President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday urged African leaders to allocate 10 per cent of their national budgets to the agricultural sector in order to promote food security.
Mr Buhari made the call in Senegal in his goodwill message at the Feed Africa Summit of heads of states and governments on Wednesday.
According to a statement signed by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, the president also called on his counterparts to embrace innovative policies that ensure the continent’s citizens eat what they produce as well as export the surplus.
With rising inflation globally and the effects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict that have driven up food prices, especially for basic staples such as wheat and maize, the Nigerian leader listed measures that African leaders must take to change the status quo.
‘‘Feeding Africa is an imperative. We must ensure that we feed ourselves today, tomorrow, and well into the future,” Mr Buhari said.
He said the starting point is to raise agricultural productivity, adding that this requires access to quality farm inputs, especially improved seeds, fertilisers and mechanisation.
‘‘To succeed, we must strongly support farmers. There is no doubt that we need to subsidiZe our farmers, but we must do so in transparent ways, remove rent-seeking behaviour and effectively deliver support to farmers.
‘‘The share of budget allocation to agriculture should be increased across Africa, especially for investments in critical public goods, such as research and development, infrastructure, especially roads, irrigation, and energy.
‘‘As leaders, let us decisively ensure that we meet the 10 per cent allocation of our budgets to agriculture as agreed in the Malabo Declaration of the African Heads of State and Government. We must reduce the rate of rural to urban migration through the development of rural areas,’’ he said.
Mr Buhari’s admonition came despite the failure of his government to improve funding for agricultural sector in line with the Maputo agreement.
The Maputo Declaration came into effect in 2003 and Nigeria upheld the agreement the next year, agreeing with other African countries to set aside at least 10 per cent of its yearly budgets to agriculture.
But the sector has remained underfunded under Mr Buhari, despite his repeated promises to revive it.
Under the Buhari administration, budgetary allocation for agriculture rose from 1.70 per cent in 2017 to 2.00 per cent in 2018, fell to 1.56 per cent in 2019, and 1.34 per cent in 2020, before recording a slight increase (1.37 per cent) in 2021.
In 2022, allocation to Nigeria’s agricultural sector represented just 1.8 per cent of the budget, the highest in four years.
But on Wednesday, the Nigerian president noted that the future of agriculture in Africa would depend on getting more youth into agriculture, which means making agriculture attractive to them.
‘‘To feed Africa, we need younger male and female farmers. We must also ensure that they get access to land, finance, technologies, information, and markets,” he said.
He, therefore, requested that the food and agriculture delivery compacts arising from the summit must address ways to improve the empowerment of the youth and women in agriculture.
‘‘We must take into consideration climate change and ensure that agricultural systems are climate-smart and climate-resilient.
‘‘We must invest heavily in irrigation to help address the increasing frequency of droughts that are leading to a decline in crop yields.
‘‘I am convinced that the very targeted and bold approach of using the food and agriculture delivery compacts will allow Africa to finally break through and feed itself.
‘‘Feeding Africa is not negotiable. Africa must grow what its citizens eat. As leaders, we must demonstrate political will and re-commit ourselves to producing for the continent’s needs, including surpluses for export,’’ he said.
He applauded the efforts of the African Development Bank to launch Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones (SAPZ).
Mr Buhari added that SAPZ for Nigeria, which is in the first phase, will cover seven states in the federation.
‘‘These very innovative public-private partnership models will help us to transform the agriculture sector much faster and use it to generate wealth.
‘‘They will also allow our countries to develop integrated infrastructure around our agricultural processes and add value to the production of crops, livestock, and fisheries,’’ he said.
Mr Buhari also welcomed the provision of $538.05 million by the multilateral financing institutions for the first phase of the SAPZ initiative in Nigeria.
“I am pleased with the partnership approach used for Nigeria by the multilateral financing institutions, with the African Development Bank providing $210 million, the Islamic Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development providing $310 million, and the Government of Nigeria providing $18.05 million.
‘‘The Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones are game changers for the structural transformation of the agricultural sector.
‘‘I, therefore, urge that as we develop the Food and Agriculture Delivery Compacts from this Summit, special attention should be placed on the development of Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones.’’
In his call for accessible financing, Mr Buhari emphasised the need for central banks to establish specific financing windows to support smallholder and commercial farmers.
‘‘Access to affordable finance is critical for the success of efforts to support smallholder farmers and commercial farmers. Commercial banks do not lend much to agriculture due to the perception of high risks.
‘‘Generally, less than 3 per cent of total financing by commercial banks in Africa goes into agriculture. We must therefore reduce the risks of lending faced by commercial banks. But we must go beyond commercial lending.
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‘‘Where possible and countries can afford to, the central banks can also dedicate significant resources to complement lending from commercial banks.
‘‘Such dedicated financing windows from the central bank must be well monitored, to ensure that they reach the intended beneficiaries, must be transparent and must not crowd out the commercial lending sectors, or the private sector,” he said.
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