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By Jimoh Babatunde
Whenever he talks about agricultural issues, the CEO Swiss Biostad Nigeria  ,Mr. Emman Ajayi ,is always passionate . He is an agriculture economist with vast experience in extension services and management. In this interview, he talks about the Agricultural Transformation Action Plan unveiled by  the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina  as well as  the need to have private sector  involved in fertilizer procurement and distribution among others.

Here is an excerpt
On the Agricultural Transformation Action Plan unveiled by the Minister of Agriculture

I will want to thank Vanguard newspapers,   as their name suggests, they are always in the vanguard of driving topical issues in Nigeria and very professional in their approach.

On the issue of agriculture in Nigeria, I must say, this is the first time in the history of this country we are having a square peg in a square hole.

By this, I mean for many years, we now have a great professional, an erudite scholar, a great international figure in agriculture, who has worked in research and development economics and having a brunch in practical agriculture now  at the helms of affair driving our agriculture as minister.

At several fora he has made it clear that he does not want to be minister for hunger , and when you look at his  Transformational Agenda on the agricultural sector  which he presented to the President , the economic team and the private sector, you will agree with me that he is coming from a different dimension.

On your question, it is true that we have had different policies, not just in agriculture but in different sectors, but the difference I could see here is that it as an all inclusive policy, it is totalitarian and expansive in its design.

The Transformational Action Plan took a critical look at where we are coming from and it has a clear road map of where we are going and how we are going to get there. If you look at the policy, it targets five crops, it tells you what employment we are going to generate , which he puts conservatively at  a total of 3.5 million jobs to be created within four years, this to some of us is conservative as we know the potential of the sector in terms of job creation.

It also tells you what it entails at each of the turning point in the policy, the policy has measurement entrenched in it .It is not policy per ser.  It also looked at the land use act which is inimical to agriculture, the role of the state and the local governments since agriculture is in concurrent lists of our constitution

It also looked at some of the policy that will require legislative act to back them.  So, you can see that this is not a policy in isolation.

Again, it took agriculture not as developmental agenda, but a business which will  have the support of the government, but driven by the private sector. So, to me it is completely different looking at it from the cover and the pages.

On the five crops identified by the action plan
If you look at the policy, it is constructed along value chain; on each of the value chain there is an inbuilt mechanism that will drive production, storage and marketing.

I was part of the cassava initiative , If you   remember,  we were  going to several towns   driving cassava production in Nigeria after two years I remember being driven away from a  village when they said  you asked us to plant cassava now we produced and can not  sell.

The Minister of Agriculture  is aware of this and that is why the issue of marketing as part of the value chain is well tackled and also the issue of import substitution that will use up the produced crops as well as the issue of backward integration in which case some of the companies or manufacturing firms that are using agricultural raw materials will have to stop   importing their raw materials   and use what we produce locally.

We have also seen the minister asking the flour millers to include 10 percent of cassava in their flour for breading making; you can see that he was not unaware of the gluts. So they are well captured in this policy as well.

And for  the use of 10 percent in the usage of cassava in flour making, he is also thinking of putting up a legislative act to back it up  that will ensure we are not only looking at the four years  framework, but there is consistency in the policy, because that has been a critical draw back in our policies . They were always short-lived, most of them where short term policies and projects driven and so they have no survival mechanism built in them.

I think this new action plan has been taken care of in this  and that is why most of us are happy about this new policy

On the need for the private sector involvement in fertilizer procurement, distribution

You see the issue of fertilizer has been unnecessarily politicized like the issue of petrol subsidy. What the minister is saying is as simply as ABC. Fertilizer is not the only input in agriculture. When we talk of agricultural inputs, we are talking of seeds which is very primary, we are talking of crop production products like fungicide, herbicide which if taken away from agric you can loose about 40% of your yields , we are talking of fertilizer, fingerlings .

Those who are into fishing buy their own fingerlings, those in poultry buy their own feeds and they are not complaining.

Let me give you an example, in cocoa if you do not apply fungicide you can expect 100 percent yield loss and yet government has never been concerned, and the farmers have been able to get their  fungicide requirements to protect their  crops. We can go on and on for each of the crops.

Today, we believe that crop protection products used in Nigeria  agriculture  is in the region of 40% vis a vis the total requirement   and because it is private sector driven the farmers have been able to access and use it and get more used to it and been able to pay for it and so the growth of farmers protection products have been increasing from one year to another.

This is not so with fertilizers because the farmers are waiting for government to  buy and once the government buys the middle men double cross the farmers. The question I asked people is how much the farmer pays for fertilizer.

From my research, it has been revealed that the farmer is actually paying more than he is expected to pay for fertilizer. The government involvement is affecting the private sector participation in procurement, sales and distribution of fertilizer in Nigeria.

The involvement of government in fertilizer is hampering the growth of fertilizer usage in Nigeria, it is affecting the spread of the use of fertilizer, and its involvement is encouraging corruption in fertilizer procurement and distribution at each of the value chain.

The minister is very right in his approach, what he is saying is that in the interim, the government will not just watch his hands off, the government will look at the way that by this year the government will buy, the distribution will be by the private companies based on the voucher system and this has worked very well else where and I think it will work well here too.

It is just a bridge for a full blown privatization and for us at the private sector we are just waiting, ready and willing.  A company like us is already involved with distribution of folio fertilizer, bio fertilizer without any government involvement and we are making a success of it.

Number of private firms has the facilities, the infrastructure to do fertilizer procurement and distribution. I am sure if this has been left in the hands of private companies by today we would have had a lot of fertilizer companies in this country, but the government has been its greatest enemy in the issue of fertilizer.

On the country being able to feed itself
I know the World Food Day has become an annual ritual, but it is good to still remind ourselves that food still remains the basic need for mankind to live. I am also very sad that every day I go to bed that from available statistics that many Nigerians are going to bed that night without food.

As an agriculturist I feel bad and as a Nigerian I look at all the resources that God has endowed with that people still go bed without food.

What can we do? Government needs to have strong political will to drive agriculture, beyond policies there is need for political will. I want to see government pursue Agriculture the same way they pursue electioneering campaign.

The challenges facing the small farmers are enormous and they are not what we cannot deal with. They have no proper government supports, availability of proceeds, good extension supports, sustainability of government policies to guild them as to where the government is going.

Provision of socio infrastructure like roads for them to evacuate their produce, the issue of proper legislation to guide their production. If government can address all these in two three years our agriculture will take shape.

On the role of state governments in agriculture
From my experience, most of the states don't know or understand what they need to do about agric, they see agric as one of the ministries that is there.

Most of the governors have no plans for agriculture, you see in  their budgets sometimes talking about roads, energy, education, hospitals. You could see how concern many Nigerians are about removal of oil subsidy, but nobody is talking about agriculture.

And there is a danger looming as nobody is talking about the old farmers and no young man wants to take into farming. Every youth from the rural area are going into okada riding in the cities. I don't think people are thinking and planning for agriculture.

A time will come the primary food we eat will diminish, we import food from other countries, a time will come these countries will stop exporting to us, and then what do we do?  A nation that cannot feed itself is not secured.