Economic Diversification: Buhari Must Keep Adesina’s Work Going

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For the first time since the inception of African Development Bank (AfDB), Nigeria had the good fortune of clinching the presidency of the bank, this time in person of Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the immediate past minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. We are no strangers to the fact that Dr Adesina is an expert in agriculture who, in all probability, will leverage on this expertise to boost Africa’s competitiveness in agriculture. And if he will, then Nigeria needs to be at the forefront among countries to benefit from his interventions in his new capacity as the bank’s president.

His network of linkages and connections with global donors will undoubtedly be to Nigeria’s advantage in support of Nigeria’s agricultural sector which can easily become the largest recipient of development investment on the continent and ultimately regain its former position as a global power house of agriculture. For this to happen, the decision of President Buhari in his choice of person to continue as minister of agriculture is critical to the realisation of this desirable goal.

Without doubt, Adesina began series of reforms that need to be sustained. For once, Nigeria’s agriculture began to attract global attention. Even The Economist magazine of June 20, 2015 added its voice to the growing recognition that Nigeria’s agriculture has started to attract.

President Buhari
President Buhari

In that edition, the Economist, in an article on Nigeria titled ‘After Oil,’ argued that that falling oil prices have left a deep hole in the government’s finances, but the economy is beginning to diversify. It emphasised the preeminent position of investment in agriculture as carrying more promise compared to other sectors. This could be attested to in that ‘although the naira has fallen sharply against the dollar, food inflation has not speeded up as it usually does when the currency weakens because Nigeria has vastly expanded its own food production over the past few years.’

Adesina’s reforms in agriculture continues to resonate even in other allied sectors. The Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) introduced under his leadership as a minister placed Nigeria’s agriculture on a pedestal, capable of giving the country a competitive edge in global agriculture. Input distribution under ATA rose from 1.5million farmers in 2012 to nearly 7 million farmers in 2014 and reached 14.5million farmers in three years; Nigeria can easily reach another 32 million farming households by 2019, at a rate of 8 million farming household per year.

Besides, the input delivery programme, the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) scheme, is transitioning from cell phones to smart card technology (Near Feld Technology) that enables farmers combine access to inputs with bank cards and linkage – for financial inclusion and delivery of inputs, micro credit and loans to farmers, and identity management. We expect an expansion of farm inputs, credit, and markets to greatly expand food and nutrition security of Nigerian farming households, leading to improved livelihoods of farmers nationwide.
Under Dr Adesina’s watch, national food production grew by 21million MT between 2011 and 2014. As a consequence, there was a sharp reduction in food imports. According to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s food import bill fell from an all-time high of N3.19 trillion in 2011 to N635billion in 2013; a 403% reduction. Direct farm jobs rose by 3.56 million in the period 2012 to 2014 due to interventions in Agriculture.

ATA has set commodity value added chains of key staples in Nigeria on a path toward recovering our enviable position of the 1960s. To take a few examples: the NBS had it that rice paddy (raw material for milled rice) production was 5.3millionMT in 2011, rising to 7 million MT in 2014 and poised to rise to 12 million by 2019 if ATA continues. Besides, rice mills are expected to add another 2 million MT of milling capacity by 2017 and end rice importation. It is shameful for a country like Nigeria to import rice.

For the first time in the country’s history, a farmer database of over 14.5million farmers was amassed and used to efficient deliver inputs and services to farmers. Total number of verifiable farmers – complete with address, phone number, crop grown, etc, that redeemed farm inputs from 2012-2014 was 14.3million farmers. The north-western region of the country accounted for the highest redemption, 30% of the total, followed by the north-east (22%), north central (17%), south-south (12%), south-west (11%), and south east (9%).

The efficient delivery of inputs to farmers combined with other interventions in commodity value chains has led to a sharp growth in productivity, primary production, processing capacity, and net value going to farmers. An estimated additional N778billion has gone to rural farmers as a result of increased productivity from the use of improved seeds and fertilizer. Seed companies have grown in number from 11 in 2010 to 134 to 2014, while $5billion new investment has gone into the fertilizer sector.

But perhaps the most spectacular story of ATA that needs to continue has been in the production of seeds of improved varieties; seeds of high yielding varieties that have been described as the engine of modern agriculture. Nigeria, a country with a farmer population exceeding 50 million farmers, produced and sold a pittance 14,788MT of seeds in 2011. By 2014, this had risen to 170,692MT, a 1,054% increase, emanating from 134 seed companies, including the returniing two largest seed companies in the world, Monsanto and Syngenta.

Wheat production was 80,000MT in 2011 before ATA but peaked at close to 235,000 in 2014. If ATA continues, the target is for Nigeria to produce 600,000MT of wheat grain by 2019, drastically reducing our wheat imports and bringing back life to the violence and poverty-ravaged wheat producing areas of Borno State and north-eastern Nigeria. Same also applies to cash crops: before ATA, Nigeria produced a mere 125,000MT of cotton lint. By 2014, production had risen to 240,000MT and set to rise to 500,000MT by 2019 should ATA be sustained. The story is the same with cocoa, oil palm, soybean, maize, and many other crops.

Continuing Dr Adesina’s reforms is good for the current administration headed by President Buhari. If Buhari truly means to fight corruption, he needs the pre-emptive methods applied by Adesina in the agricultural sector where he eliminated a major source of corruption and created booming private markets that attracted investment by big agricultural suppliers from within and outside Nigeria in critical areas of agricultural investments.

If President Buhari intends to deliver quick wins to Nigerians with respect to food security, employment, and diversification of the economy away from oil, Adesina’s panacea needs to be harnessed. Very importantly, he needs to appoint somebody conversant with the ATA programme and who has confidence and respect of the private sector investors, banks, donors, and the farmers, so that the country will seamlessly continue the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) scheme. This way, we can hope to reap the accumulated benefits of the scheme such that farmers get enough seeds and fertilizer to maintain the same acreage planted last year and ensure enough food production to continue to buffer the decline of the naira.

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