By Olusegun Emmanuel, Abuja.
Commendations and criticisms trailed the report of the National Conference Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources on Tuesday as the Conference commenced debate on the 44 page report earlier presented by the Committee Chairman, Umaru Muhammad Hadeija.
The report is an assessment of Nigeria’s agricultural and water resources policies especially as they relate to food security and the refocusing of agriculture as a business for the creation of job and wealth.
It was the opinion of the Committee that agriculture has the potential to compete favourably with the oil sector in revenue and employment generation and is much more environmentally sustainable than the oil and gas sector.
“It is also the most viable way to stem the current large scale rural-urban youth migration and thus prove the most viable solution to permanently deal with the problems of insurgency, armed robbery and kidnapping currently bedeviling the nation,” stated the Committee.
Therefore, it recommended that particular attention be focused on increasing agricultural productivity by paying close attention to the selection of adequate and appropriate land for agricultural production which would lead to meaningful rapid and increased crop productivity.
Attention, it stated, should also be paid to immediate extensive needs assessment for the soil and water laboratories available in Nigeria so as to promote accurate soil testing and consequent appropriate fertilizer, liming and water quality assessments for increased productivity in rain-fed and irrigated agriculture in the country.
To address the current critical shortage of manpower in the sector, the Committee demanded immediate passage of the Bill for the Establishment of the Nigerian Soil Science Institute which it said is pending in the National Assembly; it said the institute when established would provide leadership in regulating the training and professional practice of soil science in the country.
Describing land as the most fundamental asset in agricultural practice, the Committee noted that accessibility to land has been limited by the Land Use Act whose presence in the Constitution it described as a disincentive to agricultural development “because it tends to discourage investments in land.”
It therefore called for and emphasized the need for appropriate review and amendment of the Land Use Act; an issue that has re-echoed repeatedly in the Conference and whose resolution is currently pending.
The Committee lamented the dearth of qualified and trained manpower to adequately drive the policies and programmes in both sectors of agriculture and water resources; and declared that Nigeria is facing system failure owing to inadequate manpower.
Based on this, it was recommended that deliberate policies be put in place to attract Nigerian youths to study agricultural related courses in colleges of agriculture, polytechnics and universities.
It said such courses and the outcome of the research should be re-tailored towards developing curricular and researches aimed at developing local technologies that are sustainable and adaptable to local manpower usage.
The report observed that aside from technical policy issues, one area of concern to stakeholders has been the over-concentration and centralization of agricultural development programmes at the federal level and described it as being operationally and politically unhealthy for the system.
The committee said there was need to revisit the sectoral governance structure in order to strengthen the institutional framework based on a much greater implementable devolution of functions from the federal to the states and local governments.
It recommended that the Federal Government should substantially divest from direct programme implementation in the field and concern itself mainly with regulatory policy issues and the articulation of strategic national direction; provide guidance to states; among others.
To ensure effective policy implementation and harmonization, the Committee recommended the establishment of a National Agricultural Programme Co-ordinating Agency.
The agency would provide technical support to the states in planning, formulating and designing agricultural programmes based on the states priority and comparative advantage, working closely with the state agencies.
It would also assist the states in carrying out periodic evaluation and particularly impact assessment of the state and federal projects and programmes; and coordinate the gathering, up-dating and dissemination of national agricultural data including marketing and price information.
In the words of the Committee, the envisaged agency would be involved in ”maintaining a two-way track of information flow between the federal and state governments on the performance of Federal Government in order to facilitate the initiation of corrective measures where necessary or desirable.
“Co-ordinating and monitoring of special intervention programmes of the Federal Government as well as the donor assisted programmes and providing implementation support for such programmes.”
It was also recommended that research and development should remain a key function of the Federal Government in order to enhance their research output and synergy and strengthen their contribution to national development.
The report cautioned on the need to protect the farmers, especially the small-scale holders, from the vagaries and whims of market forces, and the need to guarantee market stability for agricultural produce, and protect and sustain farmers’ interest in agricultural production.
To this end, it recommended a recreation of Commodity Marketing Boards or Corporations, akin to what obtained in the country from the late 1940s to late 1980s; and that the first set of commodities to be included in this would be cotton, oil palm, cocoa and groundnuts.
Conference will on Wednesday consider all the recommendations of the Committee, amend some, adopt some and reject others based on majority decision.