Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wanted: Agrarian revolution for economic development

If you cannot feed the world, feed yourself!  
- Dr. David Oyedepo, Chancellor, Landmark University, Omu Aran, Kwara State.
It was a great privilege and honour to be the guest of Landmark University during her just concluded 4th Convocation Ceremony held last week from Wednesday, July 12 to Sunday, July 16, 2017. Though I was not there for all the time but the two full days I spent in that citadel of learning was an eye opener for me.  I learnt a lot from some of the wisdom nuggets shared by Bishop David Oyedepo as well as the convocation lecture delivered by Mr. Mezuo Nwuneli as well as the keynote address by Professor Suleiman Elias Bogoro. Since then, I have come to realise the full import of agriculture both for food security as well as economic development.
Erroneously, many of us look at agriculture as mere cultivation for food production, sales and consumption. It is more than that.  At Landmark, I learnt about agribusiness and agripreneurship.  It is noteworthy that all students in the university irrespective of their course of study had to learn about agriculture. The school is also the only one in Nigeria offering Certificate and Diploma in Agripreneurship. Did you know that there is no home in the world that does not contain agricultural products or by-products? Here I am not talking of food which is compulsory and is found in every home. What about the flowers, the trees, the furniture, the shoes, the bags, the belts, the clothes, the books, the newspapers, tissue papers, cartons, the drugs, cigars, cigarettes,  tobacco, wines, fruit juice, soft drinks  and several other daily needs at home? They are all agricultural produce and by-products.
Last Thursday, Mr. Mezuo Nwuneli who presented the convocation lecture spoke on “The Business of Agriculture: Benchmarking and Attaining New Frontiers  in Agricultural Development for Africa”.  In an illuminating speech, the guest lecturer spoke of business of agriculture. According to him Agribusiness encompasses the interlinked set of activities from the farm to the fork. It includes four key segments: Agricultural Input Industry for increasing agricultural productivity, such as agricultural machinery, equipment and tools; fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides; and irrigation systems and related equipment.
There is also Production and Processing for Agro-industry. Here he spoke about food and beverages; tobacco products, leather and leather products; textile; footwear and garments; wood and wood products; rubber products; as well as construction industry products based on agricultural materials.  Mention was also made of Agricultural Processing Equipment which includes machinery (cleaning, sorting and grading, milling, blending, packaging}, cooling technology, tools and spare parts. Lastly are the support services such as transportation logistics, marketing, and distribution, storage facilities (silos, cold room, warehouses); information technology services; and packaging materials.
Nwuneli reeled out a lot of statistics, graphs and survey reports to demonstrate the numerous challenges and solutions to Nigeria’s attainment of agrarian revolution. He noted inter alia that an average Nigerian spends 50 per cent of his or her earnings on food and that the country imports over 45 per cent of its food needs. He stated also that over the past 10 years, there has been a gradual increase in agribusiness investments in Nigeria. The ‘agripreneur’ noted that there are broad range of opportunities in agricultural production, processing, storage and distribution, financing, and inputs. He went into details of opportunities in cassava and tomato processing as well as integrated poultry.
The keynote speaker, Professor Suleiman Elias Bogoro made his own presentation during the main convocation event last Friday, July 14, 2017. He spoke on the topic “Revolutionizing Agriculture: A Catalyst for Up scaling Development and Transformation in Africa”. In the well-researched paper, Bogoro, a renowned Professor of Animal Science from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi who is also the immediate past Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund delved into the various government initiatives aimed at revolutionizing agriculture in Nigeria, their successes and challenges, as well as the roles of different stakeholders in the attainment of agrarian revolution in Nigeria, nay Africa.  
For instance he did an overview of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration under the immediate past Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina. According to the erudite scholar, “The overarching objectives of the ATA are to boost agricultural output, encourage private sector engagement, and create 3.5m new jobs in the farming sector. The ATA aims to boost farmers’ incomes by N300bn ($1.5bn) by increasing productivity, securing greater market access, and strengthening value chains. At the heart of ATA is the idea that agriculture should be a business rather than a development activity and that efforts to grow the sector require strategic direction rather than the pursuit of piecemeal disconnected projects.”. The speaker said ATA has achieved limited success with many of the objectives yet to be fully realized. Bogoro observed that the main policy thrust of the incumbent Buhari administration is “to embark on a massive and comprehensive reorganisation and revolutionalisation of the agricultural sector” 
The university don listed six actions required to spur transformational growth in Nigeria’s agricultural sector. They are: Consistence and high level policy attention. To him, “Agricultural reform and transformation will require policy stability and continuity that builds and improves on the progress already made. He also called for more investment in agriculture. In his view, Nigeria has not come close to meeting the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme guideline for African countries to spend at least 10 per cent of their budgets on agriculture. He challenged all tiers of government to get involved in the transformation agenda and that efforts should be made to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the three tiers of government for agricultural policy and delivery.
Bogoro called for more emphasis to be placed on research and development. He observed that Nigeria is home to 15 national agricultural research institutes and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture. Unfortunately, spending on these institutes has been very inadequate. Yet, there is need for greater emphasis on developing research that provides practical solutions to the problems faced by farmers.  He also called for the active engagement of smallholder as well as young farmers.   He equally stated that value addition on our agricultural commodities hold the key to increased incomes and reducing the huge post-harvest losses. To attain self-sufficiency in food production and processing, he opined that it is important to have infrastructure that will support production and accessibility to markets such as dams, irrigation facilities and silos.
The keynote speaker observed the preference of Nigerian policy maker for the crop subsector with little attention given to livestock and fisheries subsectors. This, he observed, is at variance with the practice in developed countries. He challenged Landmark University to develop Agro-technology Park similar to the popular Research Triangle of North Carolina in USA. The academic also lend his support to the proposed Agricultural Trust Fund.
Since I listened to the soul steering paper presentations of the two guest speakers, I have been having introspection of how to get involved in the agriculture value chain. I never knew there are boundless opportunities in that sector as I have been made to see. Even the elementary aspect which is food production is a money spinner. Like Bishop David Oyedepo said at LMU convocation last week, “Until life ceases to be, food will remain relevant. Food market will forever remain open. Get involved!”  
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