only be revived to achieve food security but also have the capacity to produce and export to earn foreign exchange.
He said the inability of past administrations to adhere to policy direction and the unbridled importation of items which ought to be produced locally, coupled with high interest loans to farmers were some of the major drawbacks to the development of the sector.
He said the current administration inherited a near collapse economy and had to take far reaching decisions to re-position it.
According to him, one of the most critical component of the plan was to position agriculture as arrow-head of its recovery efforts.
“There’s no question at all that if we get agriculture right, we will get our economy right,” he said.
He added that the roadmap identified the inability to meet domestic requirements which is more of productivity challenge as well as inability to export at levels required or market success adding that the Green Alternatives will solve the challenges.
He said: “You cannot have a policy of encouraging local production of food and on the other hand, have a high tarrif on imported agricultural equipment. There’s no way that we can encourage local production when we allow unbridled importation of the same thing that we are trying to produce.
“There’s 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 we import. And of course, encouraging the works of the agents of the ministries of science and technology who have been making great breakthroughs in local development of agricultural equipment.”
Osinbajo said as part of the 500,000 teachers that federal government plans to recruit, about 100,000 will be trained as extension workers for the farms.
He commended the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Audu Ogbeh, for what he described as his unbridled advocacy for a new policy on agriculture and for also spearheading the policy development within a short period.
Nevertheless, Ogbeh thanked both President Buhari and Osinbajo for their support in ensuring that a blueprint on agriculture was developed.
The minister said the new document was not entirely new as it was built upon the Agricultural Transformational Agenda (ATA) of the previous administration.
He maintained that the present administration had no intentions to jettison good ideas from the past regime noting that policy summersaults were often costlier than new initiatives.
He said adjustment would be made to past administration’s policies where necessary.
He expressed confidence that with the recent interventions, “It won’t be long before we begin to cruise to reasonable altitude.”
He said government would work with state governments to put over 200 dams located across the country into use.
He added that stakeholders would now be expected to use only duly certified fertilizers by government as well as adhere to advisory of soil conditions for bumper yields.
The federal government has already invested massively in soil mapping/testing aimed at increasing crop yields.
He said adequate security arrangement was being put in place to shield local and foreign investors into agriculture from the snares of armed robbery and kidnapping.
On the new policy document, Ogbeh said there had been no alternative to oil and gas in the past 30 years while agriculture had totally been relegated, a situation which according to him led to annual food import bills at a historic $22 billion.
He said given Nigeria’s population projection, the government cannot continue to subsidise feeding, adding that “We have to feed or perish.”
He said tales of widespread hunger will be brought to an end as government expects bumper harvest this year, bouyed by innovations in fertilizer utilisation and education of farmers on new ways of doing things.
Essentially, the new 129-page policy document produced by the ministry of agriculture after extensive consultations with stakeholders, among other things, targets three key pillars including productivity enhancements, crowding in private sector investment and institutional strengthening/realignment.
The key objectives is to grow the agricultural sector to between six to and 12 per cent annually; doubling agricultural household incomes in 6 to 12 years and integrating agricultural commodity value chains into the broader supply chain.
Other immediate targets are to drive job growth and wealth creation as well as ensuring enhanced capacity for foreign exchange earnings.
The six focal areas of intervention include institutional setting and roles, youth and women, infrastructure, research and innovation, and food and national security as well as climate smart agriculture.
He said currently, government’s drive towards food security is in progress particularly for rice, maize, sorghum, millet, wheat, and animal products and tomato paste.
The minister added that the new policy would further educate the people on how to keep bees which are critical for pollination of farm produce particularly tomatoes.
He also said government is presently addressing the issues around cattle rearing and the incessant conflicts with farmers, adding that it is also working with state governments to secure the grazing reserves for herdsmen, a situation that could limit movement and reduce confrontations.
Ogbeh said government’s focus was also to promote commercial agriculture to go side by side with subsistence farming in order to boost exports.
He said a lot of investments would go into palm oil and lemon grass oil productions for export. He said the new document will also require all undergraduates in tertiary institutions to own farms on campus.
The minister lamented that the 774 local government areas in the country have almost collapsed when it comes to agriculture, stressing that they all must be brought back into the system.
He said whatever the problems of local government are they must be productive or better scrapped.He, therefore, enjoined every Nigerian to take to farming to save the ailing economy while assuring them of government support.