‘More budgetary provision should be made to agriculture’
Dr. Tunde Arosanyin is the National Financial Secretary of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN). The agricultural consultant who has been a commercial farmer since 1987 and former Kogi State AFAN Chairman, in this interview, speaks on challenges faci
As a farmer, how do you assess Nigeria’s efforts towards food security?
There were several efforts made by various administrations to improve agriculture but such efforts were either not properly coordinated or were not sustained by successive governments. For example, in 1977, the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) was introduced by the military government under General Olusegun Obasanjo, leading to the establishment of River Basin Authorities. By 1980, the civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari introduced the Green Revolution, focusing on irrigation farming as against total farming. Between 1984 and 1994 there were a lot of distortions in our agricultural programmes under various governments. Presently, the Agricultural Transformation Agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan driven by the Minister for Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, is focusing on the food security challenges of the country. But more budgetary provision should be made to agriculture, and the farmers association must be encouraged to partner with the government on all agricultural activities.
Farmers are alleging that government is supplying them with low yielding seeds while government is saying farmers are consuming the seeds and replacing them with grains. What is the true position?
I think both are correct to the extent that most farmers in the last four years complained about various plant characters of crops planted from one seed bag, bought from some seed companies, or even from seed distributed to farmers under the Growth Enhancement Scheme of the Federal Government. It is also a statement of fact that most farmers in the rural areas either recycle their harvested farm crops as seed or go to open market to buy grains and use same as seed. The truth of the matter is that enough funds are not given to the research institutes to breed. The few seeds produced by some companies are too expensive for the peasant farmers and grossly inadequate, too. Government must encourage research institutes, financially, to breed adequately prolific seeds and subsidise same for the farmers. To an extent, the E- wallet scheme of the Federal Government is addressing the problem of seed availability to the rural farmers, by giving seeds to the farmers captured under the farmers’ registration data base, in an exercise conducted by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture through appointed cellulant in all the 36 states of the federation. Altogether, over eight million farmers were registered as beneficiaries.
What are the major challenges confronting farmers in the country?
The challenges facing the farmers in Nigeria are many, but I will highlight some. They include, but not limited to, poor financial background and stringent loan conditions. Uncoordinated market of farm produce and under pricing, absence of extension officers, inadequate farm input and high price when available. In addition, there is also poor road network and failing infrastructures in the rural areas, importation of subsidised farm produce to compete with local produce not subsidised at production point. Another major challenge facing farmers in this country is the nomads/ farmers clash. Government, at all levels must, as a matter of urgency, create grazing routes off active farmland nationwide while the nomads should be educated to plant fodder for their livestock. They should also be trained by extension officers to be civil in their activities.
Are the agricultural policies and programmes in the country helping the farmers?
Yes, to an extent. But, the major problem is the inconsistency in our policies. We started from presidential initiative on commodities under the Obasanjo administration to the establishment of NFRA - National Food Reserve Agency, under the Yar’adua government which focused on silos and storage and now to ATA under the present government of Goodluck Jonathan. The country needs to be consistent in its policy formulation and implementation, irrespective of a change in government.
The National Bio-Safety Bill, when passed into law, it is said, will encourage more research work on crops, especially in the area of genetic engineering. Do you think biotechnology and genetically modified crops can help improve the country’s
Biotechnology is just two sides of a coin, it depends on the side facing you. The positive aspect of genetically modified crops or livestock is increased production. Presently in Africa, population is on the rise geometrically and food production is static. When there is increase in food production it is growing arithmetically, hence, the challenges of food insecurity, hunger, malnutrition and illness. Much as biotechnology will ameliorate shortage of food supply, Bio-safety Bill must be in place to ensure ethical practice and guarantee human health. The New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD0, under the peerreview-mechanism conference held in Abuja and Accra in 2006 to 2008, advocated for adequate education and guaranteed human safety before introduction of biotechnology. In line with this advocacy, concerned agencies and other stakeholders are working in partnership with some American scientists to ensure good practice in Nigeria and Africa in general. The programme is been sponsored by USAID, Rockfeller Foundation, Bill-Melinda Gates Foundation. Once the precautionary safety is in place, our country can imbibe Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology practice.
How does the budget affect agricultural performance?
The budgetary allocation of three percent and four percent