The Promise: Modernize the sector and change Nigeria from being a country of self-subsistence farmers to that of a medium and large scale-farming nation. (Source: APC Manifesto, An Honest Contract with Nigeria)
Farmers in dilemma as FG delays farm inputs
By Hussein Yahaya, Vincent A. Yusuf & Ahmed Dio Agbo | Publish Date: Jun 14 2016 5:00AM
A group of women working on a ginger farm in Jere, Kaduna State
…Say we want action not talk
…Distribution starts this month – FG
Farmers across the country are lamenting the delay in the 2016 distribution of farm inputs including fertilizers to them under the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GES) started by the immediate past administration.
Some of the farmers, who spoke to Daily Trust, were worried by the situation as the farming season has already been far spent in some parts of the country.
“I don’t know what we will use the fertilizer for if it gets to us at the tail end of the farming season. You know farming is time bound. If you apply the fertilizer late you won’t get good results,” one of the farmers, Mr. Paul Ajijelek, lamented.
“They said it’s the budget that is delaying it, but it has since been passed, what is now holding them?,” he queried.
Another farmer, Mr. Linus Bulus, said he was seriously in doubt if the present administration can continue the GES programme due to the harsh economic situation the country is currently facing.
“The month of June is going and nothing has happened. I don’t think fertilizer distribution to farmers will work this year. Even if it works at all but comes late, the farmers will probably not have bumper harvest,” he opined.
A farmer in the Bwari area of the FCT, John Shekpeyi, said farmers are in a serious dilemma at present because there is no clear direction on what they would get from the government this year though the farming season was fast running out.
‘’What we are hearing on the radio is talk, talk, talk, no action and if you ask them, they would say it is delay in budget or so, so and so. What we are interested in is assistance in the procurement of fertilizer, improved seeds and making tractors available on subsidized rate,’’ he said.
Another farmer in Garam, a community in Niger State, Yusuf Baanu, regretted the absence of agric extension service officers that would be educating farmers on proper farming techniques.
In the last two years, Nigerian farmers, particularly the smallholder ones have witnessed a huge shift in the federal government’s farm input support.
This is further worsened by the federal government’s huge figures of debt owed the agro dealers which is twice the size of the ministry’s capital budget of about N34 billion.
Agro dealers put the debt profile at N76 billion while ministry sources put the figure at N66 billion.
This debt was inherited from the previous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan which introduced the agro dealers’ structure to implement the cell phone-driven Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) - a scheme that allowed the federal government to get input support to farmers through mobile phone text messages.
When Chief Audu Ogbeh came in as minister of agriculture, a lot was expected of the minister, who also made series of policy pronouncements toward restructuring and creating a vibrant agricultural sector that could be an alternative to oil that has distracted the nation.
Eight months down the line, access to fertilizer remains a huge concern among many farmers, who now pay through their noses to get the input in the face of absence of subsidy and the knot the government has tied on the distribution of Urea fertilizer in the country, which it said was used in bomb making by insurgents.
Chief Ogbeh, in a press briefing recently, told journalists in Abuja that the federal government has not abandoned the GES programme, but that few aspects of it would be reviewed for more effectiveness.
But the question that begs for answer is, when will the inputs be available, because farming activities should have gone far as farmers inch closer to harvest time, which starts in the next few months for some crops.
Engineer Ohiari Badmus Jatto, the director of Farm Input Supply of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture told Daily Trust that government would commence the GES programme by the end of this month (June), adding that this year, the programme will accommodate 4 to 5 million farmers.
He gave reasons for the delay in the distribution of the inputs to include the delay in the passage of the 2016 budget which made it difficult for the ministry to get the required funds.
But a source in the ministry who requested anonymity told Daily Trust that the minister had directed that the projected 5 million farmers be increased to 10 million for the 2016 fertilizer support programme.
The source however pointed at the huge amount of money government owes the agro dealers (about N66 billion) as one of the issues affecting the fertilizer supply this year.
On why government has not paid the debt, the source said about N17 billion of the N66 billion debt claim was said to be fraudulent and was been investigated adding that the ministry has set aside N20 billion to pay part of the debt on pro-rata basis but did not say if that amount will come from the ministry’s capital budget of about N34 billion.
Architect Kabiru Ibrahim, chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), in a chat with Daily Trust, posited that the best way to tackle the perennial fertilizer issue by the federal government was to remove subsidy and allow market forces of demand and supply drive the system.
According to him, the subsidy regime does not benefit the ordinary farmers but the contractors who profit from it, a position which the president of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Aminu Goronyo shared.
But many smallholder farmers, who spoke to Daily Trust, do not accept subsidy removal on the fertilizer, saying many of them will not afford it as the case now.
On the federal government’s restriction on the distribution of fertilizer for security reasons, the AFAN president said farmers are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea over the issues, stressing that unavailability of fertilizer will definitely have huge effect on crop yield across the country.
Architect Kabiru also stated that the current cost of fertilizer in the country will make it extremely difficult for farmers to break-even in their farming activities.
Currently, fertilizer price ranges from N6,000 to N10,000 countrywide, which is already weighing farmers down and raising fear over looming food scarcity and low productivity.
In Sokoto a 50kg bag of fertilizer in the open market is sold at N8,000 while in Kano, it goes for between N8, 500 to N10, 000. In states like Benue, Adamawa Taraba, Kwara and Katsina it is sold for between N6,500 to N7, 000.
The prices, farmers said, are outrageous for many smallholder farmers, who constitute over 60% percent of the country’s population.
Alhaji Maccido Bashir, an agro dealer in Sokoto State, said the money the federal government owed agro dealers had actually crippled the market as it has left many of them without the capital to sustain the business. This, according to him, is affecting supply in the market.
“If the agro dealers don’t have money to make fertilizer available, the farmers will buy the few available at high prices and that will continue to rise until government steps into the issues,” Bashir said.
Many agro dealers who spoke to Daily Trust said they are in a dilemma over government’s stand on the fertilizer issues, adding that this has affected supply in the market and the price to keep on rising.
The Notore Chemical Company, manufacturers of Urea fertilizer, said they see the restriction on the distribution of Urea fertilizer component as one of the factors affecting the supply in the market - a situation that has stepped up the variation of prices nationwide.