By Fenny J Fwa
Brilliant, articulate, experienced, achiever and passionate. These sums up your sterling qualities which are stated neither for sycophancy nor for a public relation job to seek for favour. Your resume and experiences in the public service bear testimony to these superlatives. You have seen it all in the two arms of government, having been elected as Member of Benue State house of Assembly in 1979 and a short spell in the executive arm of government as minister in the Second Republic by the Shagari administration where you carved a niche for yourself as a competent public officer, which positively ingrained your name in the minds of discerning Nigerians.
These positive character traits of yours, Chief Ogbe, was further reinforced when I worked closely with you in 2001. The Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF) had at one of its meeting constituted a committee on the accelerated agricultural growth of the North after listening to presentation on the matter by the trio of you, Dr Shetima Mustafa and Admiral Murtala Nyako. The three of you were eloquent and resourceful in the presentation to their Excellences. The committee had one Egr Bawa Magaji as chairman and I was the secretary. The three of you and some Agricultural specialists from ABU were consultants. After brain-storming for over three months, I put up the resolutions in the form of a blueprint for the agricultural development of the northern states. It was a masterpiece and was eventually presented and submitted to the NGF, which kept it on the shelves and never implemented it. I was able to locate the report in my archives and I hereby attached the Executive summary to this letter.
The report though very thorough, it only addressed the food needs of the northern state. The template has now changed and more holistic taking into consideration not only the food needs of the country, but making agriculture a major source of export of the country.
Being a very experienced and resourceful person you are already aware of the challenges and you have been highlighting them. I will therefore not belabour you with enumerating them, but proffer solutions some of which may appear to be painful to the generality of citizens in the short term, but may be beneficial in the long run
To encourage and motivate local producers of agricultural products, there must be strong resolve on the part of the leadership of the country to ban major imported foodstuff chiefly rice, fish, frozen chicken and meat, wheat, sugar, milk for the purpose of protecting our local products, which may not compete with high standard products from abroad.
Secondly it will stop foreign exchange bleeding as food imports have been draining our foreign reserve, thereby weakening our local currency. Presently our food imports drains our foreign reserve to the tune of N1.3 trillion, which is totally unacceptable. If this proposal may breach any trade treaty we have signed not to restrict imports we can increase taxes on such items by about 100%. This will drastically reduce the local consumption of such luxury items thereby reducing the bleeding of our foreign reserves.
Honourable Minister Sir, to boost agricultural growth we must introduce waivers for the importation of critical farming inputs and implements. This is for the purpose of discarding our traditional mode of production and going for full-scale mechanized agricultural production
For our agricultural products to be acceptable and patronised internationally, we must get the appropriate high yielding seeds and adopt modernised method of production thereby leading to high agricultural growth.
Sir, it is gladdening to hear from you that there shall be a return to production of our major cash crops that were major import revenue earners. It further gladdens my heart that part of your template is to resuscitate the boards that quicken the growth of these crops in the sixties and seventies. I want to add that much as these crops are important in the quest to diversify our mono economy, equal attention must also be paid to the aspect of agriculture that is geared towards food consumption locally and for exports. These sub-sectors of agriculture will focus on the accelerated growth of items like rice, wheat, fish, sugar, chickens and livestock. This will be pursued simultaneously with new money-spinning crops like Cassava and Gum Arabic.
While you are engaged in giving us policy direction in the production of raw agricultural products, you must put in place the establishment of agro-allied industries to process these raw materials in semi or finished goods ready for sale at local and international markets. There is also the management of the surplus from farmers which must be properly stored in our underutilised silos built in all nooks and crannies of the nation
All these lofty ideas cannot see the light of the day if there is no adequate funding. Consequently Honourable Minister Sir, you must look for ways and means of sourcing for funds to execute these value-based agricultural policies. Apart from the normal budgetary allocations, there are substantial funds that are laying idle in CBN solely for agricultural purposes. There is also the agricultural bank owned by the Federal Government, the African Development Bank, the World Bank and other international donor agencies. Government will after packaging its programmes create enabling environment for real farmers to access these funds. Agro-allied industries are also to benefit from such funds, especially from bank of industries.
These are just few of the numerous proposals of revamping agriculture which will not only diversify the economy, but create jobs, make us self-sufficient in food production and also be a major source of revenue both locally and internationally. Knowing your pedigree very well, you have greater ideas than these that will enhance our agricultural growth.
Finally It is advisable to establish an agency that will work tirelessly to fine-tune the blueprint for agricultural development and ensure their meticulous execution. This agency will be peopled by intellectuals, experienced and practical farmers, captains of industries, financial managers. They will work out short and long-term policies and programmes that will bring about quantum leap in our agricultural growth, incorporating the ideas generated above and others initiated by them.
Honourable Minister Sir, there is no time to waste on this important aspect of our developmental needs. All hands must therefore, be on deck to expeditiously fast-track the impending agricultural revolution. I wish you all the best as you undertake this onerous and challenging task.
Fenny Fwa wrote in from the Adamawa Ministry of information, Yola Adamawa State