For the umpteenth time, the Federal Government has been reminded of its pledge and responsibility to drive the economy back to stability, use homegrown resources that are available to sustain growth and implement faithfully its fiscal plans, which include effective utilisation of borrowed funds.
The economy, going through recession (officially) in the last four quarters, was riding on the back of misplaced priorities over the years- poor budget implementations and wrong prioritization of growth-inducing investments, made worse by faltering price of the country’s major earning commodity, crude oil, in the international market.
Nigeria in 2003, signed on to the Maputo Declaration to allocate 10 per cent of its total yearly budget to the agriculture sector, but 14 years after, it has neither attempted half of the commitment, nor shown commensurate level of development in the sector compared to values claimed to have spent.
Against this backdrop, government’s new blueprint for economic recovery had identified agriculture as one of the country’s sectoral comparative advantage, with the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) adopting the Agriculture Promotion Policy 2016 (APP) goals, which now focuses on three key policy objectives.
These include increase agriculture GDP from N16 trillion in 2015 to N21 trillion in 2020 at an average annual growth rate of 6.92 per cent; significantly reduce food imports and become a net exporter of key agriculture products- rice, tomatoes, vegetable oil, cashew nuts groundnuts, cassava, poultry, fish, livestock; and become self-sufficient in tomato paste (by 2017), rice (2018) and wheat by (2019/2020).
The 2017 expectations from the projections are on and Nigerians will be waiting till the end. For 2018, it is around the corner and 2019/2020 is not far like forever. Government at federal and state levels has borrowed money for the agriculture initiatives, with cost implications on national wealth and taxpayers.
Now, no fewer than 35 civil society organizations and other non-government organizations have adopted a memorandum seeking government’s commitment to its avowed declarations to agriculture, among other sectors, as a strategy to retool the faltering economy and engage teeming youths in profitable ventures.
These groups, in no particular order are the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ); Environmental Rights Action; African Green Movement; National Association of Nigerian Traders; Women Environmental Programme;Foundation for Human Development; and Good Governance Team.
Others are Citizens Trust Advocacy Development Centre; Global Initiative for Leadership and Good Governance; Nigerian Conservation Foundation; African Network for Environmental and Economic Justice; Foundation for Environmental Research and Development; and Centre for Research, Advocacy, Women and Youth Development, among others.
Mr Fidelis Onyejegbu of Public Finance Management at CSJ, noted that where 10 per cent allocation to the sector is not possible, government should start with a minimum of five per cent (being 50 per cent of the Maputo Declaration) allocation in 2018 and progressively increase by one per cent until the 10 per cent is attained by 2023.
He also explained that the bulk of the new resources should go to capital expenditure on Climate Smart Agriculture to enhance access to extension services, inputs and strengthen the entire value chain. Not less than 80 per cent of the overall expenditure should go to capital expenditure in 2018.
“Review and strengthen the special windows for financing the sector like Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing and Agricultural Lending, Anchor Borrowers Programme, among others, through increase of available funding and ensuring that more farmers, processors and operatives along the entire value chain are reached.
“The ministry should ensure that agriculture produces bankable projects to be funded under the FGN Green Bonds issuance process, build capacity in the ministry and tap into international Climate Financing Mechanisms to raise more funds for CSA.
“Stop the sequestration of a huge part of capital votes in the headquarters of the Ministry and send them to agencies and parastatals that need them. Procurement of goods and services is best done at the level of the agency or institution that needs them.
“Consider a moratorium on brand new capital projects not associated or linked with existing ones unless the project is of utmost priority. This will avoid the thin spread of available resources, which produces no results. Money should be spent on completing, equipping and making functional the existing projects,” he said.
Also the Programme Officer, Environment, Martins Eke, harped on the need for strategic investment and proritisation on areas that would give value to the economy, such as embarking on soil and nutrient management, especially through the dissemination of information on the concluded soil map by the ministry, proper use and application of fertilisers.
Stressing that the budget items must be made to for the food security and self-sufficiency goal, he also called for dedicated extension services to disseminate research knowledge, meteorological information, agro forestry practices, to farmers and other value chain operators.
“This will involve collaboration between federal, state and local governments and inter agency collaboration. Creation of dedicated pastures and promotion of ranching through collaboration with states; set up demonstration ranches and disseminate knowledge on the subject.
“Use resistant and genetically improved animals and crops to increase yield and production of crops, meat, milk and other related products. Increase fertilizer use per hectare through the promotion of organic fertilizers. Also, promote organic agriculture. The need for sustainability in our farming practices dictates that we invest more in producing organic fertitlisers and farm inputs.
“Beyond making the soils less acidic over the medium to long term, the process of making these fertilizers will create jobs, reduce the waste that has become a challenge to city managers as well as convert same to wealth in a win- win scenario for all,” he said.
He also solicited investments targeted at reduction of post-harvest losses; erosion and flood control projects, with their actual sites in the budget; encourage the planting of crops for renewable energy including sorghum, jathropha; and development of renewable energy tobe utilised in agriculture like solar boreholes, solar lighting, drying, the development of automated solar powered agriculture machines including planters, harvesters
The Lead Director of CSJ, Eze Onyekpere, while harping on transparency and accountability, said it would be necessary to identify and captured in the budget the specific yearly contributions of donors and development partners as a foil to double budgeting and duplication of efforts.
According to him, government must increase the efficiency of agriculture sector’s spending through greater value for money strategies- ensure strict and efficient utilisation of the resources allocated to the sector by implementing open contracting standards as part of an open government strategy.
“The Minister of Finance should prepare and publish a Budget Disbursement Schedule within 30 days of the enactment of the Appropriation Act as stipulated by Section 26 of FRA and ensure full and timely release of the capital budget of the agriculture ministry every financial year.
“The Budget Office of the Federation should also resume the timely publication of Quarterly Budget Implementation reports on its website and in national dailies. The MDAs should likewise publish details of budget releases and expenditure on quarterly basis. This will help to promote transparency and accountability,” he said.