Developing a Legal Framework for Agriculture in Nigeria, by Bashir Saleh Abdu
The Muhammdu Buhari administration came into power amidst massive celebration all over the country. With agriculture being the largest employer of labour in the country, you can safely say that the majority of Nigerians who celebrated that victory are farmers or people who benefit from the largely informal agricultural value-chain engaged in one agri-business or the other.
A look at the investment, through intervention programs, made by this government in agriculture, will reveal that the government intends to do something about agriculture in the country. Unfortunately the interventions end up in the wrong hands and therefore having little or no impact on the development of agriculture in country. This may be largely due to the fact that the investments were made indiscriminately without recourse to any strategy or policy document, let alone a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework.
First and foremost, the Land Use Act 1978 needs to be amended to give the Federal Government more powers to regulate agricultural lands. This will shift the power to control agricultural land from Local Governments who, have over the time failed, in developing agriculture in the rural areas or even making a positive impact. There needs to be more centralization so as to harmonize policy directions for agriculture in the entire nation.
The amendment should give way for the development of a central agricultural land registry for the entire nation in a digital format, to allow such registry to be integrated into the Nigerian map, also digitally, just like the way there is a political map detailing the states, local governments, it should extend to farmlands if we are really serious about developing agriculture as the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. This may be seen as a gargantuan project, but it is not a difficult task to achieve as there are several Nigerian startups developing something similar albeit in smaller scales for NGOs and others purposes. The government can bring together experts to brainstorm and formulate ways to actualize this project.
Achieving a central agricultural land registry will give the Federal Government unhindered access to real farmers in the country and not people who have been accessing interventions without having a square foot of arable land. This will also bring ease in regulating the sector, policies relating to taxation, extension and research will have more impact as the government will know the farmers being engaged directly.
Some of the major challenges bedeviling the agricultural sector will be easily addressed through this registry, issues like sensitization and training of farmers on skills and methods that will increase output yield, poor monitoring and evaluation of implemented policies. It will also accord the farmers the opportunity to contribute to the formulation of policies that will have effect on them.
The government should consider reviewing the laws regulating agriculture directly as most of them predated the current agricultural policy which was formulated in 2017. A quick look at the Executive Summary of the policy reveals that it recognizes the lack of coordination among Federal Agencies as part of the problems of the agricultural sector, but curiously, it neglected to identify reviewing the laws regulating those agencies as part of the solutions.
Alternatively, the FG may consider enacting an all-encompassing agriculture legislation that will govern the entire agricultural sector, from land registration; cultivation; extension; produce aggregation, supply and exchange; agro-allied production; research and much more.
The bottom line is, the government needs to do more to develop agriculture in Nigeria.
Bashir Saleh Abdu, Esq is a legal practitioner and writes from Kano