Shedding Some Light on the New Agricultural Transformation Agenda
By Tukeni Obasi
Many Nigerians have begun trading whispers about some new acronyms that have floated over the past few months: ATA, PATIC, etc. These are products of the new and ambitious developments on the agricultural policy front. On May 14, 2012, President Jonathan inaugurated the Presidential Agricultural Transformation Implementation Council (PATIC) for the newly initiated Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA). ATA is the brainchild of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development aimed at tackling unemployment, creating wealth (over N300 billion in farmers’ incomes) through the creation of at least 3.5 million agricultural jobs, and ultimately achieving food security in Nigeria.
The council, which is chaired by President Jonathan and coordinated by the minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwumi Adesina, will oversee the implementation of the agenda. Leading entrepreneur Aliko Dangote and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, owners of some of the largest agricultural enterprises in the country; Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); and American economist and Columbia professor, Jeffrey Sachs, are also members of this council. The council is kicking off the project by identifying key stakeholders in the public and private sectors as well as the agricultural civil society and mapping out areas of collaboration with all key partners (especially young people) in order to maximise impact in the expansion of these value chains.
The primary objective of the ATA is value adding, a much needed development in the agricultural sector. The focus will be on the value chains of ten crops: cassava, rice, sorghum, cotton, cocoa, oil palm, tomato, onion, soya beans, and maize, as well as livestock and fisheries. While the 3.5 million jobs are projected to be generated in the first five value chains, many more are promised as programmes in the other chains kick off. Another objective, self-sufficiency, is to be achieved by curtailing the importation of home-grown crops like rice, wheat and sugar for which Nigeria spent a total of over N1 trillion in the year 2010 alone.
Key challenges faced by farmers right now in Nigeria include poor access to inputs such as seeds and fertilisers, poor access to storage facilities, and lack of information and communication technology to access and share information. In a country where over half of the people are barely making ends meet and/or employed in the agricultural sector, these challenges are particularly pertinent, spelling the difference between poverty and economic prosperity. Plans to overcome some of these are already underway through the distribution of fertiliser vouchers to farmers using mobile and software technology.
Cassava as the Flagship Crop
The ministry is particularly interested in curbing current importation habits in a bid to reach self-sufficiency. To this end, the ministry is on its way to turning cassava into a major export crop with an annual turnover of N40 billion in exports. According to Adesina, the cassava value chain is projected to generate 1.2 million jobs for Nigerians. The first step in this journey to make cassava a leading food and export crop is the proliferation of the cassava bread across stores and homes in the country. Plans are already underway to export 1 million tonnes of cassava chips from Nigeria to China. It is projected that with the substitution of 20 percent wheat flour with cassava flour in the making of cassava bread, and the decrease in the volume of imported wheat, N60 billion will injected into the economy. However, it was noted by A. Adeniji, a former manager at the ministry, that in order to meet growing demand for cassava, the cultivation and production of 50 million tonnes of fresh cassava (in addition to the currently produced amount of 44 million tonnes) is needed.
What to Expect
This is an exciting period in the agricultural industry as we celebrate one year under the current minister, who has appeared very focused and in tune with the issues from day one. The cassava bread policy and the fertiliser voucher scheme, while drawing suspicion and even unveiled scepticism from many Nigerians, have ultimately convinced Nigerian that the minister is not sleeping. And now, the launch of this full-fledged agenda has won the hearts and minds of more people. As Nigerians become full of hope in this new project, its real success will depend on its ability to reach smallholder farmers and youths across the nation, adequately support and build the capacities of farmers and entrepreneurs, and use efficient and effective channels of distribution, monitoring and evaluation. I encourage Nigerians, especially those in the sector, to be part of the effort to revamp the sector by voicing their needs, supporting innovation, informing others, and adequately positioning themselves to be the vehicles of transformational change.