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Small Scale Farmers’ Challenges, Priorities

Rice cultivation under the FADAMA Project SOURCE: World Bank Group

The National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) with the support of TrustAfrica organised a workshop in Abuja recently for farmers’ organisations and networks in Nigeria to rouse Small Scale Farmers (SSFs) to enhance their voices and capacity to influence policies within and outside the agricultural sector. Abimbola Akosile unveils the outcomes of the forum

Vital Context

Small Scale Farmers (SSFs) in Nigeria make up the greater number of the country’s workforce population and produce over 80 per cent of the food consumed in the country, according to reports.
The Nigerian agricultural sector is second largest contributor (about 24 per cent) to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Nonetheless, some analysts believe these farmers appear to be the poorest constituency in Nigeria.
The analysts believe the Small Scale Farmers have not been adequately supported over the years by successive administrations in Nigeria; and that their voices are scarcely heard, neither are they adequately represented in policy-making process and in governance. To them, this constituency has also been excluded and disempowered, while their concerns and interests are not taken into account or addressed.

Given the above history of neglect, and against the backdrop of renewed global focus on agriculture and SSFs, the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) with the support of TrustAfrica organised a workshop for farmers organisations and networks in Nigeria to awaken the SSFs to enhance their voice worth and capacity to influence policies in and out of the agricultural sector.
The workshop also sought to identify the major challenges, concerns, interests and priorities of farmers well-articulated for effective policy advocacy.

Forum Objectives

Among the specific objectives of the NANTS workshop were to articulate the needs, challenges and concerns of small holder farmers from across the country, thereby providing them with the right of choice within the context of their livelihoods; and to facilitate the involvement of farmers in determining the priorities and key thematic areas of investment in the agricultural sector.

Other objectives included to produce and document the issues and challenges of small scale farmers in Nigeria as a critical instrument for advocacy; propose critical issues for intervention to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and other key policy makers as effective policy influence; and to disseminate vital information to farmers that will help agricultural growth and productivity in Nigeria.

Mixed Participation

The Abuja consultative workshop brought together over 40 representatives of farmers organisations and networks from across Nigeria. It benefited from presentations on a study that was conducted by NANTS to identify the various thematic areas of government’s commitments in selected agriculture policies.
There was also a verse selection of thematic areas that seek to assist the farmers in determining priority areas, express concerns and identify critical needs (KPPIs) they require resource investments to be directed, according to a communiqué and report signed by the Secretariat President, Ken Ukaoha, Esq.

Observations & Tips

Following the presentations, discussions and constructive debates, participants at the forum highlighted and advanced various observations, conclusions and recommendations.
They commended the National Council of State for their vision in approving an additional support of $1 billion to the agriculture sector in recognition of the role that the sector has played and is still playing in the nation’s economy, and specifically, the fact that Nigeria’s economic advancement and recovery from recession is directly linked majorly to the agricultural sector.

They also lauded the government for recognising the importance of agriculture in employment creation, as substantiated by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development – Chief Audu Ogbeh that agriculture has created over six million jobs within the current administration, particularly for the youth and women; with its capacity to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development.

The participants also observed that budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector and farmers have over five years not exceeded 2 per cent even with government’s commitment to the Malabo Declaration, while appropriated budget line items and capital projects have not fully benefited small holder farmers. More so, some investments in agriculture are also sometimes opaque and difficult to monitor.

The forum recommended that for approved additional support to agriculture to be effective and impactful, government must consider the involvement of small scale farmers in decisions concerning its overall administration.
While appreciating the risks and past failures usually associated with politicisation of the implementation of policy instruments in terms of financing, participants recommended that the disbursement of the funds should be need-based and not on geo-political formula or considerations.

Participants therefore advocated that rather than the usual processes that subject such funding to political romance between the federal and state governments, and/or banks (where insider abuse and or huge access hurdles are inherent); the funds should be administered through credible and trusted farmers’ organisations.

To them, the capacity of the selected farmers organisations should be strengthened to enable them effectively administer the funds to their members while government maintains constant monitoring on the process. More so, the receiving banks should be selected through clearly set out criteria which includes track record of agriculture-credit administration, development orientation, alignment and relationship with small scale farmers.

They raised serious concerns and invited government to quickly consider the negative implications of the ongoing herdsmen-farmers conflicts which has decimated farming and productivity in the North Central (popularly known as the food basket of Nigeria), as well as the Boko Haram (insurgency) and the shrinking of Lake Chad in the North East which have also displaced farmers from their farming communities.

According to them, both factors have grave consequences on food security, employment, livelihoods and overall development in Nigeria, especially given that the two affected zones are the major food producing and supply zones in Nigeria.

Participants noted with displeasure that Nigeria’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP 2017 – 2020) highlighted specific agriculture-related goals e.g., that Nigeria would be self-sufficient in tomato paste by 2017; rice by 2018; and wheat by 2020; and that Nigeria would be a net exporter of rice, cashew nuts, groundnuts, cassava and vegetable oil by 2020.

They however lamented that 2017 has passed and Nigeria is still a net importer of tomato and that from all indications, the other targets appear unattainable. Investments and enabling environment that should have propelled the realisation of such targets or the mobilisation of the private sector is either poor or completely lacking, the forum noted.

The forum challenged government over the continued influx of food imports into the country and the need for coordinated efforts among the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (FMITI) and the Federal Ministry of Finance (FMF) towards ensuring the effective management of policies and control in order to protect, encourage domestic investment and galvanise competition in the agriculture sector.

To them, this is without prejudice to various commitments by Nigeria at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) and the Common External Tariff (CET) as well as the upcoming Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA), but with the realisation of the respective Trade Defence Measures accompanying these trade agreements.

Participants expressed regret that previous investments to agriculture including budgetary allocations to the sector as well as initiatives such as the Nigeria Investment Risk Sharing and Lending Scheme (NIRSAL), the Anchor Borrowers Scheme, the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS), among others cannot be said to have been properly directed to agriculture, and therefore have not fully achieved their objectives of creating impact on agriculture and the small scale farmers.

Access to these facilities, they noted, have been impeded by bureaucratic bottlenecks and policy hurdles including huge documentations requirement, favouritism that often seek to politicise such facilities. The need for independent monitoring and evaluation of these programmes and their outcomes has therefore become imperative, and demanded.

The forum further expressed regret that some agriculture-based funds from donor agencies and development partners are either unknown by the farmers or misdirected by some government officials to private pockets or thematic areas/initiatives that possess low capacity to impact directly on the small scale farmers.

They also highlighted the negative impact of policy summersaults on Nigeria’s agriculture; e.g. the GESS (which is a welcome initiative) appears to have been abandoned owing to perceived irregularities such as inputs not delivered on time, poor accessibility or far location of input collection centres which increases transportation burden on farmers.

Participants advised that rather than throwing the baby with the bath water, the identified problems with the GESS administration should be addressed and the scheme sustained.

They commended the federal government’s school feeding programme as having the capacity to impact positively on the farmers in terms of increase in productivity (given that local food is involved), compliment food and nutrition security for school children, etc.

However, they noted that not all the States are linked to the initiative; the impacts are not well integrated across the country. Farmers whose States are not involved should raise strong advocacy voice to their Governments so to attract the benefits from the initiative, the forum added.

Participants advised that the One-stop-shop initiative as a key component of the nations development strategy (vision 20:2020) should be revived as it provides the farmer a common place to have all agricultural needs (including inputs and extension advisory) on a spot.

To them, the private sector should be encouraged to rent such facilities and run them as business with effective monitoring from government and civil society organisations so that adulterated or sub-standard products and services are controlled or eliminated. They also noted the need for more investments on simple farm technologies in order to encourage youth in agriculture, but also to increase productivity.

Participants called for tractorisation for agriculture mechanisation and the need for reducing sophistication and adapting/replicating local technologies by encouraging the National Council for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM) and other fabricators as well as relevant research institutes to produce technologies into patency for commercial multiplication. Government should mobilise the political will to move such technologies from shelve to be multiplied commercially to improve acquisition, they added.

The forum raised concerns on the impact of Naira (currency) devaluation on farmers; a situation that has resulted in increase in the cost of paying back agriculture related loans, as well as increased the cost of imports, especially given that majority of agricultural inputs by farmers are imported.

They highlighted the need for fast-track action on the subject of access to land for farmers, especially with emphasis on land preparation, land clearing and irrigation schemes. Farmers’ advocacy should therefore be targeted at both the Parliament and the Executive.

Participants noted that the Agriculture Development Programme (ADP) system appears to be moribund, as the linkages between research institutes, the extension service delivery and the farmers remain very weak.

They expressed the need for farmers to adopt Insurance culture in order to protect their investments in agriculture, owing to three emerging factors (i) the challenge of climate change, (ii) diseases, and (iii) the farmers-herdsmen crises and the propensity to destroy livelihoods of farmers. To this end, the Nigerian Agriculture Insurance Corporation (NAIC) was called to improve on their approach so as to secure agriculture investments made by poor farmers.

Participants lamented that small scale farmers in Nigeria have not been able to mobilise their voices to articulate their common interests and concerns so as to place concrete demands on government especially with regard to specific areas that investments should be channeled for effective development.

The forum lauded the dialogue opportunity (and by extension NANTS and TrustAfrica), concluding that it gave farmer organisations the common platform to fully express their challenges, needs and concerns.

Participants further called for more regular dialogue sessions for the farmers to continuously take stock of policies and articulate targets, set agenda for government’s consideration on emerging issues and best agriculture investment policies, practices and project priorities that benefit farmers specifically and agriculture as a whole.