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Government needs to prioritise agriculture – Dorodola – Blueprint Newspapers Limited – Blueprint newspapers Limited

Nigeria’s agricultural sector needs to be revisited. In this interview with SALIHU OYIBO, the founder of Optimal Akeshinjo Farms, an indigenous agricultural company, Azeez Oluwanifemi Durodola, speaks extensively on the need for federal and state governments to prioritise agriculture as a sustainable means rejuvenating the nation’s economy.

You are the team leader for Agricultural Transformation Support Programme, Phase One (ATASP-1). What were the challenges your team faced and how did you tackled them?

The concept of value chain is variously interpreted. Some relate it to the processes or activities by which a company adds value to an article including production, marketing and provision of after-sales service. To others, it means the whole series of activities that build value at every step. Agricultural value chain entails all the activities from the field to the fork and encompasses the steps from primary production, processing, storage, transportation, and marketing/export to consumption of commodities. Processing zones are specially delimited contiguous expanses of land in areas of high agricultural potential where the provision of well-developed physical infrastructure such as access roads, electricity, and water are necessary for private sector-led production, processing and marketing activities for strategic commodities such as rice, sorghum, cassava, horticulture, cotton, cocoa, oil palm, livestock and fisheries. Nigeria is a geographically-large country with a complex administrative environment. The multi-sectoral programme required a team of seasoned experts including consultants to harness all views. Several studies were conducted in relevant areas such as infrastructure surveys of the processing zones and value chain assessments for the priority commodities to guide the bank’s design approach for ATASP-1. The bank team which comprised experts from OSAN, OPSM, OITC, OSHD and ORPF had to think outside the box and figure out how to deliver an investment document even when the master plan for the processing zones had not been fully developed.

What are the special characteristics of ATASP-1 that would enable it help Nigeria transform its agricultural sector into a profitable business?
ATASP-1 is giving equal attention to constraints along the entire value chain in selected Staple Crops Processing Zones. The activities outlined in the novel Outreach Program would focus on human capacity building in agribusiness and facilitate the formation/development of more efficient production clusters geared towards establishing a reliable supply of rice, cassava and sorghum to industries.
Key impacts of ATASP-1 are additional incomes to an increased number of producers and entrepreneurs in the sector by the creation of about 120,000 jobs along the value chain of priority commodities and additional 20 million metric tons of key commodity food items added to domestic food supply per annum.

Reports from bank-funded projects in Nigeria indicate that while farmers have made significant gains by adopting improved crop varieties and farming practices, productivity still falls far below the full potential along the commodity value chains. How can this problem be solved?
ATASP-1 has prioritized integration of women and most especially youths into markets. Targeted support for value addition through processing, better nutritious product and market linkages to improve profits and incomes are critical for enhanced productivity along the continuum from subsistence to commercial agriculture.

The problems of transportations and storage have been identified as key impediments to agriculture and the agro-industry in Nigeria. How will this project help to solve these problems?

One of the key constraints that ATASP-1 intends to overcome is the prevalent high post-harvest losses incurred by producers, processers and marketers of paddy and processed rice; cassava tubers and starch, sorghum heads and flour as a result of poor infrastructure. ATASP-1 would rehabilitate a total of 1,330 kms of feeder and access roads to link these centres of agric-business with community markets and major trunk roads. Apart from the 22 storage silos and warehouses already installed by the private sector and government in the Processing Zones, three additional warehouses would be constructed to boost the storage capacities for the expected increase in production and processing in relevant Processing Zones.
With women comprising about 70 per cent of the agricultural sector production force, ATASP-1 will positively impact on the lives and livelihoods of women and their families. How will this objective be attained in concrete terms?

The programme would achieve competitive domestic food supply and increase in the income levels of farmers, processors and marketers of which about 70% are women. Furthermore, ATASP-1 would create 120,000 jobs along the commodity value chains and with 60% of these being females; ensure access to credit and other resources to women, facilitate acquisition of tested processing equipment among women processors groups and provide capacity building in agribusiness and entrepreneurship to the women in the programme. For inclusivity, the programme shall ensure access to credit and other resources to women, facilitate acquisition of tested processing equipment among women processors groups and provide capacity building for women. The outreach programme has set aside about UA4.22 million for these women-related activities.
The project intends to improve crop varieties that might require the introduction of genetically modified crop which has spawned a lot of debate in African agriculture. Do the banks have a policy on GMOs? How would it be applicable in this case?

The development of cutting-edge biotechnology techniques to move genetic materials within or between species to produce Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has been associated with increased agricultural productivity. Conferred traits include insect resistance, herbicide tolerance, drought tolerance, salt tolerance and nitrogen fixation in leguminous plants. Proponents of gene biotechnology maintain that it would enhance food security, increase output on marginal lands and limit the use of irrigation and pesticides. Bank do not have a policy on the use of bio-technology but seeks to develop a position after full consultation with stakeholders. To this end, the bank commissioned the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to conduct a study on agriculture bio-technology in Africa to provide adequate scientific information to assist it develop its position on the subject. A draft report was reviewed in August 2013. There are no plans to promote GMOs through ATASP-1; however, the Outreach Programme would use biotechnology to ensure access of Nigeria smallholder farmers to improved genetic materials that are high yielding, having good organoleptic quality, and are resistant / tolerant to pests and diseases.

Do you think the agricultural industry has gotten the requisite support from the Nigerian government?
While I think much more can be done, I believe that the Nigerian government has, overtime, shown its commitment to wean us off oil-dependency and move towards agriculture and encouraging farming in order to ensure food security and self-sufficiency. A typical example is the agricultural promotion policy of this administration. This was implemented to provide legislative and agricultural framework, macro policies, security, infrastructure and institutional mechanisms to allow farmers access essential inputs, finance, information, agricultural services and markets. The agricultural sector presently is the highest employer of labour in the country. We have risen to the very top in rice and maize production. And agriculture contributes more than 20% to the GDP. I agree that there is still so much we can do, but these wins so far are spectacular.
In addition to food security and food self-sufficiency, how is the export outlook looking for Nigeria’s agricultural produce?

This is an interesting question. And this is so specifically because the foreign market is one we intend to explore and conquer. In this regard, there is still a lot to be desired.
Some of the problems we presently face include sustainability of supplies after initial market agreement has been achieved, port clearance issues, corruption by government officials involved in both clearing and forwarding for shipments and the absence of transparency on the part of some agencies involved in export promotions.
A recent report revealed that foreign cargo airlines prefer to depart empty because of extortion and multiple illegal charges, how true is this claim?

As if these aren’t trouble enough, by the time we go more locally, we face lack of warehouse and other forms of storage facilities as well as very poor feeder roads and the attendant high transportation costs. We are one of a very few countries in the world that suffer huge post-harvest loses of as high as 80 per cent. By the time you combine all these factors, you can see some of the challenges faced in the export market. And it is one I hope would be fixed. In addition, for some years consecutively now, we are one of the lowest in the World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking.

Agricultural value chain entails all the activities from the field to the fork and encompasses the steps from primary production, processing, storage, transportation and marketing/export to consumption of commodities.
What is Agriculture Value Chain?
What opportunities do you see for increased interest for grants and value chain investment in agriculture such as we see in the tech and fintech space?

The world as we know it now leans towards technology for the very large part. You must consistently ask how the introduction of technology can help you be more efficient in your operations.
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