Commendations and criticisms trailed the report of the National Conference Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources on Tuesday as the Conference commenced debate on the 44-page report earlier presented by the Committee Chairman, Umaru Muhammad Hadeija.
The report is an assessment of Nigeria’s agricultural and water resources policies especially as they relate to food security and the refocusing of agriculture as a business for the creation of jobs and wealth.
It was the opinion of the Committee that agriculture has the potential to compete favourably and is much more environmentally sustainable than the oil and gas sector.
“It is also the most viable way to stem the current large scale rural-urban youth migration and thus prove the most viable solution to permanently deal with the problems of insurgency, armed robbery and kidnapping currently bedevilling the nation,” stated the Committee.
Therefore, it recommended that particular attention be focused on increasing agricultural productivity by paying close attention to the selection of adequate and appropriate land for agricultural production which would lead to meaningful rapid and increased crop productivity.
Attention, it stated, should also be paid to immediate extensive needs assessment for the soil and water laboratories available in Nigeria so as to promote accurate soil testing and consequent appropriate fertilizer, liming and water quality assessments for increased productivity in rain-fed and irrigated agriculture in the country.
To address the current critical shortage of manpower in the sector, the Committee demanded immediate passage of the Bill for the Establishment of the Nigerian Soil Science Institute which it said is pending in the National Assembly; it said the institute when established would provide leadership in regulating the training and professional practice of soil science in the country.
Describing land as the most fundamental asset in agricultural practice, the Committee noted that accessibility to land has been limited by the Land Use Act whose presence in the Constitution it described as a disincentive to agricultural development “because it tends to discourage investments in land.”
It therefore called for and emphasized the need for appropriate review and amendment of the Land Use Act; an issue that has re-echoed repeatedly in the Conference and whose resolution is currently pending.
The Committee lamented the dearth of qualified and trained manpower to adequately drive the policies and programmes in both sectors of agriculture and water resources; and declared that Nigeria is facing system failure owing to inadequate manpower.
Based on this, it was recommended that deliberate policies be put in place to attract Nigerian youths to study agricultural related courses in colleges of agriculture, polytechnics and universities.
It said such courses and the outcome of the research should be re-tailored towards developing curricular and researches aimed at developing local technologies that are sustainable and adaptable to local manpower usage.
The report observed that aside from technical policy issues, one area of concern to stakeholders has been the over-concentration and centralization of agricultural development programmes at the federal level and described it as being operationally and politically unhealthy for the system.
Conference will on Wednesday consider all the recommendations of the Committee, amend some, adopt some and reject others based on majority decision.