The 2017 Budget of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration otherwise christened the budget of hope and change seems geared to treat agriculture in the same forlorn manner successive Federal Governments did for decades. Nigerians are just beginning to see the untold potential that lies in the sector since government’s commitment to diversify the economy away from petro-dependence. Yet, the total allocation to the agricultural sector in the 2017 budget proposal before the National Assembly is 1. 78 per cent or a paltry N76,753,672,275 billion.
A breakdown of the estimates is even more disheartening. Personnel costs gulp over N28 billion or 36.5 per cent. Overhead costs are put at N1.7 billion or 2.2 per cent while capital projects would take N47 billion or 61.2 per cent. The percentage of the latter is, however, commendable and should be sustained in subsequent proposals. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has 41 parastals, 17 research centers, 16 colleges of agriculture and eight other agencies.
Capital projects envisioned under the proposal are Import Substitution Commodity Value Chain, the Export Subsitution Commodity Value Chain, the Labour Intensive Family Enterprise Programme, Agricultural Mechanisation and Grazing Resrve/Stock Routes Development. The first programme alone which is necessary for food security and growing foreign reserves is expected to exponentially increase local production of ten commodities viz rice, wheat, soybeans, maize, fisheries, cattle/dairy, fruits/vegetables, cassava, gum Arabic and cowpea.
This proposal is a violation not just of the the Federal Government’s expressed intentions but of the Maputo Declaration by the African Union that a minimum of 10 per cent of national budgets in Africa be devoted to the sector in a strategic way if the desired economic growth is to be achieved. It is inconceivable that national self-sufficiency in any one of the commodities listed above will be achieved with the level of funding proposed for the agricultural sector in this year’s budget.
Similarly, the National Agricultural Extension Support Services in Zaria with regional offices in Ibadan, Umudike, Kano, Badeggi, Maiduguri and Port-Harcourt which is expected to guide the agricultural revolution across the country was allocated N147 million. For the same reason, increased need for livestock production, processing and marketing have not even received a mention in the budget proposal. Critical institutions in this area such as NAPRI in Shika Zaria and the National Veterinary Research Institute, Vom in Plateau State were allotted meager amounts at a time that they are expected to redouble their efforts.
In some sectors, even the specific programmes and projects that would provide direction and strategies for implementation are not provided in the budget proposal. For instance, even though one billion Naira has been proposed for the National Grazing Reserve/Stock Routes Development, no particular projects were listed for implementation probably due to the absence of a specialized agency in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development that can handle this critical component of the nation’s envisaged food security.
Even more alarming is the fact that storage and marketing aspects of the agricultural sector have been neglected in the budget proposal even though bumper harvests are expected from the new national enthusiasm for farming and the recourse by many to seek sustenance in the sector. It is well-known that most of the nation’s value commodities are affected by poor produce quality, weak grading and abysmal storage systems.
While it is obvious that the economic downturn has resulted in shortage of investable funds, the Federal Government could consider other options for funding this critical sector. Public/private partnerships are one such viable alternatives especially when agreements are duly observed by both parties. We are, however, wary of the involvement of multinational corporations in this basic sector for obvious security and socioeconomic reasons.
We plead with the Federal Government to revise the allocation to the agricultural sector to at least five per cent for the 2017 budget and plan for 10 per cent for 2018. We also call on the National Assembly to expedite action on the budget estimates laid before them since last year. Scrutiny is good but timeliness is priceless.