‘FG paying lip service to agriculture’
Senator Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP, Taraba) is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture. In this interview, he speaks about government’s attitude to agriculture and why insurgency may cause food shortage. Excerpts:
Nigeria’s funding of agriculture is below the 10 percent stipulated by the Maputo declaration, why is it so?
Yes, I agree that agriculture has not been receiving sufficient funding and I want to say that we are continually paying lip service to the sector. We talk so much about it and then there’s nothing much in terms of action. We are playing politics with agriculture and I think it will not be good for us in the long run. From all indications, the future of this country lies with the agriculture and this entirely depends on what we do now to sustain a better future for our children. We have tried to sing this to the ears of those who care to listen. The Nigerian government has not set a good precedent as a forerunner in the African project because Africa is the centre-piece of our foreign policy. If we signed an agreement, which is binding on all signatories, we are supposed to obey and yet we don’t obey.
I want to call on the government, which has demonstrated the desire to promote agriculture, to rise up to the challenge and comply with the convention that was signed in Maputo in 2003 under former President Olusegun Obasanjo who is a farmer himself but unfortunately refused to implement same. So, if Nigeria could commit 10 per cent of its national budget to agriculture, I want to believe the story would change because we have the requisite manpower in the sector. Many of us are keen on promoting agriculture but we are frustrated due to insufficient funding.
But the National Assembly has appropriation powers, why is it that you have not done
anything about it?
Yes, we have powers but we have our limitations, too. You know that the mainstay of our economy is oil and the budget is predicated on the benchmark and we cannot go beyond the benchmark. We cannot increase the figure arbitrarily. We have tried to do that and discovered that we will have the challenge of implementation. Sometimes when you try to reprioritise it creates friction and these areas cannot be overlooked in the process of budgeting. It is now a phenomenon that the executives don’t want you to tamper with the budget and it is very funny and embarrassing to the integrity of the legislature. I don’t see how the executive will bring a budget to you and then expect that you rubber-stamp it as if you were there just to fulfill all righteousness. So when you go to exceed the ceiling, the excuse is always that there was no sufficient revenue from the oil sales to fund the budget. But I think there is a way we can handle this if there is an effective synergy between us and the executive. You bring an estimate that will be reflective of commitment to the agric sector. You redefine your priorities. You can do it without doing what they call “padding”.
There is this fear that the insecurity in the North may lead to food crisis because many farmers have been displaced. Are you not concerned about that?
is saying the obvious because when you take a look at the states that are referred to as the food basket of the nation, from Benue, Taraba, Plateau and stretches through Adamawa, they are all the places ravaged with crises occasioned by what I will call ‘political herdsmen’ who are dissipating the population. The killings are so alarming and the newspapers are not even reporting the exact casualty figures. Since history, crisis between herdsmen and farmers has not taken this dimension. Unfortunately, this is coinciding with the insurgency in the North-east.
What is the government doing to avert the possible food crisis?
That naturally is the duty of the government but, again, look at it from two perspectives that this crisis is coming from. What do we do to see that we avoid this consequence? Now, what to do to avoid it has already been missed. That opportunity has been missed but the second alternative is how to provide succour or palliative measure. Here, it is the agricultural sector which has been neglected that will play a prominent role. Funds must be made available to refill the silos that we have across the country. We must stock food to take care of the people.
But is that being done by the government?
The government is involved in stockpiling food in our reserves to ensure that people don’t face unnecessary hardships in terms of lack of food. The agric ministry is doing that. I also know that the grain reserves project or scheme is working. The government is not unmindful of this. But certainly food shortage will be there because the areas hit most are the areas that are responsible for the bulk of the supply of food to Nigeria.