By Okee Sydney-Obiukwu & Florence Ebebe
Even though he is not a card-carrying member of any of Nigeria’s political parties, Mr. Charles Nwankwo, Managing Director of Wellsmart Nigeria Limited, a major oil and gas player; could well be described, as the best spokesman for this government, as far as its efforts at revamping agriculture, is concerned.
The Legend spoke with him, at his serene office in the urbane Lekki area of Lagos, taking him on some issues in the front burners, one of which is the focus on what the government wants to do to stimulate Agriculture in Nigeria, and by extension; diversify the Nigerian economy which has helplessly been mono-cultural for a long time. And he gives the verdict that: Nigeria can make agriculture its new petroleum.
According to Nwankwo, the easiest way to clear unemployment from the streets of the geo-political zones of Nigeria, is to invest massively in agriculture, in such a way as to making it appeal to the teeming population of youths in the country.
Said he, ” I really think that the best way to reduce crime, keep our kids busy and our society free from crime, is to engage the idle hands to earn a living.”
He advised the government to take advantage of the huge population of Nigeria, which is estimated to be up to 180,000, to create value through the evolution of workable policies, that will in no time stimulate profitable agriculture, thereby making it more attractive, especially to the fresh graduates, looking for were to earn a living.
Speaking at a public event , President Muhammadu Buhari had declared, “ We must face the reality that the petroleum we had depended on for so long will need support to endure as economic lifeline for the long run.
” We campaigned heavily on agriculture, and we are ready to assist as many as want to go into agricultural ventures,” the President said.
President Buhari admitted that there’s a lot of work to be done in developing Nigeria’s agricultural sector, hence the need to work with organizations like IFAD for advice. In response, Dr. Nwanze assured the president of IFAD’s willingness to help him achieve his goal for agriculture in the country.
As the country turns to agriculture for succour, there are a number of challenges the president ought to tackle in the development of the agricultural sector.
As with most businesses, capital or lack of investment is an issue for the average Nigerian farmer. Those interested in expanding their farms and consequently product output, have very little, or no funds at all.
President Buhari needs to make agricultural funds readily available for potential farmers, and local farmers hoping to expand their farms, Nwankwo advised.
Funding is not restricted to finance alone; farmers can be funded by government’s provision of machineries, and hybrid seeds at subsidized rates. However, in solving funding problems, there’s the issue of corruption to be tackled. This administration must ensure that funds are properly and directly channeled to reach targeted farmers, not embezzled by public servants.
The government needs to put in place, policies and regulations that are favorable to farmers, and will change the face of agriculture in the country. Unfavorable regulations that are in place should also be aborted. President Buhari did mention on recently, that his government would cut short the long bureaucratic processes that Nigerian farmers had to go through to get any form of assistance from government.
An increase in the percentage of budget allocation for agriculture is necessary; one that is enough to combat the challenges in the sector. Plus a ban on the importation of some locally produced food will definitely help boost production and development in agriculture, Nwankwo further reasoned.
Other problems are electricity, lack of good roads, and water management systems are major infrastructural problems that should be tackled for the improvement of the sector. Electricity is needed for the running of machines and the storage and processing of certain food crops. Farmers who could afford the practice of mechanized farming opt for manual labour as the cost of running machines with an alternative source of power is often steep.
Good roads, in Nwanwo’s view, are a catalyst to agricultural growth; they contribute directly to the amount of outputs. In Nigeria, the number of roads needed for the transportation of crops from the farm land to the cities are limited. Therefore, more road networks need to be created, and existing roads that are in bad shape, needs to be fixed for improved productivity of farmers, he said.
Regarding irrigation, he says, “there’s a need to strengthen institutional arrangements for integrated water resources management. Access to irrigation and drainage services must be improved upon for the expansion of food production in Nigeria.
“The government must solve ‘agro-illiteracy’ and develop programmes on modern agriculture for farmers. For rural farmers who barely understand English, a special programme on modern agriculture should be crafted for them in their native languages as the number of dedicated full time farmers in Nigeria are in the rural areas.
“Agro education also means instilling the importance of farming in students. This can be done by actively engaging students in actual farming practices rather than running just theory courses. However, educating farmers would be useless without necessary infrastructures put in place.
As we know, agriculture plays a major role in Nigeria’s economy, providing a labour force of over 60 percent. Though the sector has seen improvements in past years, it is yet to be fully developed and explored. President Buhari’s administration has the opportunity to leverage on agriculture and make it the country’s new petroleum, he concluded.