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How Nanono squandered opportunity to rejig Nigeria’s agriculture

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ON August 19, 2020, a newly appointed Minister of Agriculture Sabo Nanono was told by journalists that the closure of the Nigeria-Benin border could worsen hunger and create food scarcity in the country.

The new minister responded that Nigeria was producing enough food to feed itself and send to neighbouring countries. He also claimed that there was no hunger in the country.

“We are producing enough to feed ourselves. I think there is no hunger in Nigeria; there could be inconveniences. When people talk about hunger in this government, I just laugh,” Nanono said.


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His claims were wide off the mark as fact-checked by our reporter and found to be false.

With the mindset that Nigeria was producing enough food and there was no poverty and hunger in the country despite statistics to the contrary, Nanono supervised an Agriculture Ministry that achieved little in two years.

By refusing to acknowledge grim food statistics, Nanono failed to address low farm productivity, a major challenge in the country.

Nigeria is one of the least mechanised farming countries globally, with the country’s tractor density of 0.27 hp/ hectare, which is far below the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s recommendation of 1.5 hp/ hectare.

Nigeria is 132nd out of the 188 countries worldwide measured by FAO/ United Nations standards regarding the number of tractors.

On food production, data from Agriculture Ministry show that Nigeria is the largest producer of yam in Africa with 40 million metric tons(MT) per annum, but yam demand in the country is 60 million metric tonnes per annum (MT), leaving a gap of 20 million MT.

Nigeria produces 42 million MT of cassava but has a demand of 53.8 million MT of the crop, leaving a gap of 11.8 million MT.

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The national supply for Irish potato is estimated at 900,000 MT per annum but with a demand of 8million MT and a gap of 7.1 million MT.

Similarly, local production of sweet potato is estimated at 1.2 million MT, while demand is 6million MT, leaving a gap of 4.8 million MT.

 More so, Nigeria produces 400,000 MT of wheat annually but with a demand of 4 million MT, leaving a gap of a 3.6million MT.

According to the ministry, maize production in the country is put at 10.5 million MT, but demand is 15 million MT.

Nigeria is not yet sufficient in any food crop. Apart from rice, where there has been a rise in output, farmers say statistics of other crops have worsened.

And even rice is being driven by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and not the Agriculture Ministry, farmers say.

“Food sufficiency cannot be achieved overnight, but at least do something. We have not seen much to change the situation we have had over time,” said Market analyst Ike Ibeabuchi, who added that “food price hike was a combination of failure of the monetary side from the CBN and the fiscal side by the minister.”

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Rural farmers say they have not been able to access funding, equipment and extension workers.

Anambra State Coordinator of Small-Scale Women Farmers Organization in Nigeria (SWOFON) Georgina Akunyiba said members of the group in the state-operated through cooperative societies from where they pulled resources together to manage a group farm and also assist each other with funding – due to lack of access to finance.

There have also been allegations of wrong people hijacking farm inputs meant for genuine farmers.

Under Nanono, the situation became worse, with allegations of politicians hijacking inputs meant for farmers – a phenomenon earlier addressed by one of his predecessors Akinwunmi Adesina.

A Sokoto State-based farmer Sule Ahmed accused the minister of not sending extension workers to remote areas and not supporting farmers with tools needed to boost output.

“When you have insecurity in the country, are you not supposed to ensure there is no food crisis in the country by supporting commercial agriculture? Are you not supposed to send experts to teach farmers about climate change and other issues? We had no support under him. No technology to drive farming under him,” he said.

Food Inflation under Nanono

Under Nanono, food inflation rose from 13.39 per cent in July 2019 to 21.10 per cent in July 2021.

While the galloping prices of food products could be attributed to insecurity and monetary policies of the CBN, Nanono also shares in the blame for not raising the productivity of farmers and not galvanising private sector-led investments.

In cocoa, rubber and other crops, which brought in the highest non-oil export earnings during former Minister Adesina, there are now lack of investment, old trees, ageing farmers and low productivity.

The National Secretary of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) Yunusa Halidu said all efforts of farmers through the government had not yielded results, and they were now looking towards the private sector.

“Even the Anchor Borrowers Scheme, people take loans and there is nothing to show for it. People take loans, and they don’t return it because they think it is national cake,” Halidu told The ICIR.

Allegations of graft also marred Nanono’s tenure. On December 10, 2020, he awarded a N30 million controversial contract to EL-Shukhur Multi Buz Nigeria Limited to construct a Friday Mosque at an undisclosed Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Borno State.

Findings by The ICIR showed that the N30 million contract was questionable, breaching the Public Procurement Act (PPA) 2007.

A check on the database of registered contractors doing business with the Federal Government and hosted on the Bureau of Public Procurement’s portal revealed that the company was not a recognised service provider and was also not registered with the BPP, contrary to the provisions of the PPA.

Apart from the contractor’s Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) registration, there is no publicly verifiable evidence to validate its compliance with the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) contributions and tax remittance.

Halidu, earlier quoted,  faulted the action of the minister, saying it was a misplaced priority.

A farmer in Ekiti State Shadiya Sodimu, who spoke with The ICIR, said construction of the mosque was one of the reasons farmers did not feel the impact of government interventions advertised on television.

Sodimu said the government claimed it was spending a huge amount of money on agriculture, but the farmers were not feeling the impact.

”A lot of the time, the government has said it is spending much on agriculture, but what are they spending it on? On mosque. How does that help us? We still go to the farm with hoes and cutlass. I have never got a fertiliser from the government,” Sodimu said.

Under Nanono, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission recovered N16 billion from Agriculture Ministry.

The ICPC Chairman Bolaji Owasanoye said in September 2020 that the ministry moved the money into an offline account in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in a way that it would not be monitored by the Government Integrated Financial and Management Information System (GIFMIS), which is targeted at improving government’s economic and financial management.

Nonono was also infamous for publicly saying that N30 would be enough to feed an adult Nigerian. People wondered whether he lived on a different planet or just a political statement to please President Muhammadu Buhari.

The All Farmers Association of Nigeria is in court with him for attempting to change the association’s leadership, which analysts say is unbecoming of a minister.

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