We had a chat with private sector development specialist, Adenike Mfonobong Kazalma-Mantey about effective policymaking and implementation in Nigeria's agriculture landscape.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background and work?
I have primarily been working as a private sector development specialist with several donor organizations like DFID, World Bank and the EU, focusing a lot on the policy and regulatory environment for doing business but also looking at the granular activities beyond the policy and regulatory environment, particularly examining the nut and bolt issues that create difficulty for any businesses including agribusinesses in wholesale, retail- across the spectrum.
What do you think needs to be done to improve the ease of doing business specifically in the Agriculture sector?
I think in order for Nigeria to meet its export-oriented and food security goals, it needs to focus on a few high priority value chains and articulate coherent and well thought out policies to make them transformational.
Please tell us a bit more?
We really need to look at really innovative ways of tackling these challenges. It could be to attract the right investments. It could be trying to get policy coherence; it could be trying to get new actors. It requires really innovative ideas coming through but then there are specific sector-specific issues within the value chain.
So, if you look at the major constraints at the policy level - access to finance, access to power, access to good roads, a lot of them are transversal as they are common and cut across several value chains. Once the government can identify innovative solutions to these challenges they can be quite catalytic not only to one particular value chain but across the whole sector.
Can you dive in a little bit about some of the sector-specific issues within the value chain?
A good example is on standard and quality issues, specifically standard specification. Some agro firms that provide cassava starch to multinationals that I recently interacted with, stated that the Nigerian standard for cassava starch is more stringent than the multinational specifications. What it means in effect is that they focus more on complying with the multinational specifications thereby rendering the Nigerian standard more or less redundant. This reflects that often times, our policy and regulations are not aligned with practice.
Another example is the cassava policy which specified that bread producers substitute wheat flour for cassava flour. This was done as a way to decrease our dependence on wheat and increase earnings and productivity from cassava. The focus was wrong because nobody wanted to eat cassava bread and the flour millers were not interested, so that policy was a flop. On the other hand, perhaps a focus on cassava starch would have been a better, more productive focus, as industrial users of cassava starch would have embraced the policy.
What needs to be done?
The government has to actually look at developing sector-specific policies. They need to have a sit down with the key stakeholders and say, where do we want to go? What is required to get there? What are the issues? What should the priorities be? There needs to be authentic dialogue with key stakeholders about the objectives of what we are trying to achieve and make sure that there's an alignment between the public and private aspirations.
Take for example the recent ban on foreign exchange for importing certain food items, that is not the way policy should be done. It was abrupt. You don't just wake up one day and ban. It is something that you do in a very phased way. You can say, we're going to ban the importation of this in the next couple of years, we're going to develop a backward linkage intervention where we begin to make sure we improve the quality of homegrown supply. You work at it at two levels and that was what happened a couple of decades ago when the government banned the importation of certain fruits. They incentivized the local actors, they were still able to import, but the importation was phased down as they became more capable in the production and then eventually, there was an outright ban. Right now, nobody even looks at foreign fruit juices because our local producers are producing satisfactory quality for the local and international markets. Ideally, certain aspects of policy need to be cemented into the law, that way it detracts policy flip flops and makes government accountable.
What you’re saying is that apart from making the right policies, there also needs to be a focus on how best to implement those policies right?
Very Insightful. Thanks for your time!