Agricultural Transformation: Fish As The Missing Link

Posted: September 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

By: Kayode Odunaro

Among the various aspects of the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan, none in my opinion is as important as the agricultural aspect. In a country where poverty, estimated to be in the region of 70% of the 160million, is easily denominated in hunger, lack of proper nutrition and food insecurity, one sure way of reducing poverty is a transformation of the agricultural sector.

All other transformational exertion can only be meaningful and sustainable in the long run if the agricultural transformation is successful. No need going to the moon when majority of your citizens can’t feed well.

It is good at this point to appreciate the effort of the minister of agriculture and rural development Dr. Adewunmi Adesina whose enthusiasm for the job of making a success of his work is incomparable among other ministers of the Federal Executive Council.

At the Ogun State Economic Summit recently where one heard him speaking about government policies leading to the elimination of fertilizer cabal, promotion of local production of rice and cassava, proposed reintroduction of privately run Marketing Boards, introduction of improved varieties of cocoa and palm trees among other ongoing initiatives, it was clear all things being equal that at last we have a man that can turn around the fortune of agriculture in Nigeria with the benefits of not only alleviating poverty but diversifying our economy.

Of note are the areas of priority that the Minister is pursuing fanatically to transform our agriculture for poverty reduction, diversification of the economy and also conservation of our foreign exchange.

One is talking about rice and wheat importation that swallows our foreign exchange in gulp in spite of local production and/or alternatives. Indeed, one cannot fault his fixation on saving us foreign exchange. From available figures dished out by the minister in his advocacy for us to consume what we produce or have alternatives to, Nigeria spend N356 billion on rice imports annually.

The sad aspect as revealed by the minister is that most of our rice imports are expired rice of about 15 years! Sadder still is the fact that in virtually all geopolitical zones of the country rice production is going on or could be embarked upon on a commercial scale.

So one is in total embrace with the minister on the need to transform this importation anomaly to save our foreign exchange.

His promise of using high yielding seeds for local production as well as improving value added to the ensuing production through establishment of rice mill is a welcome development. The initiative has all the potential of saving us foreign exchange as well as creating employment and of course forms a critical aspect of our food security.

Definitely we can meet the target of total ban of rice import by 2015.

The second area of priority is that of cassava. Well this is a plant that produces not only staple food across the nation but also raw material for industrial uses. Also it is a plant that can be cultivated in at least 80% of Nigeria arable land.

But Dr. Adesina’s drive is to make this plant a replacement for wheat flour in the production of bread, another staple in Nigerian menu. This angle is equally geared towards addressing a dependence that is making us lose billions of dollars in foreign exchange for something that we have an alternative here.

Our annual wheat import from official record cost is N635 billion. So anything to reduce or eliminate this huge expenditure is a welcome development. The promotion of cassava based bread is a step in this direction and the presidency has fully bought into this if what we read and see demonstrated is anything to go by.

From the farmers producing cassava to Bakers making bread and other confectionaries, incentives are being put in place to ensure that this versatile crop is used to save us foreign exchange, improve rural farmer’s income as well as ensure patronage of local products.

Equally a higher tariff is expected to come on stream soon on wheat anytime soon.

Farmers, a key variable in the transformation equation benefits through the policy of Growth Enhancement Scheme, GES, which aims to make farming enterprise a wholly commercial venture. Apart from rice and cassava, farmers engaged in cocoa and palm production are expected to benefit from the scheme which basically subsidized their operations.

The e-wallet programme to effectuate this is on stream.
But in my view a critical aspect is missing in the ongoing agricultural transformation. Not much is being done for now about transforming aquaculture and fish farming which in the last decade of so has gain some popularity among Nigerians interested in investing in agriculture.

Let me state my subjectivism at this point as one is involved in the popular trends of investing in agriculture. Of course Nigeria is blessed in the area of aquaculture and fishery. About 9 states have coastal boundaries with the sea and many inland states have rivers where fishing activities take place. We should ordinarily be able to supply our fish need which in my view is of essence in adequate nutrition and food security as there is no religious or social restriction on fish consumption.

But that is not the case as there is a serious shortfall in meeting demand. According to Dr. Gbola Akande, Director of Fish Technology at Nigerian Institute of Ocean and Marine Resource, NIOMR, annual fish demand in Nigeria is 2.5 million tonnes with local production from all sources amounting to a paltry 650,000 tonnes.

The reasons for this shortfall range from polluted waters, piracy and illegal fishing by foreign fishing trawlers to lack of development of aquaculture and fish farming.

So we end up expending about $800 million annually importing fish to meet the shortfall in local production.

This I think is as scandalous as the case of rice and wheat if not more so considering the health and human well being implications. Not only is fish a ready source of protein, a major component of any balance diet, it contains all manner of vitamins and chemicals for human health.

Regrettably, so far the transformation agenda has not touched this sector and its practitioners. As in the case of rice the shortfall can be met or greatly address through local production through aquaculture and fish farming.

For now fish farmers are not getting the positive treatment that the above mention sectors are getting in spite of the fact that the sector will also save scare foreign exchange, provide employment that is attractive to young graduates and ensure food security.

Many budding fish farmers that have invested millions are not only struggling with inputs like feeds and fingerlings but end up not having a structure market for their produce, which considering the level of poverty as define above is anomalous.

Many homes eat meal that are often devoid of or lack sufficient quantity of protein and this is where massive fish production could come in to the rescue. What one is advocating is a subsidy regime for fish farmers and yes a government inspired marketing boards to engage in value adding as well as marketing.

Equally the now almost abandoned Fish Farm Estate Initiative should be reinvigorated as a sure way of increasing production in the short run. I am sure the Minister can structure out incentives that will not leave fish farmers without any encouragement or incentives to invest under the GES.

Over the years most fish farmers that have sought help from government have tales of filling of forms and forming cooperatives to no effects.

I recently join one association and it was stories of government raising and dashing their hopes as nothing is heard year in year out after filling forms and forming groups.

On a lighter note, one recall a recent article by the spokesperson of president Dr. Rueben Abati on dietary routine of the president to the effect that instead of roasted turkey and other lavish sweet tooth meals, our president enjoy fish pepper soup and cassava bread.

That is indeed reassuring for as a Niger Delta man, one is sure that the president will not go for frozen imported fish pepper soup but fresh fish that are recently caught or reared. So one is sure that as the budget rounds for 2013 commences, he may not frown on a new initiatives that will increase our local fish production. The national and personal interest will ensure a favorable look.

We need a holistic agricultural transformation that is not into any fishy business for fish farmers. In support of this advocacy for local production instead of import is the recent fact from Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON, to the effect that in the last three years, increased local production of cement has saved Nigeria foreign exchange worth N270, 000,000,000!

What more evidence do we need for local production?
 
Chief Kayode Odunaro
125, Oke Ilewo Road, Abeokuta
kayodunaro@hotmail.com 

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