Regular meetings of the National Council of Agriculture and Rural Development have always been an opportunity for state commissioners in charge of agriculture in the country to meet yearly.

The council meeting is the highest fora in agriculture to dialogue, resolve and share experiences on challenges facing the industry.

The 39th session held in Enugu last week was not an exception as 36 state commissioners from the federation gathered for three days to discuss on the global food crisis, production shortfall, pricing and consumption of agricultural commodities.

The host commissioner, Professor Martin Anikwe, Enugu state commissioner for Agriculture set the ball rolling when he told the delegates that agriculture should go beyond putting food on the table but should be seen within the context of contributing to the growth and sustainability of other sectors.

It was on the basis of his presentation that the Minister for Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, said that agricultural growth is the fastest way to creating Jobs in Nigeria.

Dr. Adesina noted that Nigeria’s unemployment rate is spiraling upwards, growing at 11 per cent yearly, “Youth unemployment rate is over 50 per cent.

He added “Our unemployment rate is spiraling, driven by the wave of four Million young people entering the workforce every year with only a small fraction able to find formal employment.

“Agriculture has demonstrated an ability to solve this challenge, as can be seen by the fact that the breadbasket region of the “North Central” has the lowest unemployment rate in the country.”

Giving examples of Kenya and Malawi that embarked on agricultural transformation to create jobs, the Minister said “Private sector driven marketing institutions drove Kenya to the number one position in global horticulture market.”

Dr. Adesina explained that to drive agriculture in Nigeria, his ministry has come up with a vision of achieving a hunger free Nigeria through an agricultural sector that drives income growth, “accelerates achievement of food and nutritional security, generates employment and transforms Nigeria into a leading player in global food markets to grow wealth for millions of farmers.”

To achieve the said vision, Adesina explained that agriculture should be treated as business and not development project, just as isolated projects that do not clearly grow the sector in a clear and measurable way will be done away with to give way to agricultural projects that aggressively create jobs, wealth and ensure food security.

Adesina added that the government would no longer crowd out the private sector, but rather focus on value chains where Nigeria has comparative advantage and developing strategic partnerships for market-led agricultural transformation.

“We will focus on collaborating with state and local governments; inter-ministerial collaboration, private sector and farmer groups and civil society as well as targeting the youth and women for equitable growth.”

Speaking on the Value chain, the Minister said the approach is being adopted under the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) to reposition Nigerian agriculture to its pride of place as a net exporter of food and a business enterprise that would enhance the living standard of Nigerian farmers and the nation at large.

“To ensure food security and create wealth, eleven commodity value chains: rice, sorghum, cocoa, maize, soybean, oil palm, cotton, cassava, livestock, fisheries and horticulture, have formulated plans to achieve huge increases in production, beginning from 2012.”

Adesina explained that they are already changing the way they work in agriculture as part of the transformational policies which the ministry is driving to achieve the transformation agenda of the Jonathan administration.

He listed areas of transformation reforms in fertilizer sector; marketing institutions; financing agricultural value chains and agricultural investment framework.

The Agriculture minister said the government distributed fertilizer support program has today given way for private sector distributed fertilizer support system, utilizing Input Vouchers.

While explaining only 11 per cent of farmers get subsidized fertilizers distributed by the government, he said the government distribution system is inefficient and wastes resources and that the government distribution channels also subsidized corruption

Adesina explained that as part of the policy change already implemented that government is out of fertilizer distribution as the FGN no longer involved in procurement and distribution of fertilizers.

He said that the private sector will now sell their inputs directly to farmers while government provides 50 per cent support for seeds & fertilizers.

“We are changing how farmers receive their subsidized farm inputs. We have moved to the use of mobile phones, farmers will now receive their subsidized farm inputs via mobile phones which link them to the agro dealers and inputs suppliers. The system is called Electronic-Wallets.

On financing, Dr. Adesina said “as we modernize agriculture and get it work for stallholders, medium and large scale farmers, access to finance at affordable rates is a challenge.’

He disclosed that Government is helping companies to raise financing from banks to finance input purchase: 30 Billion Naira for 2012, “Government will pay 10 per cent achievement fees for companies meeting 100 per cent of supply of seeds and fertilizers to farmers.”

Adesina said as part of fixing the challenges in the sector that Nigeria Incentive Based Risk Sharing System for Agriculture Lending (NIRSAL) would leverage N450 Billion from banks into agricultural value chains.

He added that Marketing Corporations are being established for selected agricultural value chains to coordinate the production, investments, grades and standards, market price stabilization among others for selected value chains in Nigeria

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