By Olusegun Emmanuel, Abuja.
The National Conference sitting in Abuja on Wednesday tasked states and local governments across the country to revitalize the already existing skills acquisition and agricultural training centres in each senatorial district as an initiative towards agricultural transformation.
This would make agriculture attractive to the youths and would become a viable platform for job creation and poverty alleviation, Conference delegates said.
Government was also urged to ensure that all the isolated programmes set up to generate employment or create wealth that are working at cross-purposes or duplicating each other are harmonized and operated under a single national scheme to achieve a common objective.
In order to make farming attractive to the younger generation, Conference demanded a policy prohibiting any educational institution, from primary to secondary, from using farm work as a form of punishment for students’ misbehavior.
Conference condemned a situation where agriculture is associated with punishment and drudgery; adding, “it does not encourage young minds to be excited about, or look forward to the life of a noble farmer; a positive attitude towards agriculture is essential.
These and others were resolutions adopted by the Conference on Wednesday during consideration of amendments to the recommendations submitted by the Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources.
On loss of soil fertility, Conference urged government in formulating its policies to take cognizance of climate change and desertification by introducing species of trees and crops that are easily adapted to deserts and requires minimum water to survive.
Conference said government “should invest heavily in Date Palm plantations to develop its related industries in communities with serious desert encroachment challenges.”
It was the position of the delgates that some animal species which are hunted as game and locally referred to as bush meat are being depleted and virtually becoming extinct except something was done about it and rapidly too.
It was therefore agreed that government should encourage and promote large scale breeding and domestication of these species of animal.
Conference also resolved that Bio-Safety Bill that will regulate trans-border movement of genetically modified drugs should be initiated and enacted by the National Assembly without further delay.
This, they said would check indiscriminate importation of genetically modified drugs that are not suitable for the country.
On irrigation, Conference recommended that major irrigation infrastructure in the North West be extended to other parts of the country as a way of boosting farming in those areas.
It said man-power development or capacity building and training programmes on the management, operation and maintenance of the different components of large scale irrigation schemes whether surface, non-pressurized or pressured, should be intensified by government.
Building of rural roads that will link up farmlands with the urban market to facilitate faster evacuation of farm produce was also recommended by the Conference.
A diligent and holistic study of all large dams across the country was also recommended with a view to determining their functional conditions, and carry out repairs where necessary.
Delegates agreed that flood plain agriculture should be included in the irrigation programme as a check against unnecessary flooding.
Conference also called for the involvement of farmers, herdsmen and rural dwellers in formulating policies pertaining to soil degradation in a bid to achieve a bottom-up-approach in addressing the problems of soil degradation.
Delegates agreed on the need for a unified agricultural extension system that would involve visiting and training farmers within the area of coverage.
It was also decided that fertilizer production plants be established in different parts of the country to meet the growing demands by farmers and also save the needed foreign exchange spent on importation of the product.
It said appropriate policy should be put in place to facilitate the participation of people living with disability to enable them to enjoy low interest on loan and 50% subsidy on farm inputs.
Conference asked policy makers to ensure that Nigeria participates in agricultural research programmes at both the continental and regional levels so as to benefit from the results of such research.
It was agreed that government should grant low interest and long tenured micro-credit loans to assist the private sector to support agricultural development.
It said that in addition to existing budgetary allocation, “30% of the National Resources Fund be used for the development of agricultural sector while an additional 20% of the fund be used for the development of water resources especially the mechanized deep sea fishing which is a major foreign exchange earner.”
Conference asked for urgent review of the curriculum of agricultural research institutes across the country to reflect more of the practical and less theoretical aspects of agricultural research.