Sunday, 28 July 2013

‘MOST AGRICULTURAL POLICIES AREN’T WORKING’



Hope Abah, a versatile and prolific young journalist with Daily Trust who frequently covers Agricultural reports, caught up with Dr. Simon Penda of the University of Agriculture, Markurdi an expert in agric business and financial management to discuss policies, problems and the state of Agricultural sector in Nigeria.


Excerpts:


What solution would you suggest to the agricultural transformation effort of Nigeria, given its potential as an agrarian economy?


Agriculture contributes up to 40 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and more than 80 percent of the Nigerian population is engaged in agriculture. The funny thing however is that we have remained an importing nation, which means that the production is not enough even to feed the entire population. As economic planners, we are thinking that with the resources at our advantage, Nigeria should not only be able to feed its people but it should be able to earn income from agriculture not even oil - its main economic stay. The problems are wide; farmers have not been supported properly, the seeds today are not the type that would bring optimal yield and so per hectare yield in Nigeria is still very low. I had an experience when I visited a crop research institute in Vietnam. I discovered from the researchers that a per hectare yield of rice in that country is eight tons and they produce three times in a year which totals 24 tons per hectare in a year. But, in Nigeria the rice yield per hectare in a year is just two tons maximally and we produce once in a year because we depend on rain-fed agriculture. This means that we must improve on our irrigation system because depending on rainfall agriculture will not move us any forward considering that of the country’s arable land which amounts to 80 million hectares only 8 percent is currently irrigated.


How do you evaluate the federal government’s efforts in tackling the situation?


As far as I am concerned, I would say categorically that most agricultural policies introduced by past and present governments are not working very well. Despite the huge resources, wide land for agriculture and even though we have a large population of potential youths as workforce, we still remain the highest importing nation in the world. What do you think will make these policies effective?We must as a matter of fact face the challenges that this country is ours. Corruption is the bane of what has placed Nigeria in its current position.


The University of Agriculture, Makurdi (UAM) occupies at least 8,000 hectares of land with very large portion of it not utilized. What can be done to put it into use as a research institute?


Most of the agricultural institutes in the country have large land for research and practice. But as you are already aware, agriculture is capital intensive. So, if the universities are not supported to go into direct farming, it would be difficult to utilize the space. It is regrettable that universities in the country, including universities of agriculture are poorly funded such that the land is available but other inputs to develop it are lacking. I can speak for the University of Agriculture, Makurdi that we are blessed with a large land up to 8,000 hectares and if government can support the university, it has the capacity to feed the state.How much employment do you think would be generated if UAM cultivates 2,000 hectares for each of the three senatorial zones of the state?Agriculture is a sector that can employ a whole lot of idle hands. So, if the university for instance cultivates 2000 hectares for every zone of the three districts in the state under irrigation which would produce three times in the year, the result will be overwhelming. From the people who would harvest, those who will take produce to the stores and those who do other jobs in the farms, I can assure you that there would be massive employment such that I can not quantify. This is because a 2,000 hectare farm cannot create less than 2,000 jobs.


How do you think our local farmers can be supported to increase production?


I will like to say that supporting local farmers does not end with fertilizer. The beginning is actually done with research. Agricultural institutes in the country should be financially supported to conduct researches. Some of them have even conducted researches that have brought about good varieties but to get them to the farmers has become a problem. To multiply these seeds has also become a problem. So government has to support the researches and ensure that the seeds get to the farmers so that they get good varieties for planting.Fertilizer is another issue which is militating against farmers’ capacity to generate bumper harvest as oftentimes government would talk about input for farmers when actually they did not get it at all. A lot of inputs have to be considered such that we must shift from primitive to mechanized agriculture. If we take a country like Indonesia for example, they use 240 tractors for 1000 hectares while Nigeria uses 10 tractors for 1000 hectares. So agriculture in Nigeria needs a lot of government support. Before oil, agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy.


Do you think the lost glory of this sector can be restored?

There was a time when agriculture boomed in this country but we never sustained the production due to the advent of oil which caused everyone to surrender even as farmers too relaxed. The thinking of the country totally shifted to making money from something else other than agriculture. I think that consciousness that we will feed ourselves has to be developed first in order to see any changes; the consciousness when Nigerians would have to choose between local and foreign rice, which is the stage of repair that would enable us as a country to feed ourselves and the whole world.


What harm do you think the delay by government to accent to the bio-safety act portends to the country’s quest to rely on agriculture?


I don’t think that it is a delay so to speak. I want to believe that there is something government wants to see in the bill fashioned properly before the presidency accents to it. It is not just to accent to the bill in a hurry but it must be given to farmers in a way that it becomes sustainable. Despite the belief by some that Genetically Modified foods which the bill is expected to give passage are poisonous, Nigerians are consuming the products already. However, I don’t think that is why the presidency is yet to sign the act. Policy makers do have their reasons which I do not know.





Published on Thursday, 25 July 2013 by Hope Abah, Makurdi Daily Trust Agriculture section.