The Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology (NIFST) has urged the federal and state governments to increase the budgetary allocations to the agricultural sector to about 25 per cent of the total budgets in line with the recommendation of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). Nigeria’s budgetary allocation to agriculture is low, estimated at less than two per cent of the annual budget.
The food scientists, who made the plea after their recent annual general meeting in Lagos, also called for a paradigm shift from traditional to commercial agriculture. They also enjoined the government and other stakeholders to embark on more enlightenment and sensitisation on the quality and safety of street vended foods. The food scientists want more collaboration and networking among key stakeholders, including industries, ministry of agriculture, higher education institutions and research institutes in traditional food development and improvement.
The call by the NIFST is timely, coming on the heels of increasing demands for diversification of the country’s revenue base and growing of enough food to cater for the teeming population. A recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicated that about 82.9million or 40 per cent of Nigeria’s estimated 200 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty. Good enough, President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to lift about 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years. We believe that increasing the budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector will go a long way in lifting these Nigerians out of poverty.
Agriculture remains the base of the national economy. It provides the main source of livelihood for most citizens, employing about two-thirds of Nigeria’s labour force. The sector equally offers options for national development, given its vast potentials to drive a more sustainable economic growth in terms of job creation and revenue diversification.
It is good that government has realised the importance of the agricultural sector to national development and expanding the economic base. In the last five years, it has made commendable efforts to develop the sector with initiatives like the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), extension of credit facilities and other incentives to farmers. It has also come up with policies that include the ban on the importation of some agricultural commodities and the shutting down of land borders to protect local industries.
These efforts by the government notwithstanding, the sector faces many challenges. Among the problems is outdated land tenure system that constrains access to land. There are also infrastructural drawbacks in areas of low level of irrigation development, limited research and slow adoption of findings. The use of obsolete technologies, high cost of farm inputs, poor access to credit, inefficient fertilizer procurement and distribution, inadequate storage facilities and poor access to markets contribute to low productivity in the sector. They also account for high post-harvest losses and wastages. The result is that food production increases have not kept pace with population growth, resulting in rising food imports and declining levels of national food self-sufficiency.
Therefore, the advice by NIFST is germane in repositioning the sector. Nigeria’s investment in agriculture has been low with an average annual 1.4 per cent budgetary allocation to the sector in the last six years. In 2019, the government reduced its budgetary allocation to the sector by 47 per cent from the N203billion provision of 2018 to N107 billion, despite its claim of working towards attaining food security. The figure was further reduced to N83 billion in the 2020 budget. This is not good for a country that intends to make significant impact in agriculture.
Aside the increase in the budgetary allocation, other measures needed to boost the sector should be put in place. There is need to mechanise the sector as against the present rudimentary agricultural practices. Let government provide more irrigation facilities and improve extension services, insurance, research and development, among others. State governments should also encourage agriculture by developing the rural areas to enhance the participation of the youths in the sector. Nigeria is blessed with enough arable land for food and cash crops. This is the time for more involvement in agribusiness.
Relevant agencies of the state and ministries concerned should encourage the sector by providing necessary incentives to farmers. This will entail making available such incentives as fertilizers and other implements. Banks and micro-finance institutions are also expected to make interventions by advancing credit facilities to the farmers and others in the agribusiness at lower interest rates.
More importantly is the need for adequate security for the farmers and others in the sector. There have been cases of attacks on farmers by herders and other criminal elements in the country. We call on the security agencies to ensure adequate protection of the farmers. Agriculture should be given priority, considering its importance in national development.