Mechanisation of Nigeria’s agric sector is one that has been identified as a major albatross to the country’s quest for self-sufficiency in food production. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most relegated priorities in national planning policy. CALEB ONWE writes
Both government and critical stakeholders in the agric sector have agreed that Nigeria needs to mechanise her agriculture in order to boost food production and also help other parts of Africa. This, they said, had become very necessary considering the fact that Nigeria’s explosive population and the effects of climate change on development agenda are becoming prevalent in agric development. They also agreed that the crude method of farming with hoes and cutlass was undeniably outdated, in view of the current population of Nigeria put at over 200 million, coupled with statistical projection that by 2030, the population may hit 500 million. What is very depressing about the whole brouhaha on the much touted agricultural mechanisation is that it has remained a sing-song with discouraging discordant tune. Over the years, several policies that have evolved on the agricultural mechanisation in the country were, and still are, mere paper works, with multiple corrupt avenues to pilfer public funds. X-raying the policies from the inception of the current administration in 2015, what will be seen is just a well pruned tree, but fruitless.
Audu Ogbeh as agric minister
During the first tenure of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, Chief Audu Ogbeh was the minister in charge of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD). For the period he was in office, with the help of his political job seeking allies, he started singing ‘agric mechanisation and 10,000 tractors programme.’ He even by-passed the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM) located in Ilorin, Kwara State, and signed several memorandum of understandings with different companies on farm mechanisation. One of the companies that he engaged for the illfated 10,000 tractorization programme – the Nigeria Agricultural Mechanisation Equipment Leasing Company (NAMEL) – was alleged to be owned by his close aide, Dr. Ahmed Adekunle. Adekunle, who was the Chief Executive Officer of NAMEL, reportedly said: “With our already signed Memorandum of Agreements (MoAs) with John Deere, Tractor Owners & Operators Association of Nigeria (TOOAN) and Tractors Owners & Hiring Facilities Association of Nigeria (TOHFAN) on a private sector-driven mechanismation programme, we intend to deploy through a special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) 10,000 units of tractors and other mechanised implements between 2018 and 2023 to establish 2,500 agricultural equipment hiring enter-prises (AEHE) and also lead a novel indigenous mechanismation industrialisation process that ensures at least 30 to 40 per cent local content inclusion in mechanised equipment in Nigeria. He added: “NAMEL will also coordinate an innovative agricultural land development and liberalise mechanisation services that is available, accessible and affordable to all farmers, ensuring 70 per cent substitution of imported farm equipment with locally viable manufactured farm machinery.” Unfortunately, all the fanfare and media frenzy implored to market the programme to farmers and other stakeholders became a waste of resources and efforts, as the programme didn’t fly, but ended with Ogbeh, as he could not return to office after 2019 elections.
Sabo Nanono’s tenure
Alhaji Sabo Nanono stepped in as the minister in charge of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, after the general elections in 2019. He came amid high expectations that pervaded the country’s agric sector. Stakeholders looked forward to policies that would lead to the actualisation of the country’s quest for economic diversification. Nevertheless, agricultural mechanisation, being topmost in the priority list of stakeholders, also received a very disjointed approach. Nanono quickly discarded his predecessor’s 10,000 tractors programme and introduced a 60,000 tractors project. According to him, for the Federal Government to effectively drive agric mechanisation farming, about 60,000 tractors were needed to help farmers in the country improve food production. He said the programme would ensure a paradigm – shift from subsistence practice to commercial agro-industrial farming for food production, procurement of agricultural processing plants, fertiliser production, enhance value chains among others. Before Nanono was relieved of his position by President Muhammadu Buhari a few weeks ago, he even inaugurated an 18-man implementation committee for his mechanisation programme. At the inauguration programme, he noted that about 5.1 million youths would benefit from the programme as the Federal Government was proposing $1.1 billion for the agriculture mechanisation programme under the ‘Green Imperative Programme.’ The immediate past agric minister also disclosed that the programme would be funded by the Brazilian Government through a loan from the Deutsche Bank (DB), Development Bank of Brazil and Islamic Development Bank. With the benefits of hindsight, all these promising programme may remain on paper and the funds already expended in the processes will amount to a colossal waste, since Nanono is no longer in office.
Demand for agric mechanisation
To underscore the importance of mechanising Nigeria’s agricultural sector, representative of women farmers from the 36 states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory, early this year, stormed Abuja and returned the local handheld hoes to the museum, saying that government should provide modern farming technology to Nigerian farmers to cultivate crop and harvest. The women farmers under the aegis of Smallholder Farmers Organisation of Nigeria (SWOFON) claimed that women made up 70 per cent of the farming population in Nigeria. They said the local hoes symbolise poverty and a counter- productive tool that should be better kept in the museum as a historic object. SWOFON President, Mary Afan, said the women had used hoes for years without any tangible progress, and now opting for modern tools of farming. Afan noted that NigerIan government should adopt suitable modern technology in the nation’s agricultural ventures, otherwise the much touted food security would remain a mirage. According to her, the use of hoes and other archaic farming tools have failed to produce the much desired prosperity and therefore must be discarded. She further called on government to deliberately tackle the festering insecurity in many parts of the country, as it had continued to threaten Nigeria’s effort towards sustainable agricultural development. She said: “We are here to retire the local hoes to the museum. We have been using it for decades and it caused us a lot of suffering in the farm. “We are telling government that we are tired of the hoe as it can no longer feed us as a nation. We want government to give us new technology for food production so that we can feed the nation.”
Advise for new agric minister
While agric stakeholders have called on government to stop prevarication over diversification of the economy, with its unstable and unrealistic policies on mechanisation, it is important for the newly appointed minister, Dr. Muhammad Abubakar, to avoid unnecessary wind chase and face the realities. Stakeholders also want him to get his priorities right and channel scarce resources where best needed and results will be easily achieved. They equally want him to understudy the policies of his predecessors on agric mechanisation and adapt the most tenable, so that he can hit the ground running.
It will also be instructive for the new agric minister to know that posterity will be kind to him if he can use the less than two years remaining for this administration to change the ugly narrative in Nigeria’s agric sector and achieve food security.
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