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Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on Monday declared that the present Federal Government met an economy that was already in a meltdown.
Although he assured Nigerians that the Muhammadu Buhari administration was doing its best to salvage the situation, he stressed that the country did not adequately exploit the oil boom era by investing massively in infrastructure and diversifying the economy.
The Vice-President, who disclosed this while inaugurating the agricultural sector road map titled, ‘The Green Alternative: Agriculture Promotion Policy 2016 – 2020’, in Abuja, said, “The present administration came into office to meet an economy essentially in meltdown.”
He said the Federal Government had concluded that before the end of September this year, the Bank of Agriculture would start giving out single digit interest loans to farmers in Nigeria.
On the issue of economic recession, he expressed worry that during the period when oil was sold for over $100 per barrel, the country did not increase investment in infrastructure, adding that the diversification of its economy was not deepened.
“We knew that we had to set alright the economy and put it back on the path of sustainable growth with job opportunities for our teeming population. So, one of the critical components of that plan is to position agriculture as the arrow-head of our economic recovery efforts. If we get agriculture right, we will get our economy right,”
Osinbajo stated that the road map identified two key challenges and that the first was the inability to meet domestic food requirement.
This, he said, was a productivity challenge driven by the country’s inefficient input systems and farming models.
He said the second challenge was the inability to export at levels required by the market and that this was due to an inefficient system, weak inspectorate measures and poor coordination among relevant agencies.
“The Green Alternative has set out strategies for resolving these challenges. I’m personally impressed that the road map does not dismiss the agricultural policy of the past,” he added.
The Vice-President noted that the plan in the road map aligned with other economic policies of the Federal Government.
He said, “Just to give some obvious examples, we cannot have a policy of encouraging local production of food and on the other hand have a high tariff on imported agricultural equipment. There is no way that we can encourage local production while we allow unbridled importation of the same things that we are trying to produce.”
Osinbajo observed that the financing of agriculture was also a crucial policy, adding that “with double digit interest rate at the moment, we have developed some funding options in the short term.”
He stated that the anchor borrowing programme of the Central Bank of Nigeria which allowed farmers to get loans at single digit interest rates had been very useful, as it was pivotal in enabling rice farmers in Kebbi State to increase their production considerably.
“The Ministry of Finance has concluded plans to recapitalise and re-engineer the Bank of Agriculture. We expect that before the end of this quarter, the BOA should be able to give single digit interest rate loans to farmers,” he said.
The inauguration of the agricultural road map had various ministers and heads of different agencies of government in attendance.
In his address, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, stated that the road map was part of measures undertaken by the Federal Government to ensure that Nigeria stopped spending over $22bn annually on food importation.
“For nearly 30 years, there was no alternative to oil and gas. No quarrel with oil and gas, but is just that we behaved like lottery winners who could think of nothing else, spending $22bn a year importing foods like rice, wheat, milk, sugar, tomato paste, biscuits and even toothpicks,” he said.