The University of Delaware’s Titus Awokuse has been named to the 14-member Nigerian National Agricultural Policy Committee to help the country develop a strong policy roadmap and advise its agriculture ministry.
The committee includes agricultural experts, policy experts and economists from the private and public sectors, as well as research agencies, and will evaluate and assess projects related to agriculture nationally, especially with regard to the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) put in place as part of President Goodluck Jonathan’s National Economic Policy Transformation Agenda.Awokuse, chair of the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, traveled to Nigeria in September for the inauguration of the committee and said that there are many challenges that face agriculture in that nation. “A big challenge to agricultural productivity and food security in Nigeria is the lack of adequate infrastructure to support food production and distribution,” said Awokuse. “Another issue of concern to Nigerian farmers is the lack of access to credit. Banks are reluctant to provide loans to farmers because the risk of default is high and farmers who need loans to embark on expanding their operations are unable to do so. The business financing mechanism is not in place to be able to access loans like what farmers are used to in America.” Dealing with uncertainty is another issue that faces Nigerian growers. When an environmental event such as drought threatens crops, they have no crop insurance policy to help compensate them for the loss, though the federal government plans to launch a national crop insurance program for farmers in 2015. There are also challenges in terms of international agricultural trade policy, where past policies and practices favored imports of staple foods at the expense of locally grown food products that could be sold domestically and on the international market. Although Nigeria was a net food exporter in the 1960s, it’s has become a leading net importer of food and the largest global importer of rice. According to. Akinwumi Adesina, the minister of agriculture and rural development, the nation annually spends “on average $11 billion on importing wheat, rice, sugar and fish alone.” Perhaps the biggest policy challenge, however, is the ability to facilitate agricultural production via access to agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and seeds. Nigeria has begun to deal with this problem through a national fertilizer project known as the Federal Government of Nigeria’s Growth Enhancement Support (GES) program. Of the project, Awokuse said that it is ongoing and has been “a big improvement over the previous corruption-laden subsidized fertilizer distribution program that few farmers actually received. The GES program has been very successful in providing subsidized inputs to farmers directly instead of going through intermediaries. By 2013, over 10 million small holder farmers had been registered to participate in the GES program via an Electronic Wallet System which uses mobile phone technology to distribute subsidized electronic vouchers to farmers for receiving agricultural inputs.” Now that the committee has been inaugurated, Awokuse said that Adesina asked members to serve in an ongoing policy advisory role and undertake several program assessment projects. Awokuse will take an active role in assessing agricultural and international trade policy in Nigeria and will help to develop a more effective policy approach, looking at best practices in other countries, specifically the United States. “I have taught agricultural policy at the University of Delaware for several years and believe some of the policy frameworks that are taken for granted in the U.S. Farm Bill could be very useful as we work on revamping the national agricultural policy in Nigeria,” said Awokuse. “We will also explore the development of an agricultural sector model that will be a comprehensive analytical model that could be used to analyze the potential impact of different policies and programs.” As for what he is most looking forward to about being part of the committee, Awokuse said that it will be a great opportunity to be involved with meaningful work that will have a real benefit to the millions of people in the country, as well as Africa as a whole. “Nigeria is usually referred to as the ‘Giant of Africa’ because it is the most populous country in Africa. It has about 174 million people — more than half of the U.S. population – and is the seventh most populous country in the world. It’s also the largest economy in Africa and internationally, it’s ranked as the 26th largest economy,” Awokuse said. “However in 2014, with income per capita of $2,688 and a ranking of 121, Nigeria’s standard of living still significantly lags many other nations. Even though there is a high level of poverty in the country, the future is bright and full of promise for Nigeria.” He added, “Policies that are made in Nigeria have a huge impact on many people, as many of the countries in Africa look to Nigeria as a role model. If something works well in Nigeria, most likely it’s going to affect other countries on the African continent.” Article by Adam Thomas Photos by Danielle Quigley and courtesy of Titus Awokuse This article can also be viewed on UDaily.