Bill Gates, has advised the Federal Government of Nigeria to increase its investment in the agricultural sector so as to make it a steady and alternative means of revenue generation for the country.
Gates gave this advice at the special session of the National Economic Council meeting focused on human capital development held Thursday, March 22, 2018, at the Banquet Hall, Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Present at the meeting were Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President, who is the chairman of NEC, some governors, ministers, CBN governor, Aliko Dangote, Bill Gates and other development partners.
Mr. Gates in his speech said the government should shift attention from oil and improve the agricultural sector to become the pillar of Nigerian’s economy.
According to him, only four percent of Nigerian farmers currently have loans to grow their business and this is unacceptable especially in a country where the sector accounted for a large proportion of the country’s GDP, and during the oil price collapse and recession, helped cushion the economy.
He, however, lamented that the sector is not growing as it ought to and many small scale farmers still lack access to loans that can assist with the expansion of their businesses.
Mr. Gates said the sector still has a lot of potential to grow but pointed out that what is hindering the growth is that majority of Nigerian smallholder farmers lack access to the seeds, fertilizer and training they need to be more productive.
“… Healthy people need opportunities to thrive and one of the most important of these opportunities is agriculture, the sector that nourishes Nigerians and supports half the population especially the poorest,” he said.
Mr. Gates said lack of access to finance is one of the barriers that continues to prevent smallholders from thriving.
“Where three-quarters of people have mobile phones, digital financial services can offer the potential to boost the economy from top to bottom. Right now more than 50 million Nigerian adults are at the whim of chance and the informal economy. With access to digital financial tools, they can cope better with disaster that threatens to wipe them out, build assets and a credit history and gradually lift themselves out of poverty,” he said.
Mr. Gates urged the government to consider the impact this would have on businesses.
He said of the 37 million micro, small and medium enterprises in Nigeria, more than 99 percent are micro and their lack of access to finance is a leading reason why their businesses cannot grow.
He said estimates reveals that digital financial services will create a 12.4 percent increase in Nigeria’s GDP by 2025. Meanwhile, oil accounts for about 10 percent of Nigeria’s GDP.
“Imagine adding another oil sector and then some of the economy, but one whose benefit spread far and wide and would reach almost every single Nigerian. There is another benefit to digital financial services that will make everything I’m urging you to do much easier. It will vastly improve the government’s ability to tax and spend efficiently.”
He commended the government for “some effort to fill these gaps”, with more investment and series of smart policies to encourage private sector investment.
He urged the government to do more because “these reforms lay the foundation for a booming agricultural sector that feeds the country, helps end chronic malnutrition and lift up tens of millions of smallholder farmers”.
The Vice President, in his remark said not only is the government aware of these issues raised, but it is prepared to take the challenges outlined head-on.
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