In a significant display of governmental showmanship, President Bola Tinubu recently signed into law Nigeria’s budget of N28.78 trillion for the year 2024.However, there has been a cloud of skepticism hanging over the country’s ability to fulfill its commitments to the agricultural sector as analysts and stakeholders have raised concerns over the N362.9 billion provision to the agriculture sector.
This has prompted debate over whether or not the government is truly invested in supporting agriculture and improving food security, considering that the level of investment falls short of the country’s commitment to the Maputo Declaration of 2003, which called for 10 per cent of national budgets to be dedicated to agricultural development. Criticism of the budget for agriculture has focused not only on the overall amount allocated, but also on where and how the money will be spent. Also,there are serious concerns that the N102.5 billion allocated to NADFUND, while a significant amount, may not be used effectively.
Some of the most alarming aspects of the budget involve the large amounts allocated for expenses that may not be directly related to agricultural development. For instance, N1.2 billion is earmarked for the purchase of an office building and furniture, N70 million for office furniture and fittings, and N450 million for the purchase of operational vehicles.
According to critics,these expenses, while potentially necessary, seem to take up a disproportionate amount of the budget. The projected expenditures also raised the question of whether the budget is really meant to support the agricultural sector, or simply to maintain the status quo, considering that the farmers and other stakeholders who rely on the sector are the ones who will ultimately suffer if the budget is not used effectively.
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ActionAid Nigeria (AAN), Small-Scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON), the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and other agriculture sector stakeholders have described the N362.9 billion total budget for the agriculture sector “extremely low,” noting that it accounted for less than 2 per cent of the whole budget of the federal government.
Azubike Nwokoye, programme manager for food and agriculture at ActionAid Nigeria, specifically highlighted that the budget for the agriculture sector has not exceeded 2 per cent of the overall budget for the past seven years.
Voicing their opinion at a joint news conference held recently in Abuja, they emphasised that, as the industry with the greatest potential to transform the economy and provide jobs for a large number of young people, agriculture needs to receive adequate support from the national budget.
Godswill Aguiyi, associate programme officer at Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), in an article published on his Linkedin page,observed that the N362.9 billion for agriculture is approximately 1.2 per cent or 1.5 per cent of the total national budget depending on the gross amount used.
Against this background Aguiyi argued that the agricultural sector in Nigeria is hugely underfunded, and the amount falls below the CAADP benchmark.
Aguiyi’s comments further highlighted the discrepancy between Nigeria’s stated commitments and its actual investment in agriculture. He noted that despite its pledge at the Malabo Summit in 2014 to allocate at least 10 per cent of the national budget to agriculture, the country has over the past seven years,consistently fallen short of that target. This, he noted, is not only a problem in terms of overall funding, but also in terms of the allocation of funds within the sector, as the most important thing is not the overall budget amount, but rather how the money is spent.
The AGRA associate programme officer noted that out of the N362.9 billion, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security was allocated N124.2 billion, around 34 per cent of the total amount for the agricultural sector, while the National Agricultural Development Fund (NADFund) also gulped 102.5 billion 28 per centof the funds with no clear and meaningful line item.
He stated further,“So,over 60 % of the agriculture sector’s budget is held by 2 agencies FMAFS and NADFund. The remaining N136.3 billion is split among 45 implementing institutions. Although the sharing formula is unclear, however, my quick perusal of the budget lines of many of the listed implementing agencies shows a system of copy and paste from previous budget lists and poor prioritisation.
With regards to what constitutes the FMAFS budget line items, it would interest you to know that 93% of the budget is for capital expenditure, which is desirable however, the first capital budget line item is ERGP10175045 (Provision and Installation of Solar Powered Streetlight in Rural Communities in the 6 Geo-Political Zones) for 739.7 million. This budget line has been featured as an ongoing activity for the last 3 years or more, raising the question of what the main concern of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture is.”
Aguiyi raised several important points about the challenges facing the agricultural sector in Nigeria. He noted that rain-fed agriculture is the norm, and that irrigation infrastructure is in poor condition. He also pointed out that there are few trained extension workers to provide assistance to farmers, and that the cost of agro-inputs such as fertilizer and seeds is often prohibitively high. He argued that the budget should focus on addressing these issues rather than on less effective programs. By addressing these challenges, he believes that Nigeria can improve its food security and stimulate economic growth.
Aguiyi called on the relevant National Assembly committees on agriculture to investigate the state of the sector and address any issues that are preventing it from fulfilling its objectives. He stressed that the budget should reflect the government’s commitment to developing agriculture, and called for immediate action to be taken to address the challenges facing the sector.
Ehime Alex, an agro-economist and senior lecturer at the Rivers State University provided further insight into the issue of the inadequate budget for the agriculture sector. He pointed out that the opportunity to create a robust budget for agriculture was missed in the past, and that despite the urgent need to support the sector, this has not been done. The agriculture expert, stated that the inability to create a suitable budget for agriculture is a common problem, with stakeholders continuing to repeat the same mistakes.
Alex also noted that income from agriculture can be volatile and unpredictable, as farm businesses are price-takers, and the determinants of the prices they receive can be out of control. He stressed further that it is also the main reason farmers seek additional working capital, as they need financing to meet day-to-day costs.
In his words, “Since agricultural development is one of the most powerful tools to end extreme poverty, boost shared prosperity, and feed a projected number of 10 billion persons by the year 2050, may I assert that an ideal budget for a country that is blessed with vast resources from agriculture must be given the utmost priority. In so doing, the crops, livestock, fisheries, and forestry subsectors will begin to offer commensurate returns, and all things remain equal.
If the government is serious about food security, I will be left to adduce that three per cent is too low for a budget allocation and should be placed at least 10 per cent for the first five years as that would do an upward review after that.”
Alex further emphasised that the agricultural budget should not only focus on providing financial support, but also on setting the policy direction for collaboration among stakeholders in the agriculture sector, including farmers, agribusinesses, input suppliers, extension workers, and government agencies. He highlighted the importance of domestic food security, as well as access to global markets, which can provide new opportunities for farmers and agribusinesses. He stressed that this can only be achieved through effective collaboration and coordination among the various stakeholders
“Indeed, it’s now a matter of priority. Sadly, some of our leaders do not see agriculture as a priority. The president must be committed to its implementation if we want to ensure food security and create more employment,” he added.
Olufemi Ajayi, a lecturer and expert on agricultural policy, in the Department of Agricultural Extension, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, noted that the 2024 allocation had further shown that agriculture had never had it so good in any regime. He argued that past governments have also failed to properly prioritise food production, and this continues to be a major issue.
Speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos, Ajayi said that food should always come first but like the past government, food production is not given the right allocation. He also bemoaned that the 2024 budget allocation for the agricultural sector will not make any difference or bridge the gap in the nation’s food deficit.
“Food should come first, but like the past government, nobody is giving due attention to agriculture, maybe because of the kind of assumption that farmers have no say.
“Government believes that farmers cannot protest whatever we give them; they cannot go on strike and they cannot say they are no longer producing. What is before us now, even when they want to produce, they cannot produce; they find it difficult to produce,” he said.
Ajayi identified some specific challenges that need to be addressed in order to increase food production. He argued that the interest rates on agriculture loans are too high and need to be reformed in order to make them more affordable for farmers. He also stressed the importance of increasing the amount of land available for farming, as well as working with extension officers who have direct knowledge of the farmers and their needs.
Ajayi also emphasised the need to create an environment that is conducive to both smallholder farmers and large-scale investors. He argued that opening up new lands for farming and making it easier for investors to access financing would help to stimulate economic growth and improve food security.