Rescue mission


AfDB plans to support smallholder farmers in Nigeria, writes Femi Adesina

Every time he crosses the land, the air or the sea like a troubadour, he must bring good news. Whenever the Nigerian President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) comes to see President Muhammadu Buhari, he never comes empty-handed. He has to bring sweets and treats for his home country.

Tuesday this week was no different. Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, former Minister of Agriculture, came on a proactive rescue mission. Something was seriously threatening food security in Africa, and in Nigeria in particular. It calls for urgent action.

Each time the two gentlemen meet, they begin with pleasantries. They are so comfortable in each other’s company. The jokes and bonhomie over, the AfDB President burst the speaker: “Urgent actions are needed to prevent a food crisis in Africa.

Why? How? When? What can be done? The questions gushed out, like water falling from a burst dam. Dr. Adesina provided all the answers.

“I am here, Mr. President, to brief you on the impacts of the Russian-Ukrainian war and its implications for food security in Africa and Nigeria; and to inform you of the decisive actions taken by the African Development Bank to avert what is an impending food crisis.

“Russia and Ukraine dominate wheat and maize exports to Africa. With the disruption of supplies resulting from the war, Africa now faces a shortage of at least 30 million metric tons of food imports from Russia and Ukraine, particularly wheat, maize and soybeans.

As the man spoke, suddenly Russia and Ukraine were not so far away. They were there, in the diplomatic room of the Presidential Villa.

More statistics: “The price of wheat has risen in Africa by more than 45% since the war. Fertilizer prices have risen 300% and the continent faces a two million metric ton fertilizer shortage. If not met quickly, food production in Africa will decline by 20% and the continent would lose over $11 billion in food production value.

Holy Moses!

The AfDB boss quoted UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres as saying, “We are now facing a perfect storm that threatens the economies of developing countries.”

If there is one thing that worries President Buhari, it is that Nigerians can feed themselves, without resorting to the massive importation of food. That’s why he encouraged us to get back to the land, to put his money where he talks by massively funding agriculture, and today we have a lot to be grateful for. Food security is almost a reality in the country.

But because the world is now a global village and no nation is an island, the Russian-Ukrainian war could still affect some fundamentals of our food security. So what to do? Fortunately, we have our own “export” to the world at AfDB. He revealed what he has in store for Africa and for Nigeria, our dear native land.

“Mr. President, I know that you are also concerned about the effects on Nigeria… The African Development Bank, under my leadership, is fully prepared to meet this new challenge head-on. The Bank has developed a $1.5 billion Africa Emergency Food Production Plan to help countries produce food quickly, to mitigate the effects of war on food prices.

“The plan will help countries produce 38 million metric tons of food. This will include 11 million metric tons of wheat; 18 million metric tons of corn; six million metric tons of rice; and 2.5 million metric tons of soybeans.

“The total value of additional food production is $12 billion. This plan, which is subject to the approval of the Bank’s Board of Directors, will be rolled out by the end of May and will cover all the Bank’s countries.

What about me is the question people often ask. What is there specifically for Nigeria?

“Nigeria is a top priority under the emergency food production plan. For the 2022 rainy season, the plan will support five million smallholder farmers in Nigeria. They will cultivate 2.5 million hectares: one million hectares for maize; one million hectares for rice; 250,000 hectares for soy; and 250,000 hectares for sorghum.

“For the 2022/2023 dry season, the plan will support one million farmers in 10 northern states. We expect this to support 500,000 hectares of wheat. Overall, the emergency food production plan for Nigeria will produce 9.5 million metric tons of food.

Call it being proactive or properly preparing for the rainy day, and you’re right. Since 2015, President Buhari had seen the future, repositioned the agricultural sector in the country, and it is now receiving viable support from outside. Support that will not end up in private pockets. May God bless leaders who care for their people, especially the weak and vulnerable.

Dr Adesina said the AfDB would also support Nigeria to develop special agro-processing zones.

“We helped raise $540 million for the program. The African Development Bank has approved a total of $210 million. The Islamic Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) have approved $170 million and $160 million respectively for the program.

The Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones will initially be rolled out in seven states: Kano, Ogun, Oyo, Kaduna, Kwara, Imo, Cross River and the Federal Capital Territory.

Dr. Adesina ended on a hopeful note. “Dear Mr. President, you are passionate about agriculture. Your passion is shared by me and colleagues at the African Development Bank. What is needed now is prompt action by Nigeria to implement the program to further boost food production, reduce food price inflation and transform the agricultural sector, while ensuring the food security and creating jobs. Your leadership will be essential to success. Failure is not an option. Farmers are waiting.

A delighted President Buhari thanked Dr Adesina profusely, encouraging him to work with the right ministers here, adding that the Nigerian borders had been closed for about two years to protect local farmers and fight smuggling. “We have made progress,” he added.

For those who only look at the downsides, under President Buhari, we can be grateful to God that we can feed ourselves, and not cross borders in search of food. All other things will be added to us soon.

Adesina is President Buhari’s Special Advisor for Media and Publicity