Rice festival and Buhari’s obsession with agriculture, by Khalifa Nuruddeen Abande
President Muhammadu Buhari’s exclusive interview with Channels Television means different things to different groups of people across the world. In the interview, the President revealed so many things that have a deepening impact on the country. While the politicians concentrated on Buhari’s take on his successor, the Igbo about Nnamdi Kanu, National Assembly members about new electoral law, the governors’ state police, my take as an ordinary Nigerian was the president’s take on the economy and agriculture in particular.
Many Nigerians were appalled by Buhari’s bold, blunt and no-barrel insistence that agriculture is the magic wand that will catapult the country to the dream land – and Nigerians must go back to farm to make that a reality. He added that his administration in the last six years has invested trillions into agriculture financing. And Nigerians must key in to the project for the country to stand tall as an emerging world power.
Many think that the president is too obsessed with agriculture, that is he is herding everyone to the farm. The president wondered why only 2.5 percent of Nigeria’s arable land is being used for agricultural purposes. He told the Channels crew that, “If we invest more in agriculture, people won’t be shouting of unemployment.”
He explained that “Now in Nigeria, we produce the rice we need and we even export,” adding that, “we have to exploit our capacities.”
President Buhari never hides his plans to make Nigeria self-sufficient in food production. On August 7, 2015, a few months into his administration, he reiterated this stance during a meeting with President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Dr Kanayo Nwanze, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The president said, “It’s time to go back to the land. We must face the reality that the petroleum we had depended on for so long will no longer suffice. We campaigned heavily on agriculture, and we are ready to assist as many want to go into agricultural ventures.”
It is an open secret that the president fulfilled that promise by investing hugely on agriculture through the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), superintended by Chief Godwin Emefiele-led Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
What many Nigerians failed to do was to check how other countries with similar demographics as Nigeria’s are doing. For a start, it is an incontrovertible fact that the most populous nations on earth invest heavily on agriculture and deploy a larger percentage of their population to agriculture. Buhari is not saying anything new.
About 35 percent of China’s 1.41 billion population are directly involved in agriculture. This means that 490 million Chinese are involved in agriculture. The figure is higher for India, another super power in terms of population. Over 58 percent of 1.39 billion Indians are directly involved in agriculture. By this, 738 million Indians are into farming.
We shouldn’t crucify Buhari when he repeatedly said: “But as I said, look at the vastness of Nigeria, only 2.4 percent of the arable land is being used. We realized it rather too late. We have to go back to the land.”
Many of the president’s critics are oblivious of the demographic projections which show that the Nigerian population might experience a constant increase in the next decades. By 2050, it is forecast that the population in Nigeria will double compared to 2019, reaching over 400 million people, according to the World Bank. Who will feed these huge numbers if we don’t go back to land as Buhari is advocating?
Even the most developed nations like America are engaging more of its citizens into agriculture. The percentage of Americans involved directly in agriculture was just 1.3 percent in 2020, but another 8-9 percent was involved in the value chain of agriculture. Even a world power with all the technology is engaging at least 10 percent of its population into agriculture, why should Nigeria fold its arms and watch?
Unlike his predecessors, Buhari’s obsession with agriculture is real, not rhetoric. The president matched his words with actions as can be seen from the unprecedented investments he has been doing in the last six years through the CBN’s ABP. These investments are bearing fruits as evidenced from the millions of poverty-stricken peasants who have now been economically empowered.
As part of the agricultural revolution, President Buhari would on Tuesday, January 18, 2022, unveil the world’s largest rice pyramid in Abuja. This is no small feat to the country.
Through ABP, the president had invested billions on ABP through the CBN on over 15 agriculture commodities. These commodities include maize, sorghum, millet, cassava, cocoa, rice, cotton, ground nuts, sugarcane, tree crops, legumes, tomato, to mention a few.
Before Buhari’s election in 2015, it was an open secret that Nigeria’s local rice (the country’s staple food) production was 1.5 mts /hectare. Courtesy of ABP now, the local rice production has soared to 5 mts/hectare.
The impact of these soaring figures of rice production can be seen from the number of large-scale integrated rice mills which had increased from less than 10 in 2015 to nearly 100, 400 medium-sized mills and over 200,000 small-scale mills across the country, providing millions of direct and indirect jobs.
In terms of farming alone, there were about 1.5 million rice farmers six years ago, but the number has snowballed into over 20 million now – all thanks to Buhari’s ABP.
In fiscal terms, before Buhari’s coming, the federal government spent huge money to stop rural-urban migration. Now ABP makes urban-rural migration cost-free.
ABP’s beneficiaries are traceable and verifiable. All the millions of farmers that benefitted from ABP can be traced through their genuine house addresses, NIN-registered mobile phone numbers, BVN, photographs, transaction history, among other incontrovertible data.
Before the introduction of ABP, the CBN was spending about $1.8 billion forex on rice import alone every year. This translates to about N747 billion in today’s official exchange rate of N415/$. By this, the CBN, courtesy ABP, is saving the trillions of naira that were hitherto expended as import bill. This is a breakthrough that even Buhari’s bitterest enemies are saluting him.
By foregoing, if not for anything, Nigeria was saved from the challenge of sourcing forex or devaluing our currency to finance this monstrous import bill.
Official data indicate that the ABP has added six million metric tons to rice supply in the country and created nearly six million direct jobs in a year; at the same time, about two million indirect jobs are created in a cropping season. Nigeria now has three cropping seasons in a year, all of them fully funded by the ABP loans.
These jobs are restricted to only the production side of the rice value chain, and does not include millions of other jobs created in the processing, packaging, transportation, marketing sectors of the rice ecosystem. Not the least of which is the jobs and wealth created in the input supplies segment.
On the international scene, Buhari’s agricultural revolution has burnished the country’s image more than any diplomatic adventure so far. It was a source of pride for all Nigerians that in 2021 our country topped South Africa and Egypt – as Africa’s number One Rice producer, and emerged 29th on the list of Top 50 biggest contributors to the global GDP, leaving UAE, Norway, Israel, others behind.
Buhari’s obsession with agriculture saved Nigeria from food calamity, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic that shut the entire world. There would have been mass starvation and numerous deaths. Many experts were worried when the unprecedented horror of COVID -19 pandemic permeated all contours of the world, leaving mass fatalities, which necessitated lockdown of borders and cessation of shipment of commodities and goods.
With Buhari’s foresight and political goodwill, however, Nigeria like other nations shut down its borders and banned rice importation. It was on record that despite the global lockdown, Nigeria was still feeding itself with the food produced by its farmers and even exporting to other African countries.
This is a milestone that Nigeria must sustain and improve upon. Imagine if we had relied on food imports, where would the 200 million Nigerians get food from when the entire world was on lockdown for nearly a year?
Through ABP, the CBN, also funded the supply of farm inputs that include fertilizer, herbicide, seeds, pesticides, among others.
As a result of the agricultural revolution championed by ABP, the farm inputs sub-sector in Nigeria has witnessed unprecedented growth. For instance, in fertilizer manufacturing alone, Nigeria has since achieved self-sufficiency.
From a mere three comatose blending plants in 2016, Nigeria now boasts of over 47 state- of- the- art fertilizer blending plants across the country. Fertilizer importation is now ancient history.
In the area of herbicides, Nigeria is better off now compared to 2015 before the ABP’s regime. The country has indigenous mega herbicide manufacturing companies that include Wacot, Candel, Jubaili, Saro, Marshal, among dozens others.
Consequent upon this major breakthrough, is the creation of millions of herbicide distributors spread across the 36 states and 774 local governments of the federation and the FCT, serving farmers and creating wealth.
This brings to the fore the reasons why Nigerians must embrace President Buhari’s clarion call to embrace agriculture and return to farm.
Mr Nuruddeen, writes from Kano, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org