2014 budget: Agric tranformation agenda wobbles under lean allocation

okonju iwela

okonju iwela

The Federal Government impending ban on importation of rice, weat and fish among others staple commodities last week drew flaks from Nigerian who expressed fears that the Jonathan administration may be shooting itself in the leg with the policy.
This development, according to stakeholders, portends grave danger for the economy, especially for revenue generation for the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), which collects huge import duties on these commodities.
More worrisome to those that spoke was that increasing tariff on wheat, and rice in a bid to encourage local production of the products to attain food sufficiency may also threaten government agric tranformation agenda.
Though the plan is to take effect in 2015, just about a year from now, stakeholders are worried that the paltry N66,644,675,939 total allocations for the Ministry of Agriculture in the 2014 budget proposal may not facilitate effective delivery of  government’s food sufficiency dream.
For instance the moment, cultivation of rice in the country is grossly insufficient for local consumption, making the recourse to importation to bridge the gap imperative.
But stakeholders in the agriculture sector have argued that the budget as proposed cannot in anyway guarantee food sufficiency, especially as government is planning a total ban of some of the food items.
While they argued that the decision to ban these items was a step in the right direction as it would support the growth of the agric sector, the fear was that the timing was too short, considering that there was really nothing on ground to kick start the process of food self sufficiency policy.
For 2014, the combined budget proposals for the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources at N67 billion, which is N3 billion lower than the N70 billion allotted the sector in 2013,which is a mere 1.6 per cent of the budget and contrary to the agreement entered into by African governments in the Maputo Declaration, which seeks to commit not less than 10 per cent of annual budgets to agriculture to achieve economic growth rates that could minimise poverty.
Commenting on the development, Director General of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr. Muda Yusuf, argued that the decision to ban these food products without growing local capacity in those areas would be counterproductive to the transformation agenda of the Federal Government.
Yusuf explained that given the critical role of agriculture in the country, Nigerians had expected a situation where there would be improvement in budget above what was approved last year.
Though he added that the 2013 Appropriation Act of N4,987,220,425,601 was about N300 billion higher than the N4.6 trillion proposed budget for 2014, this definitely may have necessitated the low allocation for the sector.
‘‘I am not saying the N67 billion allocated to the agric sector this year is sufficient, considering the fact that government is set to place a ban on most of the food items available to the common man. One would have expected to see an improvement in the sector allocation,’’ he said.
Yusuf maintained that the N35 billion capital allocation to the sector was grossly inadequate to cater for the planned ban in 2015, saying the development will create a distortion in the entire agric value chain, thus causing food crises.
He said the development of the agriculture sector was not a responsibility that should be left in the hands of the Federal Government alone but should be a collaborative effort of states and local governments both of which have roles to play.
Commenting on the development, Publicity Secretary, National Association of Small Medium Enterprise (NASME), Mr. Kingsley Anaroke, faulted the agric sector budget for the year, saying the proposed budget was not in tandem with the reality on ground.
Anaroke cautioned the Federal Government against creating a situation where the country would be faced with food scarcity, adding that the proposed plan to ban some food items is not advisable at the moment.
Anaroke argued that Nigeria cannot produce enough rice to feed itself not to talk of export because the capacity to achieve that was not in anyway available.
The NASME spokesman explained that government should not be in a hurry to ban these food items, but, should rather create infrastructure that would be a buffer to support the agric sector in order to operate at optimal level.
The budget according to him cannot in anyway transform the sector, let alone create food sufficiency for the country.
He alleged that the ban on some of these food products was a way to empowering the political class to the detriment of Nigerians who struggle to feed on a daily basis.
Anaroke argued further that the budget and the policy itself are not  based on statistical facts and figures, saying if this were to be so, government would have realized that the country was not self sufficient in rice and fish production.
‘‘We are being deceived as a country almost on a daily basis. We in this sector know all these antics. It is in this country that we have witnessed several policy reversals. During the first term of Obasanjo, there was ban on rice. But when Nenadi Usman came on board, she reversed the policy, now we are banning again to later reverse. How can we move forward like this, he queried.

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