Exactly August 21, last year, President Muhammadu Buhari swore in 43 new ministers, of which Sabo Nanono was tasked with the job of manning the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD).
Prior to that, he had his day at the Senate’s ministerial screening, but after a brief introduction, he was asked to “take a bow and go” because of his affiliation with some lawmakers and “his wide experience and deep knowledge of the sector.”
By implication, Nigerians were robbed of knowing Mr Nanono’s blueprint for the country. The minister, however, used another window to give a glimpse into what he intended to do in the agricultural sector.
Upon resumption, the minister expressed high hopes of moving Nigeria’s agricultural sector forward. This, he said, would require the commitment of all, in order to leave his mark in the annals of the country’s history.
While receiving briefings from agricultural research agencies, Mr Nanono promised to revamp the agricultural research institutes across the country to promote sectoral growth and food security in the country.
“I want to be very serious with the research institutes, so that they will research on improved seeds that will be suitable to our environment, as the institutes are the engine of growth in the sector,” he was quoted to have said.
A month after his appointment, Mr Nanono flew to Hungary to attend the Hungarian Agricultural and Food Expo (OMÉK).
There, he met with the Hungarian agricultural minister, István Nagy, to broker a potential Nigerian-Hungarian agricultural partnership.
Both officials affirmed the essence of using technology to boost food production, combat food shortages and climate change, as well as securing Hungarian scholarship programmes for Nigerians.
Meanwhile, in the bid to mitigate unemployment rate in the country, the minister promised to create about 300,000 jobs in Plateau State through its Agriculture Mechanisation Scheme.
On his return to Nigeria from Hungary, he commissioned the Hungarian Demonstration plot established at the headquarters of the National Agricultural Seed Council, on October 17 last year.
The 0.4 hectare land commissioned was used to demonstrate the effect of the Hungarian agric invention called Water Retainer (an organic soil conditioner) which involves two Hungarian hybrid maize varieties and two tomato varieties.
With the cooperation of the National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), and supervision of the Hungarian Agricultural Innovation Centre (NAIK), the official trials of the tomato varieties were to commence this year.
More so, before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the agricultural ministry flagged off a soft loan scheme with the hope of boosting food crop production and agricultural mechanisation.
This involved the distribution of more than 10,000 tractors, fertilisers, chemicals and seedlings to farmers in the 774 LGAs in Nigeria
“What we need is that the beneficiaries must be genuine farmers and natives of the participating local councils,” Mr Nanono said at the time.
In a similar manner, the FMARD initiated the mechanisation hubs in 650 local governments to support the farming communities.
“The mechanisation hubs which will be stocked with modern farming equipment, like tractors, power tiller, and harvesters among others, will also serve as centres for training the farmers on modern farming techniques,” the minister noted.
Eventually, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved a loan facility of $1.2 billion to finance the mechanisation of agriculture in the country.
Moreover, to enhance farmers’ access to agricultural financing in the country, the federal government earmarked N600 billion for the sector.
While the COVID-19 lockdown measures imposed by the Nigerian government took a toll on agricultural activities and food systems, the government launched the Agriculture for Food and Job Plan (AFJP), a component of the Nigeria Economic and Sustainability Plan (NESP), so as to cushion the impacts of the pandemic on the farmers and the economy.
Also, upon the commencement of this year’s planting season, the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) certified 81,000 metric tons of seeds across the country, so as to enable farmers’ have easy access to viable and high yielding inputs at affordable prices.
In addition President Muhammadu Buhari directed Mr Nanono and other key players of the sector to join the already existing 12-member Presidential Task Force (PTF) for COVID-19. The minister later flagged-off the distribution of agricultural inputs to Nigerian farmers across the country.
This, he said, was aimed at boosting agricultural production in the country and averting food scarcity in 2021.
Some of the inputs distributed to the smallholder farmers include varieties of rice, maize, and wheat seeds including cocoa and palm seedlings, among others.
Meanwhile, 17 years after the African Union passed the Maputo Declaration of 2003, which among other things stipulates the allocation of 10 per cent of federal budgets to development of agriculture, Nigeria is yet to implement the agreement.
Despite the continuous claims of subsiding of farm inputs for easy access by Nigerian farmers in different zones of the country by the federal government, many smallholder farmers still lament lack of access to inputs and subventions.
Also, there seems to be no distinct database for Nigerian farmers that can serve as a guide to initiate policies that can effectively and efficiently drive sustainable agricultural practices.
Even when it is glaring that Nigeria’s agriculture sector has the potential to reduce unemployment rate in the country, there no clear evidence that the minister has fulfilled his promise of creating 300,000 jobs through the Agriculture Mechanisation initiative, and many more initiatives.
Also, it is safe to say that the Agricultural Promotion Policy (APP), which will elapse in four months, has not fulfilled its purpose.
Similarly, Nigeria still imports a significant amount of food, and is also not earning significant foreign exchange from agriculture.
Razaq Fatai, the policy lead for agriculture and inclusive growth at the ONE Campaign, said Mr Nanono’s performance can be rated as fair, but added that more effort should still be rolled out in order to achieve food security in the country.
“I think it’s only fair. We’ve seen the development of new policies and some level of support for farmers when COVID-19 hit. But the ministry still has a long way to go in realising its mandate of ensuring stable supply of affordable food for all.”
“The cost of doing agribusinesses remains elevated due to several unending issues: access to quality inputs, infrastructure shortage, and dysfunctional food market,” he added.
He said ”without adequate and targeted investment in the sector” and building of competitive food production and processing clusters, ”Nigeria will not achieve food security and inclusive growth”.
“Efforts should be made to lower the cost of doing agribusinesses,” he added.