Govt must prioritise agriculture

Govt must prioritise agriculture ••

Govt must prioritise agriculture - Hon. Agbo

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.

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