In the wake of sub-optimum agricultural productivity in South-West Nigeria, a two-day broad scoping session was spearheaded by the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN Commission) and the UK Department for International Development‘s Project to Engage, Reform and Learn ( DFID-PERL).
Aptly themed “Unleashing the Potentials of the Agriculture Sector in South-West Nigeria”, the meeting which held from June 21st – 22nd in Osogbo, Osun State beamed a searchlight on major governance bottlenecks bedeviling the agricultural sector of the South-West region, with the overarching objective of proffering attendant interventions to peculiarities in each state.
According to DAWN Commission, the engagement was spin–off from issues highlighted in the 2017 South-West strategic engagement, which saw access to credit, poor business management acumen, high cost of land preparation, weak cooperative structures, farmer-herdsmen crises and inexistent farmer database as top six regional challenges requiring holistic therapies.
The keynote address which was delivered by the Executive Director, Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Prof. Alabi Adediran James, accordingly highlighted challenges in the agricultural sector of the region.
Represented by Dr. Saka Olaide, he lauded the collaboration between Lagos and Kebbi States for the expanded production of Lake Rice and expressed his disapproval at other South-West states for not taking advantage of the opportunity.
In his words “It is quite astonishing that Lagos had to go as far as Kebbi State for this partnership”.
Inability of states to adequately domesticate the national agricultural policy was first on the list of identified bottlenecks.
“Frameworks for implementation are to be developed with adequate focus on the national policy, as a way of putting appropriate mechanisms in place, to key into the national programmes and initiatives”, he said.
He stated however that it does not foreclose states from developing their own intitatives, with improved participation from local governments who have hitherto been completely eroded from the agriculture development process, despite being the closest to the grassroots.
Other challenges discussed were weak institutional framework for operationalizing agricultural development plans, access to land for agricultural purposes, insecurity of investment in agriculture, climate variabilities, inability of farmers to form a common front to articulate their
opinions, as well as ineffective collaboration between research institutes and states in the region.
He particularly addressed the issue of low staff turn over rate arising from non recruitment of new extension staff, which has culminated into an all time low extension-farmers ratio.
According to him, the ratio of extension workers to farmers in Ekiti State is 1:5,128, 1:1,612 in Lagos State, 1:4,091 in Ogun State and 1:3,952 in Oyo State.
Going by the numbers, Dr. Saka Olaide noted that farmers in South-West states largely dwarf extension workers in terms of availability and this pales in comparison to what is actually required. Against this backdrop, he stressed the need for intervention in the extension service space.
A value chain pronged panel discussion which was moderated by Mrs. Moji Akpojiyovbi featured Head of Mechanization, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); Dr. Kolawole Peter, Value Chain Specialist; Dr. Tope Aroge, Coordinator, South-West Farmers’ Forum; Prince Olusegun Dasaolu, President, Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria; Chief Kola Akosile, Climate Change Focal Person, Ogun State Ministry of Agriculture; Mr. James Oyesola and Representative of the Nigeria Incentive–Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL); Mr. Ariyo Olanrewaju.
In the course of the dialogue, Dr. Tope Aroge made the point that indeed, there was evident dislocation between farmers’ efforts to produce food and availability of services. According to him; “Even with money, getting adequate service for your operation is a great challenge. For six years, getting tractors for my business was extremely difficult”.
Similarly, Chief Kola Akosile noted that there is a large discrepancy between grants and loans from NIRSAL, BOI and other agriculture inclined financial institutions and what actually gets disbursed to farmers.
Fielding questions at the plenary about NIRSAL‘s stringent requirements for farmers, Mr. Ariyo Olanrewaju noted that out of the 200b of the Anchor Borrowers Programme, only 30% has been assessed. Speaking further, he made reference to Ondo State farmers’ associations failure to provide beneficiaries for NIRSAL loans. According to him, as a result, only 500 farmers benefited from a target of 28,000 in the state.
Discrediting the validity of the aforementioned, Mr. Julius Adenifuja, a cassava farmer in Osun State made the point that farmers were asked by the Federal Government to submit names for compensation for crops destroyed by the Fall Army Worm and nothing was done in this regard. Mr. Segun Dasero of the South West Farmers’ Forum also noted that many farmers are oblivious of new NIRSAL policies, stating that communication is key between government agencies,
service providers and stakeholders at grassroots levels.
Dr. Kolawole Peter, also lending his voice to the discourse raised a red flag on the prevalence of traditional farming practices in the sector. He therefore emphasized the need for adoption of technology, particularly in areas of mechanization.
“We can no longer feed Africa with only cutlasses and hoes. We are looking at a situation where we can have people, a group of new farmers, who can specialize in importing machinery, another group that will learn to fabricate it, another group that will adapt it, and another group that will sell the spare parts, so that eventually we will have commercial farming“, he said.
Also voicing his views, Mr. James Oyesola observed that lack of awareness on the impact of climate change among farmers was a major obstacle. He also underscored the need for ecosystem based adaptation driven agriculture and tasked the government to increase farmers‘ education on climate change survival and adaptation techniques.
It was unanimously agreed that NIRSAL should be more flexible with requirements for lending to farmers. In this light, Mr. Ariyo noted that the institution no longer requires farmers to provide off-takers for their produce as a requirement for loan, as AFEX Commodities Exchange has committed to buying these produce.
Wrapping up the session, Chief Akosile called for more political will on the part of South-West governments in making agriculture sustainable in the region.
The high point of the event was experience sharing amongst South-West States that have successfully leveraged on agricultural opportunities and created sustainable models for improved service delivery. However, in targeted break-out sessions, stakeholders in each state brought to bear, governance cum service delivery bottlenecks peculiar to and still bedviling the states.
From these sessions, policy and regulation issues identified across South-West states were security, management of livestock, regulation of agricultural inputs, approach to provision of loans by financiers, regulation of cooperatives and their activities, development of policy for land use, coordination of government support to agricultural value chain actors, climate change mitigation and leveraging off national policies and programmes.
In the Service Delivery spectrum, land preparation, crop protection services, extension support, quality control of production, agricultural equipment leasing, market information, commodity trading, technology enabled harvest/post harvest handling, credit facilitation, irrigation infrastructure and farm road infrastructure were underscored.
Capacity development issues like data collection and management, as well as farmer use and application of modern farm equipment and techniques were also identified.
Stringing strategies for implementing proffered solutions to key government agencies, private sector establishments and farmers‘ cooperatives saddled with the responsibility of implementation, Mrs. Moji Akpojiyovbi, who facilitated the sessions committed stakeholders in the meeting to draw up a timeline for traction in each of their states. She also encouraged policy makers to be amenable to the nuances of each state in the region.
Conclusively, the Service Delivery Advisor for PERL, Dr. Okoli Lilian, urged stakeholders in the region to jettison personal interests in furtherance of a sure footed journey towards sustainable agricultural development in the region. According to her, from PERL’s operations across the country, stakeholders in the north, particularly women are united; an act that better positions them for development funds.