Jonathan's scorecard: Harnessing potential of agriculture …

By The Citizen

'I don't know what to do; I have tried all I can to get fertiliser but it is not available. Even the available ones are too expensive and the season for fertiliser application would soon be over.

'I wonder why the government is claiming to be spending so much on fertiliser subsidy, while we, the farmers, cannot get it,' Idris Yakowa, a local farmer in Kaduna moaned.

But that was in 2009 when the distribution of fertiliser to famers was not properly coordinated.

These days, Yakowa has access to not just fertiliser; he also has access to seeds, farm implements and even financial facilities.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, said that the trouble-free access of farmers to agricultural inputs nowadays was made possible because of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) of President Goodluck Jonathan's administration.

The minister, who said this at the 2013 Ministerial Platform, stressed that the government was focusing on how to use agriculture as a tool for economic development.

'We are implementing a time-bound aggressive plan to unlock Nigeria's potential to become an agricultural powerhouse.

'Yearly, Nigeria imports over 11 billion U.S. dollars worth of wheat, rice, sugar and fish

'However, Nigeria is importing what it can produce in abundance; this import dependency is hurting Nigerian farmers, displacing local production and creating unemployment.

'Our vision is to make Nigeria an agricultural and industrialised economy, using a government-enabled private sector-driven approach,' he said.

Adesina said that the government had been able to terminate age-old corruption in the seed and fertiliser industry within 90 days via the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GES).

He said that government had stopped the direct procurement of fertiliser, adding that the acquisition of the product was now being handled by private companies.

The minister said that farmers now received subsidies on fertiliser directly through a cell phone-based system which was developed to send subsidies via electronic vouchers.

Adesina said that 1.5 million farmers had been reached, while 7.5 million people felt the impact of the scheme within the first year of its implementation.

To ensure that real farmers got fertiliser supplies under the scheme, the minister said that a database of the country's farmers was being developed, while about 10 million farmers had so far registered for the scheme.

'The GES system saved the Federal Government about N25 billion in 2012 alone,' he said.

Adesina, however, stressed that the ATA was focusing more on value addition, adding that the priority areas included cotton, onion, tomato, sorghum, maize, soybean, oil palm, cocoa, rice, cassava, livestock and fisheries.

For the cassava value chain, the minister said that the country had been able to save N253 billion annually due to the utilisation of cassava flour in the baking and confectionery industry.

Besides, Adesina said that the Federal Government's efforts to boost rice production in the country had started yielding fruit.

He said that for the first time ever, Nigeria produced 690,000 tonnes of rice in the main season and 1.1 million tonnes during the dry season.

The minister said that a private-sector operator, Dominion Farms, had invested 40 million U.S. dollars in commercial rice production on 30,000 hectares of farmland in Taraba.

He also said that 13 new rice mills with a total capacity of 240,000 tonnes of rice had been established by the private sector across the country.

'Nine million tonnes of food was added to the domestic food reserve from 2012, our target is 20 million tonnes by 2015; and we would achieve it,'' Adesina said.

The Minister of Environment, Hajiya Hadiza Mailafia, who also spoke at the platform, recounted the achievements of her ministry in the last two years.

To make the environment more conducive to farming, fishing and other human activities, Mailafa said that a bill to criminalise oil spillage had been presented to the National Assembly.

'We are working on the bill that was presented by the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) to the National Assembly; when the law finally comes up, there will be more stringent measures for those oil companies that pollute the environment.

'Remember, this is Transformation Agenda in action; before now, these things were happening unattended to, but now, we are determined to transform the environment sector,'' she said.

Mailafia also said that the ministry was working on 64 erosion sites across the country.

'In the South-East geopolitical zone of this country, we have been constantly challenged over the years by major erosion occurrences.

'On assumption of office, Mr President, in his desire to transform the environment, decided to address the major issues, beginning with the big ones.

'The Federal  Government, through the ministry, has successfully worked on 64 erosion and flood control projects nationwide, with about 12 of them not yet completed but in the process of completion,'' she said.

On desertification, Mailafia said that the ministry had embarked on projects aimed at reclaiming the forest reserves, adding that it had also distributed wood stoves to people to curb the use of firewood for cooking.

'A wood stove is a heating appliance capable of burning wood fuel and wood-derived biomass fuel; therefore, there would be little need to fell trees for cooking,'' she said.

Moreover, Mailafia said that the Federal Government had established 55 hectares community woodlots in Kano as part of the Great Green Wall project.

The minister stressed that a management plan had been developed for the 139,100-hectare Omo Forest Reserve in Ogun, while the Amboi/Baissa Forest Reserve in Taraba was jointly managed by the Federal Government and Taraba State Government.

Observers commend the two ministries for the achievements they have been to record within a couple of years.

They, nonetheless, urge the ministers to redouble their efforts to reposition the ministries for quality service delivery in the coming years. (NANFeatures)

By Ifeanyi Nwoko, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)