LESSONS LEARNT FROM THE RECENTLY HELD PUBLIC POLICY DIALOGUE ON AGRIC INPUT
Citizens’ demand for improved public consultation and accountability further got a big boost in Kaduna State on the 24th February 2018. This was without doubt as a result of the facilitation by PERL/DFID of the Public Policy Dialogue (PPD) on Agric Input through the Ministry of Rural & Community Development (MRCD). More so, because one of the key four areas of focus in the Kaduna State Development Plan (SDP 2016-2020) is governance; which is anchored on improved citizens’ engagement (forums) and service delivery (institutions, human capacity, resources). The PPD on Agric Input was a good omen that the recently signed Open Government Partnership (OGP) by the Kaduna State Government, the first sub-national to do so in Nigeria, is gradually being domesticated.
(From left representative of Value Seeds, beneficiary, Kaduna State Commissioner of Rural & Community Development, Commissioner of Agriculture & Forestry, CEO POHSAC, Convener CALPED during the panel discussion).
The PPD held at Bafra Hotel, Kaduna, was a platform that offered both the government and citizens the rare opportunity to interface on Agric issues. Specifically, it availed the Ministry of Rural & Community Development the avenue to showcase and share experiences on Value Kits distribution successes, challenges and opportunities. This was implemented in 2017 under the pilot replica and scale-up of the Millennium Village Project in three rural communities of Ungwan Wahala (Alheri) in Kajuru, Ungwan Banki in Kubau, and Ungwan Maroa in Jema’a local governments. Without doubt and more importantly, the PPD provided citizens, especially active stakeholders in the agricultural and rural development sectors, with the avenue to give feedback and make recommendations.
The importance of the PPD on Agric Input cannot be overemphasized. This is so because qualitative discussions around agriculture and rural development can play a central role in stimulating economic growth, reducing poverty, and improving food and nutrition security. However, even though the Millennium Village Project pilot replica and scale-up is an integrated intervention by MRCD, the dialogue focused specifically on the Value Kit distribution to farmers. The Dialogue had in attendance notably the Honorable Commissioners of Rural & Community Development (MRCD) and also that of Agriculture & Forestry (MoAF); also, both the outgoing and incoming Permanent Secretary of MRCD, Director Community Development MRCD, and Divisional Cooperative Officers were on hand.
Others in attendance include representatives of the State House of Assembly, Kaduna State Bureau for Public Sector Reforms (BPSR), Farmers’ Groups, Private Sector, Civil Society and the Media. Some of the beneficiaries were also in attendances to testify base on their experiences as the end users. In total, the pilot beneficiaries were 2400 spread across the three communities, with an average of 35% women participation and 90% germination rate. Each beneficiary farmed a quarter of land with the target yield of 12 to 14 bags. There is no doubt that many readers will wonder what the Value Kit is. Simply put, it is an all input maize production technology pack using conservative tillage. Each kit contains seeds, liquid fertilizer, herbicides, insecticide, pesticide and crystallized fertilizer.
The highly interactive and engaging dialogue brought out critical issues especially around the successes, challenges and opportunities towards ensuring that the intervention is scaled-up across the State and sustained. The success stories were exciting, some of which include: increased yield, reduction in cost of production, quality assurance, reduction in drudgery, encouraged the use of improved technology, preventing erosion, reduction in the cost of transportation for buying individual inputs, and assurance of premium market linkages. However, there was no way to evaluate to what extend each of the identified successes were realized.
While on the other hand, some of the challenges highlighted include: late arrival of the Value Kits by June 2017, when the planting period had almost passed. Others are the overzealousness of some of the volunteer extension agents, insecurity, early cessations of the rains and refusal by some of the beneficiaries to remit the agreed two bags back to the government. The latter remains a major threat to the continuation of the intervention. However, the MRCD expressed its commitment to scale-up the intervention by extending it to six more communities, and the allocation of about 500 million naira in the 2018 budget.
Worthy of note was the revelation that Kaduna State has only 200 extension agents (Kaduna Agriculture Structural Survey, 2017); who have not been trained for about 20 years now, with many of them retiring without replacements. Also, a heartwarming revelation is that the Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry is working closely with some partners to set up the Centre of Excellence for Agriculture, which will support in addressing the challenge of shortage of competent extension agents. The enthusiasm of the participants was captured and expressed through their incisive recommendations.
This includes the need to enhance the monitoring and evaluation mechanism, improved risk management and sharing, training of more Extension Services Volunteers from within the farmers, desirability of the intervention being scaled-up to the 23 local governments of Kaduna State, the inclusion of the Civil Society groups in the implementation committee, need for strengthened synergy between MRCD and MoAF, and the desirability of holding a similar PPD under the MoAF to address some of the challenges identified.
Some of the take home lessons at the end of the dialogue were enriching and if applied going forward will increase the likelihood of scaling-up the interventions across the State and sustaining it. Firstly, sustaining a Permanent Dialogue Mechanism like the PPD on Agric Input will surely be a catalyst for increased and qualitative citizens’ participation in ensuring improved service delivery. Secondly, with strengthened synergy between the MRCD and MoAF, challenges such as the refusal by some farmers to remit back will surely be nipped in the bud. This will largely be due to the institutional framework, capacity and experience of the latter to recover loans; as seen in Kaduna State being the best so far in recoveries under the Anchor-Borrowers Scheme.
Furthermore and thirdly, it was evident that early preparation and planning is critical to ensuring that farmers get the input at the beginning of the planting period, to avoid the challenge of late arrival of the value kit in 2017. This will ensure high yield by addressing the challenge of early cessation of rains, which was one of the excuse by some farmers that resulted in low yield and hence their inability to remit the agreed 2 bags.
Fourth, insecurity continues to be a threat to the intervention, even though evidence shows that the Herders-Farmers clashes has reduced, kidnapping in some of the communities still persist, leaving the farmers in perpetual fear of going to the farm. Lastly, the government needs to do more by ensuring that they curb the menace of political farmers who hijack such interventions without effectively utilizing it to the detriment of genuine farmers and the economy.
The PPD ended with the participants in high spirit full of gratitude to the facilitators, PERL/DFID, for creating the enabling platform for citizens to engage the government on its intervention such as that of the distribution of value kits to farmers. There was also unanimity in agreement that the intervention was laudable and should be scaled-up to all the 23 local government areas and sustained.
Yusuf Ishaku Goje
Coalitions for Associations for Leadership, Peace, Empowerment & Development