Dr. Adesina’s agriculture reforms: Food for thought, food for the stomach

December 18, 2014
4 mins read

LET me honestly admit that the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, permanently leaves me breathless in my effort to understand the statistics he regularly churns out about the successes Nigeria’s agricultural sector has recorded under his watch, in the past three years. My friend, MD Abubakar, is one of the most successful Nigerian farmers today, and his Kano-based farm has become an example of modern agricultural production and management.

Early this week, I called him just to seek clarifications about agricultural policies today. MD Abubakar confirmed that Dr. Adesina has put in place incentives that are redounding to the benefit of people like him, who have turned agriculture into big time business. Dr. Adesina is one of the most visible ministers of the Jonathan administration,and he is regularly launching new agricultural initiatives. He is also a lover of media exposure, regularly winning awards at well-publicized media events at home and abroad.

Yet, it is looking like there are some people who don’t accept the way that Dr. Adesina seemed to have almost concluded that agricultural policies in Nigeria began to make sense only when he happened on the scene three years ago.

Last week, Alhaji Adamu Bello, Minister of Agriculture, between 2001 and 2007, described as “uncharitable and misplaced” claims of achievement by Dr. Adesina. Adamu Bello said these claims were unjustified and could not be verified from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS). As a matter of fact, according to him, the performance of the agricultural sector “in terms of GDP growth has been on decline (SIC) since former President Olusegun Obasanjo left office”.

He said that according to the NBS, “the last time that growth was recorded in the sector was 2007 with a rate of 7. 20percent. Between 2008 and 2011, the growth rate was 6.30percent, 5.90, 5.60 and 5.60. In 2012 and 2013, even though a target of 8percent was set, the growth rate was 3.97 and 4.50percent growth”. Adamu Bello said these indicate that agricultural growth rate had been declining since Obasanjo.

He was not done: “I have, however, noticed that the achievements being mentioned at various fora…have no basis except that they were stated by the Minister in charge of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina”. He disputed claims by Adesina on fertilizer subsidy:”claims that N870billion had been spent on fertilizer subsidy was (SIC) not true”. Alhaji Adamu Bello went on that “it is only God the Almighty that will judge the unfair way that past administrations are being portrayed.

To claim that there was subsidy of N870billion spent on fertilisers since the use of fertilisers was initially encouraged about 40years ago is most unfair…the subsidy between 1999 and 2007 was under N25billion…this can be verified from the Budget Office of the Federal Ministry of Finance. However, according to Dr. Adesina, the subsidy which was abused and corruptly taken was claimed to be N26billion annually over a period of 40years”. Dr. Adesina’s spokesperson, Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye, in response said that Adamu Bello did not reflect reality: “Parading those year-on-year GDP changes by the former minister has neither explained nor proved any point, Rather, it raises questions about concrete achievements the minister had to show for his role as minister during the period he was at the helm”.

It is interesting that these adversarial disputations are between ministers from two PDP administrations. But the finger pointing was not about to be exhausted. Dr. Oyeleye boasted that: “the differences, in terms of concrete performance, between Adamu Bello and Akinwumi Adesina, are poles apart.

The purpose of the minister is not to churn out flat figures, but to build verifiable sectoral statistics built on tangible performances…While the GDP figures of NBS is not in dispute, Bello needs to draw the nation’s attention to the size of the agricultural sector during his tenure compared to now. GDP figures don’t say much, especially if absolute figures are not available…Private sector investment into agriculture has risen to unprecedented level within the last three years…because of the current reforms in the agricultural sector”.But it is not only the former Agriculture Minister, Adamu Bello that has raised eyebrows about the ways of the present.

Important ministry

The NATION newspaper’s HARDBALL column of Monday, December 15, 2014, had some reservations too. HARDBALL said of Dr. Adesina: “he is good looking, always well-turned out…a technocrat…he knows some buzz words and he can render them in British or American accent…he has been charged with what is perhaps the most important ministry in the land in nearly four years…(and) he has made a mess of it”! PHEW! HARDBALL said Adesina,”in his usual manner enthused that Nigeria’s food import bill has declined by N466billion from one trillion naira in the last three years that he has been in charge”.

He added effusively that: “our national food production expanded by an additional 21million metric tonnes of food within three years. This is a record in our nation’s history”. Adesina’s statistical tour-de-force was at the inauguration of Flour Mills of Nigeria’s first commercial 10percent composite flour product.

While these are just being brought on stream, HARDBALL said Adesina told his audience that all bread, cakes and confectioneries consumed in Nigeria today, contain cassava flour. Millers are said to be telling a different story; the cassava value chain is “riddled with challenges and difficulties like a dearth of large scale investment, power and transportation”. The miller quoted said “we have not been able to get cassava processing right. The only major company doing that now in Nigeria is Thai Farms, a subsidiary of Flour Mills… (But) as far as Adesina is concerned, the whole Nigeria is eating cassava bread, while the millers tell us that we have not even planted cassava!”

The late Chinua Achebe once analyzed the Green Revolution of the Shagari Administration, during the Second Republic, 1979-1983 in a television programme. Achebe said the programme gave us a lot of food for thought and not enough food for our stomachs! As I confessed at the beginning of this piece, Dr. Adesina regularly leaves me dizzy under his spell-bounding performances, with all the statistics that he reels out about Nigeria’s agricultural sector under his watch. My friend, MD Abubakar in Kano, corroborates the work being done by the minister. While the interventions by the former Agriculture Minister, Alhaji Adamu Bello and the sideways kick from THE NATION’s HARDBALL column have helped to concentrate minds about about the real issues behind the often, mystifying statistics. In the final analysis, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina will have to do a lot more to demystify agriculture while helping us to get more food into our stomachs. In that endeavour, it will also ennoble policy if the peasant sector gets a most generous level of assistance too.



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