By Bature A.
Initially, it appeared that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Project for Agricultural Coordination and Planning (Fmardpace) had come to help farmers and enumerators. However, the ministry has nothing to offer; it has lost focus and all the promises made have turned out to be deceptive.
When India championed and succeeded in the Green Revolution of the 1960s, it was not grounded on propaganda, delay in payment and late distribution of inputs, withholding extension workers allowances, deceit and misleading publications.
According to the Premium Times online report (June 29, 2020), the ministry targeted 2.6 million farmers, while N600 billion was earmarked for the farmers’ fertiliser subsidy, grant and non-interest loan. However, despite its early approval, the program’s impact is yet to be felt by the farmers and enumerators.
The ministry promised to help reduce the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on agricultural production in Nigeria. Recall that AFJP was launched in Funtua Local Government of Katsina state on July 23, 2020, as reported by Daily Trust and Vanguard. The formal commencement of the program took place at the home town of the chairman House Committee on Agriculture.
Agricultural inputs such as fertiliser, pesticide, herbicides, seeds and motorcycles for extension work are displayed to the attendants and reporters. However, after the occasion, the displayed items are nowhere to be seen or heard of again.
A well planned Agricultural support program should be ready to reach beneficiaries by April or mid-May. Although some ABP companies draw their funds from or liaise with the CBN/Nirsal Plc, they distribute inputs early than the government’s ministry itself. It took Fmardpace almost two years to finalise data capturing, reconcile data and initiate distribution of inputs. Many enumerators miraculously escaped snakes’ bites, kidnapping, robbery or being lynched by angry farmers. Enumerators have crossed through the thick and thin weather[s] to carry out their duties. Manual mapping and data capturing, for that matter.
Enumerators suffered rough handling from the Fmardpace. Initially, the ministry promised to pay for the work done weekly after verification of the Surveys done. Subsequently, it takes months to process despite working as an influencer, Orientation and Mobilization agent.
The first and worst of all, maltreatment is the delay or withholding of payment. The second is, invalidating enumerators surveys without sufficient explanation. Some surveys were rejected without transparency on what makes them invalid. Thirdly, the complete failure to initiate the distribution of inputs to qualified farmers on time.
In addition, enumerators have carried out soil sampling exercises/collections between May 10 to 26, 2020. However, some enumerators managed to collect the samples without being provided with the due equipment. In the plan, the soil sample collecter would get a hoe, shovel, bucket, and a small bag. However, only the bag was provided.
This is a program that had been moving forth and back without progress. On May 26, 2021, the ministry stated that the second level validation for surveys carried out in June and July was completed. On June 30, 2021, the ministry confirmed that the federal government had approved the Fertilizer Subsidy Grant to farmers whose BVN was validated by the NIBSS. On July 2, 2021, the ministry confirmed that payment processing of the first batch of the fertiliser subsidy grant to qualified farmers had begun.
Enumerators have raised concerns over certain decisions by the ministry. For instance, when Fmardpace said their agents from Abuja would be calling farmers for verification, they were urged to consider some factors, which I’ll list below.
First, the majority of the farmers are rural dwellers. So they may not be able to speak English (which FMARD agents use). Secondly, there was network scarcity in rural areas. If the ministry uses phone calls, then over a half will be disqualified. Thirdly, when the contractors of inputs distribution came, they came with strangers that are afraid to get to the villages or remote towns to verify farmers, which may automatically disqualify farmers.
It’s fascinating to note that enumerators were doing their work patriotically until when mistreatment of the workers worsened. Then, the faces of enumerators and farmers became wallowed in the mud: no payment, no reply, mainly robotics/programmed responses from the situation room computers.
Enumerators have since submitted to the formalities of the ministry. Seventeen (17) months of the program, the remaining balance of 50% per cent payment, after the second level validation of the surveys, is not being processed. There’s no specified date for it or helpful insight to it.
Enumerators need a clear statement from the new Minister of Agriculture on why their payment was withheld. Fmardpace should take note that there are damages incurred on enumerators for violating the initial arrangements of the payment. The collective wishes of the enumerators, master trainers and farmers is that the new minister should be different from his predecessor.
I recommend that when the next Fmardpace is to undertake farmers surveys, they should build an app that the enumerators can see right away on the screen of their mobile phone when surveys are valid or otherwise. Meanwhile, transparency is enhanced.
When there’s an exercise to be carried out, the ministry should not send people to the field without having their payment voucher on the ground. Adhoc, part-time or extension work should not be like capital projects that would have to be included in the annual budget before payment could be made. Besides, where is the yearly budget of the ministry?
They should also make sure the application they’re building contains all the necessary steps for the required information that NIBSS and CBN need from every beneficiary to be qualified. There’ll be ease of (extension workers) stress of recollection and reconciling of data.
Furthermore, farmers need agricultural loans the most between April, May and June to prepare in advance. Therefore, if the ministry is genuinely concern and working towards revolutionising Agriculture in Nigeria, they should act on these issues as soon as possible.
Bature A. writes from Kaduna. He can be contacted via email@example.com.