The Chief Technical Advisor to Nigeria’s National Programme for Food Security, Oyesola Oyebanji, believes Nigeria can gain far more from its donor-funded agriculture projects if properly managed. Having retired as a Director from the Ministry of Agriculture in 2010, Mr Oyebanji, evaluates Nigeria’s performance in its bid at ensuring food security, the prospects, challenges and way forward. He spoke to Ibraheem Alawode. Excerpts:
PT: There are many donor-funded agriculture projects across the country but most are not contributing to development in Nigeria, what is the matter?
Oyebanji: Before I retired, I had been involved in the preparation and planning of some of the agricultural development programmes in Nigeria. Most of the projects that are implemented have impacts during the lifecycle of the project but the major problem is that at the end of the project there is no sustainability plan on behalf of the respective state government who have benefitted from the programme. This is because when a project is implemented, what is being done is introducing an approach of reaching the grassroots. The whole essence is that at the end of the project, the strategy or approach is supposed to be incorporated into the agricultural development agenda of both the federal and state governments but in two or three years after the project, the gains and achievements have disappeared. This is due to lack of provision of financial support to consolidate and replicate the gains and achievement of the programme. The way forward is to ensure that when you secure a loan for agriculture, the gains and achievement recorded should be replicated and there should be follow-up even in the project area where it is first implemented so that the farmers can continue to adopt or practise the strategy that has been developed which has resulted into productivity enhancement.
PT: Why are these donor-funded projects becoming debt burden instead of development machinery for the country?
Oyebanji: I expected that these projects are supposed to create wealth at the rural communities and when it creates wealth, the government can be able to realise internally generated revenue because there is going to be a lot of economic activities. So it depends on the strategy adopted by the government to be able to collect tax from these rural areas where their livelihood have been improved and where there are lots of economic activities going on. But you know in Nigeria we don’t pay tax. The whole essence of these projects is to improve productivity, ensure national food security, create wealth through which government itself can be able to generate revenue.
PT: What should be done to make agricultural funded projects more beneficial even after the lifecycle of the project to ensure debt repayment?
Oyebanji: Most of these projects are implemented through farmers’ organisation approach. The beneficiary has to belong to a farmers’ cooperative. It is through this cooperative they channel the intervention. From my own personal intervention after the projects, the farmers’ cooperatives themselves disintegrate, they don’t see themselves as a business entity, you know when people come together as a common interest group with the understanding they are together to do business to improve their businesses, they will continue to be together and practise what they are doing. The problem is the issue of governance of the farmers’ cooperatives. My recommendation is that the cooperatives should be given a lot of capacity building so that they can be technically and financially sustainable as this will enhance wealth creation and the government will derive a lot of revenue which will enable them to facilitate repayment of the loan without feeling it.
So what we are preaching is that farmers’ organisations is the bedrock of agricultural development because we cannot provide interventions to a single farmer especially at the smallholder level; they have to be a group and they have to be given a lot of capacity building on governance, mobilisation, resources, re-investment, financial literacy, access to credit from banks and how to expand on their business so they can also be able to contribute to economic and agricultural development.
PT: Part of the agricultural policies currently running in Nigeria is geared towards boosting local production and one of the methods of achieving the goal is closure of borders to tackle illegal importation and ban of certain agricultural produce from being imported into the country. Do you think this is a right step and has it been impactful on our local production?
Oyebanji: First, Nigeria has a large population and a large population is a reflection of the large market. The tendency is that because of that large market, everybody will like to be bringing goods to Nigeria. So they flood the Nigerian market with all kinds of food products. So I am of the opinion that the closure of the border will stimulate local production and then to me, Nigeria can also be an exporter of some of these agricultural products. For example with the effort of the federal government to boost rice production, we can even be able to feed the entire West Africa sub-region with rice because most of the countries surrounding Nigeria lack staple food and when there is a shortage of rice, there is always a crisis. I think the measure is in the right direction, let’s stimulate local production when that is done and we have a surplus we can be able to export.
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PT: In your assessment, do you think there is any value addition to the growth and development of agriculture and rural development from the country’s national research institutes, agriculture universities and research agencies?
Oyebanji: Frankly speaking, there has been inadequate funding of our research institutions, I must not deceive you. So they have not been able to fulfil their mandate, the way they are supposed to. In the past, when research institutes were funded they developed a lot of technologies. Already they still have a lot of technology on-shelf despite inadequate funding but commercialisation of this technology is very critical.
Then I think the government established the Agricultural Research Council to coordinate all research activities of the research institutes to ensure that the focus of the research meets, addresses the challenges being faced by farmers. Currently, I don’t think that is the case. There is a need to revitalise the Agricultural Research Council to be able to effectively coordinate all the research institutes to meet challenges in the agricultural section.
PT: Agriculture has been a major contribution to Nigeria’s GDP yet it has not received the percentage of budget it is supposed to receive as agreed under the Maputo declaration. Also, the Agric Promotion Policy currently being used by the government is expected to end this year, what areas do you think the policymakers should target when making a new policy on agric?
Oyebanji: Your Observation that agriculture is not adequately funded both at the federal and state levels are perfectly correct but then there are a lot of other sectors crying for support. What some countries have done is to establish an Agricultural Development Fund. This fund will come from contributions from both Agro-based industry, the tariff on export and import of agricultural product and produce. We should establish an Agricultural Development Fund similar to TETfund (Tertiary Education Trust Fund) and have an agency to manage it so that it can be able to support agricultural development agenda of the federal government. For example, see what Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is doing in terms of Anchor Borrowers and others. I think if there is an Agricultural Development Fund, that fund can be channelled through this (Anchor Borrowers) and then be applied to the specific area of interest of respective state government in order to support agricultural development. The fund will be used for research, development, extension and advisory services. If they set up the loan, I am sure the government can realise up to N100 billion per annum. If we want to have sustained funding for agriculture, this is what is needed, we cannot rely on the national budget, it cannot work.
PT: Do you think having this Agricultural Development Fund will help the country to survive the rising debt acquired from donor funded projects.
Oyebanji: Yes! I agree entirely with you. The reason why I agree with you is that when you look at some of the donor-funded projects, you find out that the money that goes to the state governments is very minimal and in even in some cases not up to 60% of the fund even goes directly to the beneficiary. When you see the amount of money and you convert it to Naira you find out it is what Nigeria can finance without necessarily borrowing money but we can only do that through a sustainable system of funding through Agricultural Development Fund. People who want to access the fund, have to detail their programme and the government will see the programmes are in line with the agricultural development agenda and the funds will be applied for the benefit of the farmers and rural development. We cannot solve all the agricultural problem at once. As one is being solved, another one will come up and if there is no sustainable system of funding we will not be able to address those problems. I think the way out, is setting the agricultural development funding. That should be the next policy.