A former Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, has alleged that Nigeria has not been fair to farmers. According to him, researchers, financial institutions and government have all conspired to victimise those who are in the business of farming. He spoke in Lagos while delivering his keynote address at the Agribusiness Investors’ Network, organised by the Innovative Youth in Agriculture (I-Youth), in partnership with International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and Mastercard Foundation.
Obasanjo specifically decried the inability of farmers to access sustainable funding from financial institutions, saying the current double-digit interest rate given by banks was too prohibitive and cannot sustain any agricultural business. “As a farmer, will you go and take a loan at 20 per cent? I know that I will not take a loan that is more than double digit because there is nothing I can grow that will make it. If we are here and talking from now till tomorrow, we cannot achieve anything. Agric business is a serious business. There is virtually no business as serious, as engaging and demanding as agriculture.
“Aliko tried that and he didn’t make it until he went into cement production. What we are trying to do here is to correct the injustice that has been done to the farmers in the past and I hope that injustice will be corrected because the researchers, the financial institutions and the government have all victimised the farmers. “Farmers have been the victims from all of you and it is not that all of you are not doing enough. I am close enough to IITA to know that the research works to achieve a great drive in agriculture in Nigeria and the rest of Africa, but how much of it goes to these farmers? Of what use or purpose is good research that is locked up in the shelves of research institutions?
“The third group that victimised us as farmers, is the government. They speak from both sides of the mouth. They say something today and a different thing tomorrow. So how can you do business successfully?” The former President said driving agriculture to attain self-sufficiency as a nation should go beyond “tokenism”, saying the critical mass of the population must be involved. He said there must be a deliberate effort to bring all stakeholders together to produce a new generation of farmers that would take over from the old generation, noting that most of the farmers today are too old.
He stated that the youngest farmer in his village, who happens to be his cousin, is 75-year old, asking, “How do we replace them? We need to see agriculture as being less of talk and more of action, timely action, right actions. Whatever you are doing in agriculture requires action and attention. Agriculture is a serious business that requires commitment, funding, reasonable cost, right and appropriate inputs, beginning from seeds. It requires stability and predictability”, Obasanjo added.
The Deputy Director-General, Partnership for Delivery, IITA, Dr. Ken Danshiell said the conference was about bringing everybody together to support the youth to go into farming. “Our goal is to empower the number one resource that Nigeria has; not oil, not the vast land resource, the youth. Let’s work together, empower them to take Nigeria forward”, he said. Representatives of financial institutions at the programme including the Managing Director of Ecobank, Mr. Bolaji Lawal assured that they would support initiatives that would stimulate youth employment.