Sunday, 8 September 2013

…When NESG ‘Tills The Land’ To Re-create Nigeria’s Wealth

SHEDRACK Madlion is proud of his farming business. As he did at the second Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA2) Friday morning, the youthful executive director of Admiral Environmental Care Limited would proudly tell  the success story of his integrated farming business — crop, livestock and food processing — to as many as would listen to him .
 Still clutching his luggage after a return trip from the 19th Nigeria Economic Summit (NES 19), which just ended at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, the Nagropreneur — as Madlion and thousands of his colleagues in Nigeria were christened by President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Patience, during the NES’ launch of the Youth Empowerment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP) — accosted a group of three Nigerian Americans with his message. “I am a local Kaduna-based farmer,” he said. “Nigerians in the US miss Nigerian food a lot and what I do is take orders and send them through postal services. It has to be      within a particular quantity threshold so you do not have issues with the law,” Madlion tells his potential customers.

 Fresh from the Abuja Summit, the youthful farmer, who arrived Lagos in that morning’s first Aero Contractor flight, may have decided to walk the talk, after all participating in the three-day conference on how the public and private sector could partner to move agriculture away from the realm of social enterprise to that of business. This, perhaps, explains why rather than heading northwards to his Kaduna integrated farm, Madlion joined the heavy Lagos traffic to spread the good news.  The summit identified possible roadblocks to commercial agriculture and provided solutions, which the Director General of the Chairman of the NESG and private sector challenges faced by Nigerian farmers and proffered “ I run a one-stop agricultural centre in Kaduna,” he told The Guardian. “From North to South, Africa is under-fed. We have not cracked 26 percent.”
  Madlion’s concern, no doubt, ran through  discussions at the NESG summit where virtually all the “paraphernalia” of government and the private sector met to empower farmers and create avenues for wealth generation, and to devise means of making Agric vocation much more attractive to Nigerian youths. 
   Stressing the need for investment in agribusiness, Chairman of the NESG, Foluso Philips, observed that, with growth, this year, projected to exceed seven percent, the economy is showing serious signs of recovery from the slowdown experienced last year. But he warned that, with the growth being accompanied by slower increase in prices, a surplus on trading account and rising Foreign Direct Investment, it would be tempting to conclude that all is well with the national economy.
  “We note the improvement in our ranking in the World Economic Forum’s annual global competitiveness survey, moving up from 127 to 115 position. However, our nation, despite the improved ranking, remains in the bottom quartile of the 147 nations surveyed. 
 “It has become painfully clear in recent times, that the global and local oil industries are witnessing significant change. The challenge of America’s ongoing transformation from an Oil importer to a net exporter is not to be dismissed lightly. Neither should we ignore the importance of the technology of frackling and shale oil on our economy. 
  “We need to improve production capacity and eliminate vandalisation and oil theft. I take this opportunity to draw attention and to urge our compatriots in the National Assembly to expedite work towards the passage of the Petroleum industry Act.
    Explaining why the Summit focused on Agribusiness as logical starting point for the diversification of the economy, Phillips, however, stressed that success would depend on creating attractive economic incentives and funding, building critical infrastructure — particularly roads, rail, ports, storage and power — as well as creating local and export markets for agriculture to thrive.
  “Power particularly cannot be ignored. Steps to privatise power and take the process to its logical conclusion have to be implemented with rigor and played strictly by the rules,” he said. 
   Phillips, who praised President Goodluck Jonathan for decisive reforms on Power, cautioned government on its ability to manage the transmission of power between the privatised generating companies and the distribution companies.  
   “Based on today’s realities, transmission is seen to be the weakest link.  Significant attention needs to be paid to the nation’s current transmission capabilities,” said Phillips.
   “Dare I say, that if the government can take responsibility for clearing land and charge that expense into the cost of land acquisition, many more people would engage in commercial farming.  This is a model that developers have applied to housing, where roads, drainage and power are put in place and people are invited to acquire these infrastructure ready plots to build their homes. Why not a similar model for agriculture?
   “Secondly, investment in infrastructure is critical, particularly roads, rail, ports, storage and power all to support market access and the agricultural value chain.
   “Lastly, Local And Export Markets also need attractive investment climate to stimulate demand and develop downstream agricultural supply capacity.”
Elumelu Makes Case For commodity Exchange, Private Sector Participation 
    Chairman of Heirs Holdings, Mr. Tony Elumelu, at a plenary session on “Sustaining the Agricultural Agenda,” called for continuity of laudable agricultural policies through support for performing agents, including the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwunmi Adesina. 
  Elumelu made case for Commodity Exchange and its “quick” privatisation,” so that farmers will begin to do well.” He also called for more incentives for the private sector to finance infrastructure in transport.
 The N15bn Low-interest Fund For 2013 Planting Season
   Meanwhile, the Federal Government, in response the issues raised at the Summit, announced a N15 billion fund that will be channeled to farmers, on a single-digit interest rate, through the Bank of Agriculture or the 2013 planting season.
    But Madlion, a farmer took exception to the announcement, saying the short-term response shows lack of planning by government. According to him, releasing such money at a time the harvest season is close defeats the essence of the intervention.   
 Announcing the gesture yon Thursday, President Jonathan, re-iterated government’s commitment to privatising the Bank of Agriculture, even as he pledged strong support for female farmers. 
  Vice President Namadi Sambo, who represented the President at the event, said, although government is planning a long-term response to the issue of funding for Agriculture, the N15 billion fund represents a short-term measure to assuage financial challenges of the farmers.
Sambo said: “Government is mindful of the problem of financing and the current high interest rate of funds faced by our farmers. In this regard, the President approved the sum of N15 billion to the BoA to be provided to our farmers for the 2013 farming season at one-digit low interest rate for this year”.
  Responding to the move to privatise the Agric Bank, Elumelu, who participated at Thursday’s plenary session alongside Atedo Peterside, among others, described the announcement as a positive and welcome development.
 According to him, “it shows seriousness by the government to truly transform the Agric Sector from social service to one of wealth creation. 
  “The private sector,” he said, “should now invest more in the space.”
   The vice president, who expressed delight at the theme of this year’s summit: “Growing Agriculture as a Business to Diversify Nigeria’s Economy”, said the sector is one in which Nigeria has a strong comparative advantage, government is, therefore, strongly committed to unlocking the potential of the sector to guarantee food security, generate wealth and create jobs. 
  He noted that engaging in Agriculture would besides enhanced non-farm income; employment opportunities would also develop through multiplier effect in the local economy.  “It has the greatest power to create jobs, thence the youth employment in agricultural programme, which is to create young commercial farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs called nagroprenuers”
The Vice President reiterated the commitment of Government to making it easier for farmers to access all the opportunities and other incentives that would stimulate interest in farming, by removing all identified bottlenecks that would allow growth and development in general agriculture production, even as he assured of land security for investors in the sector.
     Sambo said the presidential committee on land reforms has reached an advanced stage in its recommendations that would soon be presented at the National Executive Council meeting for consideration, because “without security of land, it will be difficult for investors to have the security needed to invest in land improvement.”
   As part of efforts to reduce the obstruction, Sambo affirmed that President Jonathan has granted approval to the National Council on Privatization to privatise the Bank of Agriculture. “This is in order to unbundle it and make it possible to provide cheaper funds to agriculture and allow other investors to participate in our agriculture bank.
   “In addition, the Minister of Finance is already working on the establishment of Nigerian Development Bank in order to allow access to funds for infrastructure development that will provide long-term fund at low interest rate in Nigeria.”
     He also assured farmers of the responsibility of government to expand investment in irrigation system to ensure all-year-round production, stating that the nation’s 200 dams with irrigation schemes would provide the needed boost.
This is besides the already designed and documented “Mambila hydro power plant, which would add about 3050 megawatts of electricity to our supply estimated to cost $6.4 billion, we are also developing the 350 megawatt Gurara phase II hydro plant constructed under the private public partnership.”
     While acknowledging the large participation of women at this year’s summit, vice President Sambo stated that the support of government to women would be steadfast and robust.  
    “Women participated and featured prominently in this summit, and our government is committed to improving opportunities to women, we would continue to strongly support our women farmers.”
At the closing press briefing, the Minister of Agriculture Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina restated the commitment of the Federal government to ensuring that agriculture is transformed into a prosperous business. He gave further assurance on commitment to sustenance of all the policies that have worked for the good of the Nigerian farmers.
    Adesina also said political officer holders should be tasked to produce their scorecards based on the impact they have made on their constituencies and they should “be ranked on the effectiveness of reducing poverty in their constituencies”.
   Although there are recommendations to be implemented for the long-term benefits of the farmers, the federal government assured that these would be addressed and implemented to ensure that transformation agenda targets in the sector are met.
  While presenting the summary of the summit, Director General of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, Frank Nweke, on behalf of the group, called for the rechristening of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Business to enable the Ministry meet new challenges in line with the reform process. The group also demanded, among other things, the creation of a vibrant commodity exchange market and infrastructure to support the sector.
  The NESG also called for the introduction of Agricultural Information Centre that would help farmers access easy and timely information on how to secure loans and go about their other Agric businesses in line with the new trends.
Source: Guardiannews

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