Dr. Ikechi Agbugba is the Senior Research Fellow, Africa Agricultural Agenda (AAA), the major arm of Surveillance Media Limited, and publisher of first Pan-African International Magazine on agriculture. He is also a lecturer in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Rivers State University, Port Harcourt. In this interview with SEYI TAIWO-OGUNTUASE, he speaks on the need for Nigeria to embrace industrialization of the agriculture sector in order to be reckoned with in the comity of nations. He also speaks on other issues of national relevance. Excerpts:
Tell us about Africa’s Agricultural Agenda
Africa Agriculture Agenda (AAA) is an outfit that focuses on the agriculture sector in African countries in line with transforming the sector towards industrialisation.
We are not just a media outfit, we organise conferences, seminars and workshops that would assist farmers to improve on what they are doing.
We also publish issues where agriculture needs attention and also showcase innovations and success stories in the sector.
The agriculture sector, which has been identified as a major area that is capable to drive economic growth and development in Nigeria is yet to be industrialised.
Industrialising the agriculture sector is key if we really want to move forward. For industrialisation to take place in the sector, it must happen in all the sub-sectors.
You cannot help the agriculture sector efficiently except the smallholder farmers that make up the larger percentage of the farming population are well taken care of.
What are some of the challenges hindering industrialisation in Nigeria and other African countries?
The main problem of industrialisation is first the government. Government is a major stakeholder that can drive industrialisation if they want to, but they are not doing their bit as they ought to. They are in charge of policies. Policies that would drive industrialisation should be made and implementation must be enforced so that the desired result would be seen. In Nigeria, policy formation has not been our problem but implementation.
The financial institutions are also part of the problem; a lot of them do not see the reasons why they should give money to finance farming. This orientation has to change if we want to really get it right.
Another hindrance is the level of illiteracy among the smallholder farmers. How would you talk about industrialisation when some of the smallholder farmers do not even have phones not to talk about using technology in their farming process? We have to start by teaching them how to use technology.
In the late 50s and 60s, Nigeria was not only the world’s leading producer of palm oil but also the largest exporter. Are surprised that Nigeria now spends $500 million annually on palm oil importation?
It is an aberration, a country like Indonesia, which is the highest exporter of oil palm right now, got the seedlings from Malaysia their neighbouring country and now, they are the largest exporter. Meanwhile, Malaysia came here to pick these seedlings.
This is the height of aberration. What other countries came here to pick and learn, they are now doing well in it more than us. We need to wake up and do something quickly before it gets out of hand.
This is happening because the agriculture sector has not been properly industrialised, especially in the aspect of palm oil. We need to identify these cash crops that we have comparative advantages over other countries. We need to identify them and channel the agents of industrialisation in such directions.
Nigeria should be able to identify with countries that are industrialized as this would go a long way to help take some lessons.
There have been so many talks on importation and smuggling of agriculture products that are grown in Nigeria because our products are not competitive. What can the government do to stem the tide?
It is still the same lack of industrialization. The government has to identify farmers and agribusiness practitioners in the various sub-sectors so as to provide them with funding, as well as call them to form cooperatives so that the financial institutions will have a basis to support them.
As a lecturer, what is your assessment of the pattern of funding of research institutes by the government?
The government is trying but the effort is still being bedevilled by widespread corruption. People are diverting resources; there is so much corruption in the system. So it is not reaching the right people. In some areas, they are not helping research. As a lecturer, I still pay for my publications, but in other countries, the university pays and after, the university gets a refund. Aside from their salaries, there is something we call research incentives for academics.
We are talking about what the Netherlands is doing as regards agriculture in their country, it is all about technology. Their agriculture sector is been driven by technology. We must also fund our research institutions so that they will come up with technology that will make farming interesting and less tedious.
What would be the place of technology in Nigeria’s agricultural sector?
When you are talking about technology, you are talking about equipment and machines. That is a branch of agriculture, which has not really been emphasized in Nigeria but in other countries, it is the in-thing.
There are machines in farms that can plant, harvest and weed. All of these are available on big farms abroad. Innovations are all about bringing in a new idea and when you bring in what is new, definitely transformation will naturally follow. We need to come up with innovations to transform our agriculture sector. Developed countries of the world are using innovations to drive their agriculture. We must also take lessons from such countries in order to reposition and drive the sector in Nigeria.
Kenya is making so much from the export of fresh products to the European Union (EU) market, why is Nigeria not tapping into this opportunity despite her ties with the EU?
Kenya has developed frameworks. I am optimistic that Nigeria is under a process that would reach that point. I think the major problem is the framework. How are they able to channel their produce to the EU market? We have to learn from them.
We need to showcase our potentials, we need to learn from Kenya, we need to know how they were able to do that, how they are competing favourably because they seem to be making more impact in that aspect.
Data from Nigeria Bureau of Statistic showed that agriculture growth and contribution to GDP had been on a steady decline. What do you think is responsible for this and what can be done to redress the situation?
The required attentions have not been given to the sector. We need to give proper attention to the sector. We need to look at the institutions in the agriculture sector and see how to come in and invest. We need to develop a framework that would bring about the desired change to the agriculture sector.
What would you want the ‘Next Level Agenda’ of the government to address to drive agricultural growth?
We need to encourage our farmers and researchers. We need to encourage more industries to spring up by encouraging the farmers, the processors and every stakeholder in the sector. The agriculture sector is capable of creating employment for about 90 per cent of our teeming unemployed youths.
This government must fund agriculture adequately. Nigeria has not been able to fund the sector in line with the MAPUTO declaration of devoting 10 per cent of the budget to the sector.
The budget for agriculture must be increased for us to go out of the present situation.
Nigeria is still food insecure, and part of the millennium development goal is to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty.
There is a challenge to meet up with that MDG in Nigeria because of food insecurity and the poverty level are high. There is a high level of food insecurity and if those farmers that engage in agriculture are encouraged, there would be more food because they will be eager to do more and since farming is part of their livelihood. It would give them more income; uplift their families and people that are associated with them.
Source: Independent Newspaper