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The young looking Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources granted the Economic Confidential an interview on the sector. Dr. Abba Sayyadi Ruma, was born on 13th March 1962. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from University of Sokoto and Masters in International Affairs and Diplomacy from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, capping them all with Ph.D in International Relations from University of Abuja. He also holds a Senior Executive Fellowship Certificate from the John. F. Kennedy School of Government Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Ruma who started his working career as information Officer in Katsina rose steadily to a position of Special Adviser to the Governor of Katsina in 1992. He later became Secretary to the State Government in 2003 before he was appointed Minister of State in the Federal Ministry of Education in 2005. It was in 2007 that President Umaru Musa YarÁdua appointed him Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources. He is Chairman of the Governing Council of International Fund for Agricultural Development [IFAD] headquartered in Rome, Italy. Notably, Dr. Ruma is a UNESCO Partner Minister. In this interview, the minister stresses the importance of Cooperative towards the revitalization of the Agricultural sector. Excerpts:
EC: Sir to start with, how do you see the future of Nigeria’s revenue base?
Ruma: With the vagaries of the international oil market and the current global financial crisis, the need for Nigeria to diversify her income base cannot be overemphasized. The dwindling external earnings occasioned by the slide in oil prices and the restiveness of youths in the Niger Delta definitely have telling effects on Nigeria’s finances and her development plans. The rural dwellers that constitute the majority of the nation’s population are being further driven into poverty by both the global food and financial crises. Government’s basic responsibility to its people is to alleviate poverty and promote development and there is no other way of achieving these than by diversifying the economy. This is what informed government’s determination to redouble efforts in agric development.
EC: What can you attribute as challenges to agricultural development in Nigeria?
Ruma: In the 1960s and up to the early 1970s, Nigeria’s agriculture flourished. The country was one of the world’s highest producers of palm oil, cocoa, and groundnut. However, the sector experienced decline over time. Although agriculture remains the dominant sector in the rural areas of Nigeria, it provides employment for about 60% of the work force, the agricultural potential of Nigeria is barely being tapped and this explains the inability of the country to meet the ever increasing demand for agricultural produce.
EC: How can this be addressed?
Ruma: The government realizes that despite the neglect suffered in past years, agriculture still contributes significantly to internal revenue and has the potential of solving the nation’s unemployment problems. The present administration is committed to the vision and mission of IFAD which seeks to eradicate rural poverty. IFAD, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, basically supports small-holder farmers and rural development projects. Serious investment is needed across the board to enhance production and increase the contribution of the sector to GDP and also meet the target of earning at least 50 per cent of foreign exchange in the nearest future. With recent efforts of government, in attaining food security, the sector is on the road to regaining its past glory.
EC: Do you have any programme on ground to encourage farmers?
Ruma: The national policy on agriculture is being given a breath of life through several initiatives, all of which come under the umbrella of the National Programme on Food Security. One of such initiatives seeks to revolutionize farmers’ cooperatives with a view to easing the various problems that previously debarred progress in rural economies.
EC: What are the reasons for idea of cooperative?
Ruma: In Nigeria, the history of cooperatives dates back to 1935. The colonial administration promulgated the Nigerian Cooperatives Ordinance to regulate cooperative activities in the country. The next significant event in the sector took place 35 years later when Department of Cooperatives was established in 1974. Since 1935 to date, a period of 73 years, cooperatives in Nigeria have remained little more than small thrift and credit associations with very little to show in group and individual development. No significant progress could have been made because the cooperatives were not properly organized or regulated. All that was required was registration of about ten persons and an association was left on its own. In almost all cases, the individuals coming together do not have the resources or clout to pool together for meaningful investment. This becomes more poignant when the Nigerian situation is viewed against the backdrop of the reasons that farmers in other countries like India, Malaysia, Indonesia and others form cooperatives.
EC: How can farmers benefit from this new programme?
Ruma: Agricultural cooperatives are created in situations where farmers cannot obtain essential services because the provision of these services is judged to be unprofitable or when services provided are at disadvantageous terms to the farmers – the services are available, but the profit-motivated prices are too high for the farmers. Such associations have caused remarkable gains and progress in other countries. Farmers Cooperatives have also been identified as agents of rural development. These, among other factors account for the Federal Government’s adoption of the Cooperative Revitalization Programme, CRP, as one of the tools for re-engineering the agric sector in order to achieve the goals of food security and national development.
EC: What do you intend to achieve by the CRP?
Ruma: The programme seeks to promote the institution of effective and specialized cooperative bodies that will significantly boost activities in the areas of agricultural production, processing and marketing thereby contributing to the attainment of Mr. President ‘s 7 point Agenda. The CRP, it should be noted, is one of the driving forces of the Value Chain approach adopted to attain commercialization of agriculture in Nigeria. Specifically, the programme’s goal in the medium term (2008 – 2010) is the promotion of specialized cooperatives in the 774 Local Government areas of the country with their corresponding state apexes in the following areas: Rural Microfinance;
Agro-Input and Produce Marketing; Tractor and Farm Mechanization Services; Food Storage, Processing and Packaging; Rural Infrastructural Development and Agro-Enterprises Development.
EC: Would it have impact in the area of crops?
Ruma: In the area of crops, the cooperatives would be restructured to cover the major activities of: production, processing, marketing, build capacity to deliver timely and quality service, promote effective linkages between farmer groups and multi-commodity companies.
EC: What about Livestock?
Ruma: The cooperatives in the livestock sector would be equipped to cover the major areas of livestock production, veterinary supplies, processing and marketing. The same goes for cooperative groups specializing in fishery. However, the area of microfinance and rural development are of need more innovation as government is looking into the possibility of capitalizing the microfinance groups such that they are empowered to deliver service in a profitable but reasonable manner.
EC: How soon do we expect expect the takeoff of the scheme?
Ruma: The specialized cooperatives, which have already taken off in several local government areas, are to receive support from all tiers of government. The Federal Government takes the lead in providing substantial equity in the acquisition of essential agro input for the specialized cooperatives. State governments are to also provide equity in varying degrees while local governments provide logistic support like office space and other materials to ensure successful running of the cooperatives. The cooperatives, unlike in the past, are required to run their affairs as business hence well trained personnel are to keep records and account information for them. Government has already embarked on training programmes in which 101 trainees have benefited. They would in turn train 6,322 cooperative managers from all local government areas. It is envisaged that the Programme will improve, as well as serve as catalyst to the rapid mechanization and modernization of farming and agricultural process in the country.
EC: At the end of the day what do we expect, especially the impacts on the farmers?
Ruma: The expected transformation of the lives of the over 20 million farm families that would be serviced by these specialized cooperatives would lead to a rapid development of: Commercial agriculture; Food security; Rural development; Development of rural enterprise; Employment generation and Deceleration of rural-urban drift.
EC: Your last words sir?
Ruma: In the view of government and as the International Labour Organization once stated, cooperatives are important in improving the living and working conditions of women and men globally as well as making essential infrastructure and services available in areas neglected by the state and investor-driven enterprises. Moreover, cooperatives have the potential to advance the concept of decent work.