By Okechukwu Onuegbu
Regarded as one of the most blessed countries in the world and known for her richness in soil and products, Nigeria in the 1960s was reportedly one of the most promising agricultural producers in the world, whose main foreign exchange earner was export crops, and number one globally in palm oil exports, groundnut, and cocoa.
Also, veritable sources of revenue as at then were hides and skin, cotton, kola nut, fish, and other raw materials resulting into what was later known as cocoa plantations in the Southwest, groundnut pyramids in the North, booming palm oil production and locally ‘mechanised’ fish farming in the East, highly professionalised hunting and transformation of cottons, hides and skins to clothing in the Middle belt/Mid-Western.
Similarly, proceeds from textile industries, palm oil plants, and other agribusinesses, historically gave Nigeria and Africa dominant position in the international market to the extent that colonial masters were reluctant to relinquish power, and even after they left, industries, schools, scholarship schemes, and others including University of Nigeria Nssuka, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, University of Ibadan, institutes, to mention but a few thrived.
Those years, almost homes in the country has at least a subsistence or mechanised farmer ranging from livestock/animal husbandry, crops production, fish farming, cassava or yam productions, amongst other agricultural sub-sectors. And these farmers and manufacturers reportedly produced and preserved their foods and other produce naturally after harvesting through preservation in silos, salting, threshing, winnowing, cleaning, grinding, pounding, tempering, soaking, parboiling, drying, sieving, baking, frying, cooking, extruding, blending, fermenting, roasting; etc prior to utilization by the final consumers.
However, at the discovery of oil, the country’s attention was shifted to the oil sector. To that effect, agricultural institutes established by the regional, federal and states governments like the Cashew/cocoa Research Institute, Ugbenu in Awka North local government area of Anambra State became moribund, even as the Nigeria Agric Insurance Corporation (NAIC) a body overseeing the country’s insurance in agriculture went into extinction, as the three universities of agriculture located at Abeokuta, Umudike and Makurdi are in sorry mood.
That was even as no fewer than 145 Cotton, Textile and Garment (CTG) mills across the country subsequently collapsed. According to the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Hajiya Aisha Abubakar, who in a recent stakeholders meeting of the CTG Implementation Committee in Abuja affirmed that the optimism of government may be misplaced as all the mills have become a shadow of their old selves while only about 30 are functional at the moment.
Following the current global economic crisis and the fall in oil price, experts across the globe have proposed that agriculture should be revived in order to augment the revenue of the country and as well encourage people, especially youths to engage in farming so as to save Nigerians from impending famine.
The need to revive the agricultural sector has become imperative as most of the local agricultural products lack patronage, even as Nigerians crave for foreign products rather than locally made ones. According to the Federal Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who lamented that today our products attract rejection and very low prices due topackaging as bags like polythene bags destroy crops, and need to return to jute bags, whose factories in Jos and Badagry closed down upon discovery of petroleum.
Seemly aware of this idea, the Federal Government on Monday August 15, 2016 inaugurated a roadmap for the agriculture sector, tagged: “The Green Alternative: Agriculture Promotion Policy, 2016-2020,” a policy the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh claimed would serve as the new fulcrum for economic diversification, inclusive growth and sustainable development in agric sector, under five major strategic driving forces namely, achievement of self-sufficiency and sustainable food security, reduction in import dependence and economic losses, particularly through value addition, stimulation of agro-exports for enhanced foreign exchange earnings, enhancement of wealth and job creation, especially provision of employment opportunities for the teeming youths, make the economy less oil-dependent.
Through this policy, Ogbeh further envisaged that farmers would have access to land, soil fertility, information and knowledge, inputs, production management, storage, processing, marketing and trade, including access to finance, promoting agribusiness and ensuring investment development, institutional setting and roles, youth and women, infrastructure, research and innovation and nutrition security, maintaining also that the government would create extension services office in every local government area to help educating farmers and distribution channels of incentives.
In a similar vein, President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the 36 states governors of the federation, alongside ministers, like the previous administrations, in a recent two-day National Economic Council (NEC) retreat proffered what they termed 71 ways to revive Nigeria’s ailing economy.
Their plans include that the Federal Government should re-position Bank of Agriculture to enhance its capacity to finance agriculture; and that funding for Agricultural sector is considered critical and sources of intervention funding from the Central Bank of Nigeria should be considered.
Others were that a single digit interest rate for agricultural loans should be considered while duties and taxes for Agricultural produce and equipment should be waived, Development of strategic partnerships between Federal and State government whereby each State should make specific commitments to crops in which it has comparative advantage and request Federal Government intervention.
They also suggested that the National targets for self-sufficiency should be set for identified crops, which should be monitored like Tomato paste – 2016, Rice – 2018, Wheat – 2019, and that the Federal and State Governments should roll out agricultural extension services nationwide, while Commodity Exchanges should be established for price regulation and avoidance of losses due to lack of markets.
Conclusively, the plan emphasised that the Abuja Commodity Exchange should be revitalized, even as the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) should be re-established, and that the Federal Government should develop an Agriculture Implementation plan whereby State Governments are encouraged to identify at least two crops in which they have comparative advantage, while States should open up of rural/feeder roads to facilitate transportation of agricultural produce to be supported by the Federal Government.
Tthe joint agro blueprint should establish minimum price guarantee for farm produce, the Federal Government should provide immediate funding to upscale efforts of Agricultural Institutes of Research and Development across Nigeria, and that the State Governments should also be encouraged to fund research and development in agriculture through technical colleges, universities and research institutions.
However, analysts generally believed that these federal government agricultural projects could best be achieved when there are basic amenities like accessible road, transport system and ready markets and industries to enable farmers market their farm produce to the end user (consumers). Similarly, there should be rural electrification as it helps farmers to preserve farm produce, and pest control and other necessary chemicals used in agriculture should be produced or better still subsidized to the farmers.Also, the government should devise effective agric extension agents and monitoring teams to ensuring effective distribution and utilization of agricultural loans, seeds, fertilizer, and other agro input to the real farmers, as well as availability of functional irrigation system where and when necessary.
The federal government of Nigeria, which had in 2006 mandated banks to let go certain percent of their net profit specifically to finance the small and medium-scale enterprise (SME) should find better ways of enforcing compliance to this, specifically on Agriculture as it would encourage people to return to farming.
Relatively, the importation of certain farm produce into the country should be banned so as to encourage the consumption of the locally manufactured farm produce. To that effect, the battle against smuggling and indiscriminate dumping of foreign fabrics in the country should be intensified using Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), NAFDAC, amongst other relevant authorities.
There is no gain stressing the facts that Agriculture, if well structured and properly maintained can promote economic development of underdeveloped countries in several ways, by increasing the supply of food available for domestic consumption, releasing raw materials and labour needed for companies and industries, enlarge the size of the domestic market for the manufacturing sector, increase the supply of domestic savings, employ the teeming unemployed, encourage urban to rural migration, and as well provide foreign exchange earned by the agricultural exports, thereby reducing to a barest minimum poverty, hungry, restiveness, and other forms of social vices.