By Emeka Nwaokocha
WARRI/Nigeria: The Delta State government had been called to allocate more funds to boost agricultural activities in the state, as it is the main antidote to employment in the state, and improve in living standard of the populace.
This call which was made against the backdrop of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s trumpeted commitment to boost the agriculture sector of Delta State economy, a coalition of Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) by the aegis of Budget Committee Group (BCG), has described the 2019 budgetary allocation to agriculture as a meager sum, saying “the paltry budgetary allocation to agriculture is not in harmony with the ‘Prosperity for All’ projection of the Governor.”
The NGOs made this known during a press conference organised by Environmental and Rural Mediation Centre (ENVIRUMEDIC), in collaboration with PFA Budget Committee Group (BCG), and support from ActionAid Nigeria.
The event was held on Tuesday 21 May, 2019, in Warri, headquarters of Warri South Local Government Area of Delta State.
In his address, Chief Ruona Itoghor, CEO, ENVIRUMEDIC and National Coordinator of the BCG, said one of the core objectives of the group is to monitor the budgetary policy of the government as it tends to boost the agriculture sector, drive food security and foster economic growth. He noted that the BCG had undertaken the huge task of analysing the 2019 Delta State budgetary allocation to agriculture, to interprete the government’s commitment to making the sector very viable and in tandem with the Maputo Declaration of 10 per cent annual budgetary allocation to agriculture.
“Our primary concern as the voice of the rural farmers is to ensure that Delta State government gives adequate attention to growing the agriculture sector through proper funding, and motivating of the major players in the rural farming sector – the Smallholders Women Farmers Network (SHOWFAN) to achieve food security and create employment for the teeming youths,” Itoghor emphasised.
Continuing, Itoghor simply stated that the BCG comprehensive analysis indicates that the 2019 budgetary allocation by Delta State government to the agriculture sector is a paltry 0.7%, saying, “the allocation is not in conformity with the Maputo Declaration which recommended that 10% of national and states budgets be allocated to agriculture.”
He said that the Budget Committee Group commenced its activities in 2012, and had recorded tremendous progress over the years. Itoghor, who doubles as National Coordinator, DELBAG, said that some of the recommendations put forward by the group had been acknowledged and given due attention by the government. He expressed delight in saying that the Delta State Ministry of Economic Planning deemed it important to invite the group to make its input in the validation of the 2019 budget. He described the development as a great feat.
While fielding questions from journalists, Itoghor noted that monitoring and tracking of allocations to agriculture and implementation of projects in the past years had been a herculean task, saying that the ambiguous nature of the budgets often made the task very difficult. He added, “there is a huge disparity between allocation of funds and implementation of projects and relevant information to facilitate tracking and monitoring of activities in the agriculture sector is usually not accessible.”
the group said continuous advocacy, observations and recommendations, had influenced remarkable improvement in the budgetary process, citing the introduction of Delta State Budget Summit which avails the communities the opportunity to make an input to the 2019 budget, including publishing the budget on the internet as some of the innovations the activities of the BCG had caused to happen in recent times.
“As Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), we make efforts to ensure the budget process is participatory and we collaborate with the state government, through the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning, to promote policies that will bring development to the marginalised and vulnerable persons in the society with special attention to the women and girls.”
They said that the Delta State government has the capacity to fund the agriculture sector optimally if priority is given to the sector.
Speaking at the event, Mr. Azubike Nwokoye, Food and Agriculture Programme Coordinator, ActionAid Nigeria, emphasised importance of agriculture in the development of Delta State’s economy, stating that the state’s budget allocation process should involve all stakeholders in the agriculture sector in order to identity the areas more resources would be allocated.
“The budget process, from the point of disseminating circulars should be fully participatory. Town Hall meetings should be convened so that farmers can state what they want in the budget which in turn would address the real problems confronting the farmers so as to boosting crop production.” He added, “All beneficiaries of the agriculture sector – the smallholders farmers, CSOs, media and others should be part of the budgetary process. Continuing, Azubike said that the agriculture sector holds the key to economic prosperity of Nigeria. His words, “the agriculture sector employs the largest number of people. If interventions are done properly in the sector, development will happen, if youths programme in the agriculture value chain are properly funded, insecurity will reduce drastically. The opportunities in agriculture are huge. Without agriculture we cannot have rural development in Delta State and Nigeria.
Similarly, Mrs. Blessing Akhile, Food and Agriculture Programme Advisor, ActionAid Nigeria, urged the BCG not to relent in their activities, saying they represent the voice of the rural farmers whose input is a valuable resource for the budget to achieve its desired objective. Continuing, Blessing said ActionAid focuses on women and girls, including people living with disability, and they are given necessary support to lift them out of poverty.
“We are aware of the fact that women are the marginalized group in the society; we are unapologetically biased about them, because when you address the issues of smallholders women farmers, you have addressed the issue of poverty and insecurity in the society.”