By Aziza Uko
Once something difficult is done, it subsequently seems ordinary. Today, curing a bacterial infection seems like child’s play. Bacterial infections no longer give anybody the jitters. Rewind to pre-1928, when Alexander Fleming had not discovered penicillin. A bacterial infection was synonymous to a death sentence. Just picture an Ebola infection or a cancer problem and you would imagine what it was like then. Any day the cure or vaccine for Ebola and cancer is found, future generations would wonder why the diseases put fears into people in 2014. That is how life is.
It is the same with President Goodluck Jonathan. As he goes from sector to sector, transforming what used to be, it seems to be nothing extraordinary to many people, especially those in the opposition. But those who suffered in many of these sectors would give testimony to the relief he has brought. Imagine how it was for someone to sleep in a vehicle along the Shagamu-Benin Expressway at Ore, or for someone to grow into a young adult without seeing a train not to talk of riding in it, or for a farmer always to depend on middlemen to get fertiliser at high rates.
During his 2011 campaign, President Goodluck Jonathan promised to change the ways things were done. As his first term draws to an end, his policies have surely lived up to his promises, especially in terms of agriculture. Jonathan began his term with a full sanitation of Nigeria’s agricultural sector, and has implemented numerous programs to encourage growth and prevent future issues with corruption. The benefits of his new policies for Nigeria’s farming prowess have been swift and immense, and are sure to help the country in becoming a powerful contributor to the global agrarian market.
When Jonathan began his first elected term, the agricultural sector was rampant with corruption, as it had been for decades. The government was in charge of providing subsidies for farmers (fertiliser, seeds, and farming equipment). However, corruption and rent-seeking prevented the majority of them from making it into the farmers’ hands. Farmers were receiving only 11% of the fertiliser subsidies that were due to them, which were often low quality and diluted by sand. Jonathan appointed a new Minister of Agriculture (Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina), in 2011, and within 90 days all forms of corruption had been eradicated from the sector. Subsidies are now handled exclusively by the private sector, and saved the government N25 billion in 2012 alone. The Ministry has also implemented a new e-wallet system, the first in Africa, to further ensure that farmers receive subsidies. This has enabled companies to sell billions of fertilizers and seeds to the 14 million farmers registered through the system today.
Jonathan’s achievements in agriculture are not limited to his anti-corruption initiatives. He and Dr. Adesina have developed an Agricultural Transformation Action Plan with the goal of decreasing reliance on imported foods and improving farming as a way to earn a living. “The prosperity of Nigeria must start with improving the living standards of our farmers, and revitalising rural economies across the nation,” said Jonathan at the Democracy Day Celebration in May 2012.
Agriculture was the backbone of the economy before petrol grew in importance, and Jonathan is working to regain this strength by increasing GDP from farmed products. His fiscal measures have managed to reduce food imports from N1.1 trillion at the beginning of his presidency to N646 billion. This has largely been achieved through increased taxes on rice and sugar imports, as well as tax breaks for investors in local production. Between 2011 and 2014, food production has expanded by 21 million metric tonnes, ahead of the 2015 deadline set by the United Nations’ MillenniumDevelopment Goal on agriculture.
The administration is also transforming the way the country produces sorghum and cocoa, offering high-yield hybrid seeds to farmers as well as developing implementation agreements with private companies to increase production and create jobs. Over 3.6 million hybrid cocoa pods are being distributed to local farmers as well as 1,506 tonnes of improved cottonseed in the 2012 season alone, all free of charge. We are already beginning to see the benefits of the government’s renewed focus on local production—China has ordered 3.2 million metric tonnes of cassava chips from Nigeria for ethanol production.
Jonathan insists that Nigeria needs to view agriculture as a business as opposed to just a subsistence strategy, yet young people often view farming as a career choice that requires hard work and generates little wealth. Jonathan is working to change that perception by encouraging youths to join commercial agriculture with a new self-employment initiative, the Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP). The first ‘Nagropreneurs’ were unveiled in 2014, and Jonathan plans to support over 750,000 more. Some are already beginning to see success: Mosumola Umar started a small farm in her grandmother’s backyard, which has now grown to 25-hectares with the help of YEAP. Muniru Umaru, another Nagropreneur, went from being unemployed to owning a 70-tonne fish farm.
Jonathan’s focus on farming stretches beyond youth empowerment and increased GDP. It is a sustainable solution to the country’s biggest issues —poverty and food security. As a nation, a strong agricultural force is the key to eradicating widespread poverty, as well as increasing food security and promoting self-reliance. Since agricultural products once served as the majority of Nigeria’s exports, it seems wasteful to rely on imports of products in areas where the country once supported itself. Jonathan believes that a strong agricultural system will be critical to becoming a leader for Africa and receiving recognition on the global platform. Jonathan summed up the importance of food security for Nigeria’s future in a presidential media chat in 2011 thus: “We feel that Nigeria should lead Africa…. When your people don’t have food to eat, what is your business struggling to be a member of G-20+1?”
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has praised Jonathan’s accomplishments in the sector, and promises that the progress will continue as all levels of government pay closer attention to agriculture. Jonathan himself has also renewed his determination by announcing the release of N26 billion for the 2015 Dry Season Farming Program. Speaking at the annual Agricultural Festival (AGRIFEST) on January 23rd, Jonathan said, “Agriculture is now the lifeline for Nigeria. As crude oil prices decline, we must create new wealth from the richness of our soils, the vastness of our rivers and the abundance of our cheap labour. We will produce more, and we will industrialise the agricultural sector.”
The visible improvements in Nigeria’s agricultural sector in terms of production and individual livelihoods are astounding considering that Jonathan’s policies have been in practice for less than four years. It is clear that future initiatives in this vein will continue to serve the country in terms of food security, wealth generation, and national empowerment.
Aziza Uko is Executive Editor of The Trent. She is also Chief Executive of Ziza Group, a company she founded in 2009. She is award winning graduate of marketing and a marketing communications professional with over 16 years post graduation experience. She is a writer, editor, and music lover. She can be reached on email HERE, on Twitter at @azizauko, and Facebook HERE.