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AGRICULTURE

The Highs And Lows In Agric, Solid Mineral Sectors

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BY  Ruth Tene Natsa

…Despite enormous challenges, the nation’s agriculture and solid minerals sectors have recorded great achievements even as Nigeria waits the unfolding of the sectors’ revival

Nigeria in the past two years recorded various challenges in the agricultural sector, ranging from insecurity as a result of insurgency, farmers/herdsmen clashes, Federal Government’s indebtedness to Agro dealers leading to non supply of fertilizers, to disease infections such as the tuta absoluta which affected tomatoes, bird flu which threatened the nations poultry farmer’s investment.
In tackling these challenges the government through the Minister of Agriculture initiated a number of policies, one of such is the Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP), also referred to, as the Green Alternative Policy. The document launched on August 15, 2016, by President Muhammadu Buhari emphasized the sustenance of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA).
In addition to the inauguration of the Standing Inter-Ministerial Technical Committee on Zero-Reject of Agricultural Commodities and Produce /Non-oil Exports in Nigeria. The Ministry also developed, validated and adopted the Methodologies of Conduits of Excellence for public administration/Single Window Platform and commenced work on the development of a 5-year (2017-2021) action plan on Single Quality control Management Plan. This is compliance with the European Union recommendation for meeting international standards, inter-state trading and global acceptance of agricultural commodities from Nigeria.
Thus, some expects have expressed confidence in the capability of the two ministers, Chief Audu Ogbeh and his counterpart Minister of state, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri handling of the affairs of the sector.
The present administration has equally focuses on cutting down food importation, through its promotion of local production in all areas, particularly in rice production. The initiative has brought a revolution to the Nigerian rice industry.
Recent reports from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development put total demand for rice in Nigeria at between 5.5million tonnes a year. Prior to the evolution, the country depended on imported rice from Thailand, India, Japan and other countries, but with the new initiatives about 3.3 million tonnes are now produced locally, while the shortfall of  2.2 MT is imported.
Speaking, in an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP, recently, the Minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh said. “We cut down on food importations very heavily, such as rice, by the end of this year we will absolutely end rice importation, there will be no need for it that we will be saving of 5million dollars a day.
“We also succeeded in telling Nigerians that agric is the alternative, we published a document called the Green Alternative and the message has gone everywhere and the response to agriculture and agriculture investment has never been as massive as it is now, with big farmers, small farmers, even young educated people beginning to recognize the fact that this is where to go for a country to survive.
On research and development he said “We have  done a new soil map of Nigeria and farmers now know, and more and more of them are getting to know that every soil has a specific nutritional need, so you do not just apply the same old fertilizers we did in the past , what they called NPK 15:15:15, we now have varieties pending on where you are planting, the result has been a quantum leap in the yields on virtually all crops, from 2 tonnes in some cases to 5 and even seven half .
Other achievements by the present administration include bringing back the universities of agriculture under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development after 16 years. He added that once we tidy up the needs for grains we are about to launch one more programme, the plantation initiative.
Meanwhile, the President Buhari administration has also launched the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative (PFI). There is no doubt that the initiative will help boost the fertilizer even as the President, Fertiliser Producers and Suppliers Association of Nigeria (FEBSAN), Thomas Etuh has confirmed that the PFI will eliminate subsidy on fertiliser by saving at least N60billion in budgetary Provisions in fertilizer supply for 2017.
He added that the initiative “would boost foreign exchange savings of $200 million by maximising local content.”
Similarly, the Youth Empowerment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP) seeks to reduce the level of youth unemployment by empowering 740,000 young agricultural producers in rural areas.
However, the Minister of Agriculture has called on all Nigerians to exercise patents as the new initiatives will need time to mature. His word, “Agric doesn’t happen overnight, it is not by pronouncement, it is by action.”
According to him, two years is too short to get the desired transformation stressing that funds and other human resources has to be invested in the sector. It is obvious however that the nation is on the path of transformation in the agric sector which will leave the economy better than it was when this administration came to power.
Solid Minerals Sector
The appointment of Dr Kayode Fayemi along-side the Minister of state, Hon. Abubakar Bawa Bwar by the President Muhamadu Buhari to oversee the affairs of the Ministry of Solid Mineral and Natural Resources may have brought back life to the sector.
Prior to their appointment sector was bedevilled with numerous challenges such as poor funding, lack of political will to develop the sector, unmitigated activities of illegal mining, revenue leakages, poor regulatory activities as a result of lack of equipment and very low contribution to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product(GDP).
In fact, Past records show that until 2016, the sector contributed as low as 0.3% to the GDP.
To lay a structure for the reformation of the sector, the ministry on Monday, December 19, 2016 launched an implementation roadmap and announced the composition of the Mining Implementation and Strategy Team (MIST). The MIST is responsible for coordinating the implementation of the plans and proposals in the roadmap, and is chaired by foremost professor of Geology, Prof. Gbenga Okunlola.
Same day the minister,  Dr Kayode Fayemi listed the nations priority minerals to include– iron ore, coal, bitumen, limestone, lead/zinc, gold, and barite , stating “they have been identified as key for Nigeria’s Domestic Industrialisation and infrastructure requirements.
The sector in the past two years have succeed in the presentation and approval of the Sectors Roadmap to the Federal Executive council, improved funding through improved budget, the approval for access to thirty billion naira (N30b) from the Natural Resource Development Fund as well as the generation of over a billion naira from issuance of licenses.
Other achievements include a renegotiated concession agreement with Global Steel Holdings Limited for the Nigerian Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO), Itakpe, of which by the new agreement, Ajaokuta Steel Complex will now revert to the federal government, effectively freeing the entity from all contractual encumbrances that had left it uncompleted and non-functional for decades, while GSHL retains NIOMCO.
Another key achievement to the sector was the discovery of Nickel termed “world class and highly unusual discovery by a mining syndicate reportedly headed by Hugh Morgan, a mining industry veteran who said “The discovery is unusual because the nickel is found in small balls up to 3mm in diameter of a high purity in shallow soils in what could be the surface expression of a much bigger hard-rock nickel field,”
As part of efforts to ensure improved performance  the ministry’s 2016 capital budget and its agencies was increased from N1bn in the previous year to N7.3bn, to strengthen the inspectorate, geological data generation and it infrastructure.
The Minister said he expect an improvement in budgetary allocation to the ministry in the 2017 budget.
“We sought for N30bn (approx. $100m) intervention fund from the Federal Government, partly to focus on exploration, formalization of artisanal miners, and providing access to funding for genuine miners. For the first time since 2004, we got approval for this amount by securing access to the revolving mining sector component of the natural resources development fund,” he stated.
The Ministry has also secured World Bank facility of $150mn for the mineral sector support for economic diversification (mssed or mindiver) program.
On generating more viable data, the Minister said, “Our Nigerian Geological Survey Agency (NGSA) has undertaken additional ground investigations nation-wide to upgrade our national minerals database and also signed Memorandum of Understanding(MOUs) and technical cooperation agreements with the China Geological Surveys, Shandong Mineral Exploration Agency and the National Office Hydrocarbons and Mines ‘onhym’ of Morocco.
During the period under review, the ministry commenced the development of mining resource corridors around contiguous states and along key infrastructures including railways, implementing the statutory13 per cent derivation for mineral producing states.
While in principle, we cannot give states licenses as separate legal entities, companies in which the states have an ownership interest can bid for and receive licenses. We are also working closely to build the capacity of state governments in structuring special purpose vehicles to participate in mining in their jurisdictions, without undermining private sector players and ultimately discourage mining activity within their states. The relationship of states and mineral host communities is also being streamlined. A 2-day capacity building workshop for this purpose is held in.
Economically, the sector trippled the ministry’s contribution to the federation account to about N3bn in 2016, up from N700m in 2015, constructed 10 prototype mineral buying centres across the country for specific strategic industrial minerals and are also working with the state governments and relevant ministries to formalize and manage artisanal miners.
On Security, the ministry is also working with defence and security agencies to curb the actions of illegal mining in the country and working with artisanal miners to organize them into effective cooperatives that will facilitate their access to financial and commodity markets through grants and the establishment of mineral buying centers.
The Ministry is also working with the federal government to ensure the implementation of the statutorily guaranteed 3-year tax holiday for new investors in the mining sector and also extending the export expansion grant scheme to the mining sector, as highlighted by Mr. President in his 2017 budget speech.
Summarily the Ministers took a tour of mining sites across the Geopolitical zones, the tour which started from Kaduna, covered, Nassarawa, Ebonyi, Osun, Lagos, Enugu, Benue among several others.




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