Govt must prioritise agriculture ••
Hon. Dennis Nnamdi Agbo represents Igboeze North/Udenu Federal Constituency of Enugu State, in the Green Chambers of the National Assembly. In this interview with LINUS ALEKE, he holds that government must give priority attention to agriculture as a national strategy of caging recession
As the nation grapples with the fierce economic condition orchestrated by the current economic recession, suggestions of strategies, policies and best economic model that could help the nation out of the economic quagmire are being generated daily. Lending his voice to the many voices suggesting the best way out of the pit, the national legislator representing Udenu/IgboEze North Federal Constituency of Enugu State in the National Assembly, Hon. Denis Nnamdi Agbo has called for more investment in the agricultural sector to ensure food security and growth in the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) through agriculture.
Hon. Agbo who made this call in an exclusive chat with The AUTHORITY also advocated a policy that would compel legislators in the country to centre constituency projects on agriculture, so as to feed the nation, generate employment and reduce rural-urban migration. He however decried a scenario where Nigeria can no longer feed its population without relying on imported foodstuff such as rice, tomatoes, egg, chicken, milk etc – despite the rich arable land the nation is blessed with by nature.
The legislator also debunked insinuations that the country has no national policy on agriculture. He argued that the emergence of Nigeria as the leading producer of cassava in the world was not a product of chance but a result of well thought out national policy on agriculture.
He further explained that the current Minister of Agriculture Chief Audu Ogbe served as the chairman of the committee that drafted the national policy on agriculture while he actively participated in the process as a member of the committee alongside other eminent citizens. His words, “There is a very clear national policy on agriculture in Nigeria, though it is been reviewed within certain intervals to accommodate current realities. I remember vividly that in 2003, I participated as a member of committee that drafted the national policy on agriculture.
“The current Minister of Agriculture Chief Ogbe was the drafting Committee Chairman. The document formed the basis for the campaign strategy adopted by the then ruling PDP which centered on agriculture. If you may recall, Nigerians were always discussing about cassava business.
“How to improve cultivation of cassava due to the huge export market, cassava export to China and other parts of the world was lucrative then. So that drive was embedded in the national policy on agriculture. It is also imperative to remember that the document delineated the entire country into what we called areas of best field for the massive production of flagship agricultural produce.
“Flagship agricultural produce in order words means that rice may be best suited for state A due to its soil type, topography or climatic condition. In state B, C or D it could be cassava, tomatoes or groundnut. So in each locality, there must a particular agricultural produce that the area have comparative advantage over the other and the entire country were delineated along that line to enable each state or locality give priority attention to crops that best suits their soil type and climatic condition.
“And in so doing, they would become king in that area of production. So there had always been policy on agriculture but strict implementation of the policy to achieve a desired goal had always been the major challenge.”
On what can be done to ensure strict implementation of the policy by relevant stakeholders for the benefit of the Nigerian people, the lawmaker brought more clarity. “Let me tell you, I have come to realize that the best way to explain anything in Nigeria and expect compliance is for you to demonstrate it. You can talk from now till tomorrow but if you don’t have something you are doing to that effect, your effort will just amount to noise making.
“I am a legislator, and people had criticized the parliament a lot on some of these issues, but I believe I am different and could make a difference. If you know me and my constituency, you would be acquainted with what I am trying to do and I believe that the best way to teach is to live by example.
“But like I used to say, I believe that my colleagues in the national assembly can get into agriculture to help drive the new initiative, and that was why I started with myself. I have established two farms in my constituency as part of my effort to promote agriculture as a viable business.
“That initiative had created many employment opportunity to my constituents, in addition to serving as a training ground for youths in my constituency who wish to go into agriculture. Each of the farm cost me nothing less than five million naira to set it up. Therefore I am calling on the leadership of the National Assembly to come up with a policy that would compel parliamentarians to channel funds made for constituency projects to agriculture.
“If every legislator in the country, federal, state and local government establishes one farm each in their senatorial districts; constituencies or wards, the nation would feel the positive impact in the shortest possible time. The higher institutions in the country could also establish what I may call demonstration farms to serve the need of their host communities. I could recall that we used to go to University of Nigeria Nsukka to buy meat and other agricultural produce from the institution’s demonstration farm while growing up but it has all disappeared.”
The law maker also expressed pessimism over purported recruitment of one hundred thousand extension workers in the country. According to him, His words: “Government recently proclaimed that they had recruited one hundred thousand extension workers, but there is a cloud of shadow in that claim. If indeed government hired one hundred thousand extension workers, the country would be on fire in agricultural related activities.
“This is because simple mathematics of that figure implies that each state of the federation would have gotten at least three thousand extension workers from the one hundred thousand recruited agricultural experts.
“What that then means is that my state Enugu got three thousand extension workers and by extension, my local government would have benefited at least two hundred from the state’s share. So the implication of that is that there would be agricultural expert in my community and other communities that make up my local government.
“Who would be interfacing and educating local farmers on modern agricultural practices. For instance, a local farmer may not know that a particular soil type is not good for the cultivation of certain crops or that there are specific cutting and spacing, unique to vitamin A cassava or that this is the best way to organize a poultry farm. This is the kind of modern facilities needed; this is the time to feed the birds and if there is outbreak of flu, this is the best ways to curtail it.
“If indeed these one hundred thousand extension workers were selected on the basis of competence and merit and not on the basis of political patronage and settlement, then things would change for the better in the agricultural sector.”
In conclusion, the lawmaker observed that Saudi Arabia which depends heavily on Brazil and United States of America for the supply of grasses for her ranches is one of the leading nations in milk production while Nigeria with good climate, land and abundant grasses are depending on less endowed nation for milk supply.