UNARGUABLY, the recent release of N26 billion by the Federal Government for the 2015 dry season farming programme in the country is a boost to agricultural sector.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who announced the release during the 2015 Agrifest in Abuja, said that the funding was to further empower farmers to produce more food for the nation.
He also said that government would expand irrigation facilities across the country, observing that dry season farming had changed the fortunes of farmers, especially in the northern parts of the country.
Jonathan observed that the Federal Government had transformed agriculture as the country was producing more food than ever before.
According to him, Nigeria’s national food production has expanded by 21 million metric tonnes within the past three years while the food import bill has declined from N1.1 trillion in 2009 to N634 billion in 2013.
To further boost food production in the country, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, recently said that the grassroots had been sensitised to the current advocacy by the government to create wealth via viable farming.
He said that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development would work closely with all states government to ensure capacity-building for the farmers at the grassroots.
Attesting to this assertion, some of farmers in the grassroots said that they had benefited immensely from the Federal Government’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA).
Malam Mustapha, a cotton farmer in Katsina State, said that the Federal Government had tremendously supported farmers in the state.
“In the first year of the ATA, farmers were getting three bags of fertiliser per hectares,’’ he said.
This feat notwithstanding, Mustapha observed that the rural farmers did not have enough market for their produce.
“Our problem is that we have the cotton but nobody is interested in buying it; this is the biggest worry of any farmer,’’ he said in an interview.
Sharing similar sentiments, another farmer, Malam Sulaiman, called on government to support farmers in creating market for their produce.
Apart from these challenges, observers note that in spite of the success of ATA, prices of foodstuff have continued to increase.
A trader in Abuja, Mr Henry Igwe, attributed the increase in the prices of foodstuff to the inability of youths to embrace full scale agriculture and poor access roads to grassroots farms.
In perceptible response to this, Akinwumi said: “Today, our youths are busy on the farms, growing food in the wet season and the dry season.
“We have improved food security of 40 million persons in rural farm households. There is new lease of life and vibrancy all across our rural areas.
“Between 2012 and 2014, Nigerian farmers produced an additional 21 million metric tonnes of food, exceeding the 2015 target of 20 million metric tonnes.
“More than three million farm jobs have been created as youths who used to go from the north to work in the south, often as labourers’ or night guards, don’t do that anymore.’’
In his view, Dr Abdu Omar, the Director for ATA in Katsina, said that the bureaucracy in government activities was becoming a big challenge to the success of the programme.
According to him, the programme is threatened by bureaucracy that causes delayed delivery of inputs, especially in the seed and fetiliser sector of the programme.
“Inputs that are supposed to get to farmers in February or March may not come till June or July, long after farmers may have used alternative resources,’’ he said in an interview.
Irrespective of complaints, agricultural and industrial analysts commend Nigeria’s ATA programmes for stimulating awareness about the existing potential of Nigeria’s food and agricultural value chains.
They observe that Nigeria requires major sustained investment and a longer period to fix its infrastructure and modify its agricultural policies to grow a world class agricultural sector.
They also commend the activities of the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme as one of the many critical components of ATA.
According to them, the scheme is to provide affordable agricultural inputs such as fertiliser and hybrid seeds to farmers to increase their yields.
They observe further that the thrust of the scheme is to enhance the capacity of the farmers who cannot afford a bag of fertiliser and seedlings.
“ With good planning and the needed resources, Nigeria has what it takes to multiply its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) just with cassava products alone,’’ they observe.
All in all, concerned stakeholders in agriculture hold the belief that if the Federal Government continues in solving the problems of farmers, by 2020, the country will witness a gross decrease in the importation of foodstuff.

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