Nigeria: Changing the Paradigm for Agricultural Synergy and Productivity, By Victoria Fajemilehin
In Nigeria, the clamour for change, though real and much sought after, is not matched by any active enthusiasm in the sector where change is most needed – agriculture. For far too long, agriculture in Nigeria has been handled as an engagement for development, not as a profit-making enterprise that requires demand-driven merchandise.
At the heart of the seventeen global goals for sustainable development are wellbeing, equality and systems. Yet, poverty in this age and time is beyond the inability to afford or provide food, shelter and clothes, it surpasses the inability to access good health, education and security systems. It is expressed in the scarcity of dignity and the incapacity to escape the debilitating circumstances in which our country seems stuck. The irony, and maybe, the beauty of Nigeria and Nigerians is the ability to quickly adapt to the realities we experience – falling oil prices, epileptic power supply, rising exchange rate; come what may, we always manage to the keep the ball rolling – even if there be no wheel, or worse still, no ball.
The reality of what we seek and the truth of what we need are not necessarily one and the same thing. In Nigeria, the clamour for change, though real and much sought after, is not matched by any active enthusiasm in the sector where change is most needed – agriculture. For far too long, agriculture in Nigeria has been handled as an engagement for development, not as a profit-making enterprise that requires demand-driven merchandise.
In its mission to solve the complex problems of poverty, Synergos Nigeria is driven to facilitate the transition of agriculture from subsistence farming to the business of agriculture through a programme, State Partnership for Agriculture (SPA).
The indigenous case studies of business empires and investments powered by agriculture: Cocoa House, the groundnut pyramids and more are easily forgotten and relegated to the background with no accessible explanations or case studies to learn the lessons of what happened then or how it was achieved. In the same manner, the success stories of households supported by agriculture have been largely overlooked in the wave of neo-industrialisation and the conspicuous wealth of a few from oil. More so, the products of monies gotten from farms of cocoa, oil palm, cassava and groundnut that were invested in education to birth lawyers, doctors and engineers, have evolved to regard farmers as the scum of the society. Little wonder the mechanisation of farming is lackluster, the business of agriculture is largely ignored and marred by ethnic clashes and the average sexagenarian farmer in Nigeria is on the verge of extinction.
In its mission to solve the complex problems of poverty, Synergos Nigeria is driven to facilitate the transition of agriculture from subsistence farming to the business of agriculture through a programme, State Partnership for Agriculture (SPA). Critical conversations started to shift agriculture from subsistence farming to small, medium and large scale businesses, in a two day event themed, “Exploring the State Agricultural System” to launch the SPA funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Every stakeholder: small-scale farmers, women farmers, cooperatives, private investors, development partners as well as representatives of state and federal government gathered in clusters of discussion to examine and address gaps in the present agricultural system in Nigeria. These varied stakeholders came to a general conclusion that agriculture is the sole viable sector in Nigeria at the moment, capable of generating quick economic returns for the country. However, it was largely acknowledged that the present agricultural system needs an acute shift across the value chain to deliver on many practical things, not least, an industry in processing and all year agriculture. To this end, the stakeholders developed a 2020 vision to guide Synergos in the implementation of the SPA framework in the three states of the pilot programme – Benue, Kogi, and most recently, Kaduna State. The event amplified the primacy of partnerships between stakeholders.
It is in changing our ways and developing new ways of tackling inherent problems that our vision will be practiced. In due course, our opportunities will emerge from the shadows and our habits will stack up to deliver the greatness of this country called Nigeria.
The Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, and the Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri were part of those who examined the SPA framework and the vision 2020 mapping for agriculture in Nigeria, with the Minister praising the initiative and affirming the need for concerted efforts to revolutionise the agricultural sector in the country. Senator Lokpobiri noted how partnerships are critical to driving increased agricultural productivity and affirmed the potentials of the sector to become the main revenue generator in Nigeria if properly managed. While stating that Nigeria spends about 20 billion dollars on food importation, a trend that has to stop for Nigeria to grow, he promised that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari will work to create enabling policies and environment to support indigenous farmers and ensure Nigeria becomes a force to reckon with within the agricultural sector. The Country Director for Synergos Nigeria, Adewale Ajadi, reiterated that there is no better time than now to unleash the vast potential of agriculture in Nigeria.
Synergos is centered on collaboration, bridging leadership, personal reflection and systems thinking – all critical values for fundamental and sustainable change. The focus of the organisation for strengthening the shift for outright change in systems is not one limited to agriculture. It revolves around the complexity of what is needed to sweep across all our systems in a holistic intervention sandwiching both bottom-up and top-down. The inherent consciousness that we are curious to discover what needs to be known and the humility of habit to learn, unlearn and relearn are key. In the words of Muhammed Yunus, “Poverty is not created by poor people. It has been created and sustained by the economic and social systems that we have designed for ourselves; the institutions and concepts that make up that system; the policies that we pursue.” It is in changing our ways and developing new ways of tackling inherent problems that our vision will be practiced. In due course, our opportunities will emerge from the shadows and our habits will stack up to deliver the greatness of this country called Nigeria.
Victoria Fajemilehin is with Synergos Nigeria and writes from Abuja.