AGRICULTURE AS CATALYST FOR NIGERIA’S ECONOMIC REVIVAL
Written By Dedeigbo Ayodeji Samson
Posted By Town Crier News Nigeria
Published By Fitness Network Communications
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. The implication of this is that apart from other necessities, the country requires an enormous quantity of agricultural products to survive.
Agriculture is dominant in the economic activities of the people. A lot of Nigerians derive their livelihood from one aspect of agriculture or another. This brings the importance and role of agriculture to the fore. Unfortunately, the Nigerian agricultural situation leaves much to be desired.
Over the years, unlike what was obtained in the First Republic, government revenues have witnessed a steep decline characterised by slowness and unstable policy decisions. In those good old days, when the regions were allowed to flourish, Nigeria’s economy was developing at a very fast pace. This included the agricultural sector. Then Nigeria was strong in both food and cash crops. Those were the days of the groundnut pyramids, cocoa, timber, palm oil, etc.
However, when oil exploration stole the attention of successive governments, whatever could go wrong, went wrong and the Nigerian economy nosedived and has been tottering on the edge ever since.
This, coupled with endemic corruption, has caused all revenues and expenditures to plummet significantly in recent times, resulting in a crippling debt portfolio.
However, this is not to say that governments have not been trying. It is just that policies and programmes implementation have recorded minimal progress but generally lower than set goals, as captured in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan(ERGP) and annual budgetary projections.
Nigeria has about 80 million with yam, maize, cassava, guinea corn, beans, and rice being the major crops but is beset by sundry difficulties, both natural and man-made, which have stunted its productivity and lowered its contribution to the country’s economic growth.
A peep into the performance of some of the country’s key products, such as rice, cassava, livestock, fisheries, etc., suffices.
Despite Nigeria’s remarkable efforts in improving rice production, for instance, resulting in increased production, it still fell short of the 6.7 million metric tons of locally produced rice consumed in Nigeria annually. The rest is imported or smuggled. Even the ban placed on rice importation in 2019 has been ineffective
In 2017, Nigeria produced 59 million tons of cassava, which is about 20 percent of global production, making it the world’s largest producer. This came with huge economic potential. With the introduction of improved varieties and production techniques, the increase in production has been enormous as well.
However, Nigeria seems to have challenges with animal or livestock production. The country has not fully taken advantage of this sector, including sheep, goat rearing, cattle, and piggery. Poultry and other domestic animals could be of immense help in turning around the fortunes of the country but underproduction has made it impossible to even meet domestic demand despite several government interventions. One of the major challenges in this regard is how to improve production and safeguard against diseases.
In the area of fisheries, Nigeria is not only the largest fish consumer in Africa but also ranks among the largest fish consumers in the world. It is reputed to consume about 3.2 million metric tons of fish annually.
The country has a coastline of 853km and over 14 million hectares of inland waters, with an annual total fish production of about 1 million metric tons. Most Nigerians, especially poor households, depend on fish for their protein needs. Its fisheries and aquaculture are booming and among the fastest growing subsectors in the country, with the sub-sector expectedly vital to achieving self-sufficiency in fish production and nutritional needs.
In order to shore up the agricultural sector and provide sufficient quantities of food for local consumption and export, the government has implemented several initiatives and programmes, including the Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP), Nigeria–Africa Trade and Investment Promotion Programme, Presidential Economic Diversification Initiative, Economic and Export Promotion Incentives, and the Zero Reject Initiative, Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+); Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP); Action Against Desertification (AAD) Programme, among others.
These programmes were also designed to protect and preserve the environment and recover the land and natural resources from despoliation by erosion.
In fact, the country’s forestry plays a very significant role in agriculture and development. However, this has come under threat due to population growth, urbanisation, and economic activities that have led to massive deforestation and environmental distortions. The use of firewood for cooking and other needs, such as charcoal as well as timber extraction, housing, grazing, bushfires, and infrastructure development is largely responsible for the worrisome development.
With dwindling revenue the stimulus and capital investment to engender rapid growth is not strong enough. The only way for the Nigerian economy to get vibrancy is through diversification and that is where the agricultural sector comes in strongly.
Nigeria has been a consumption country for far too long. It is time it moved from this to becoming a production. To get the agricultural sector involved as a catalyst for the new reality, certain steps must be intentionally taken by the government:
Nigeria has not fully realized its potential in agriculture and that, perhaps, is the reason it has not fully taken advantage of this. The country has an estimated population of about 200 million people with a land mass that is twice the size of Zimbabwe and South Africa combined. The country is yet to take advantage of this huge population even as a greater number of Nigerians depend on farm products to survive.
The country has large stretches of fertile land available for cultivation, one of the largest in Africa with more than 900 thousand square kilometers. If well tapped, this could provide Nigeria with an unlimited source of food, providing agricultural produces and jobs for the people.
Regardless of this, outdated technology and lack of storage facilities have remained a cog in the wheel of progress for Nigeria’s agricultural sector, and affected output as well as leading to wastages of the little produced.
Also affected is livestock production which is lower than national demand, hence leading to the importation of livestock products and depletion of foreign exchange. Apart from providing healthy diets, the livestock sector equally has huge employment opportunities.
It is not in doubt that the Nigerian economy is in the doldrums and begging for revival. Agriculture is a major catalyst that could trigger this revival. This is urgent because crude oil exports, which Nigeria overly depends have lost their verve and can no longer sustain or finance the country’s needs, considering its bloated population and high rate of poverty and unemployment, as agriculture remains the largest sector of the Nigerian economy and employs about two-thirds of the entire labour force.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, has rated agriculture low as far as its input with regard to its contribution to national development. It is believed that in the recent past, Nigeria loses about $10 billion annually due to poor export opportunities as a result of a consistent decrease in the production of some commodities.
Factors undermining agricultural production experts said to include, but are not limited to, smallholder land holding, poor land tenure system, low productivity due to poor planting material, low fertilizer application, a weak agricultural extension system, absence of long-term accessible cheap funds, low-level of irrigation farming, climate change, and land degradation.
Others are low technology, high production cost and poor distribution of inputs, limited financing, high post-harvest losses, and poor access to markets. To make matters worse is the ravaging impact of bandits and killer herdsmen that have driven people away from their farms. These criminals do not only graze their cows on the farms but also kill or maim the farmers if they dare to protest thus impeding farming activities on their land and buying seeds or other essential inputs, which has also led to shortages of labour, thereby disorganising the production and processing of food, especially for crops that require hard labour. This also affects access to crops and restricted access to the markets.
The consequence is that people now stay away from the farms further resulting in extreme scarcity and starvation. Moreover, this has also negatively impacted the sector’s contribution to the country’s GDP and made it import-dependent. Its food imports are escalated due to its huge population, hence declining levels of food sufficiency. Added to this is the atrocious campaign of herdsmen and bandits that has compelled farmers to stay away from the farms.
Sadly, too, perishable farm products, such as vegetables and fruits are usually wasted because of lack of storage and preservative mechanism.
There is no gainsaying that the agricultural sector ranks high on the index of Nigeria’s most important sectors. This is so because it accounts for the livelihood of a greater number of Nigerians directly and indirectly.
Unfortunately, the sector has not been able to reach its full height due to debilitating limitations in the face of the burgeoning population, which has resulted in unending food shortages. Because of this, the country resorts to importing most of its food, which has worsened the plight of the agricultural sector.
The need to accord this sector a primary place in the quest to revive Nigeria’s economy has become imperative, as the country cannot stand or make serious headway in the face of a tottering agricultural sector.
There is, therefore, no reason the government should not double its efforts to bring in the private sector by enabling investment opportunities like tax holidays and waivers.
To be able to do this, the various challenges of the sector must be properly situated and addressed.
The agric sector is beset by poor infrastructure because able-bodied youths that could be useful in the sector migrate to the cities in search of better options to survive. The rural areas where the farming activities go on lack good roads, light, potable water, and other amenities that make life easy.
In places where you see the facilities, they are either obsolete or unserviceable. The farmers may not know how to operate them and government agencies that should teach them are nonchalant or nonexistent or uncoordinated and cannot be effective and efficient; most of the time research reports are never studied or implemented and, therefore, cannot be utilised for the purpose it was meant to achieve. Yet another challenge is the lack of education and modernization. Illiteracy is a big drawback. That is why the farmers depend on their familiar obsolete practices and sadly, nobody to guide them on the new path and how to operate mechanized equipment where available.
A lot of times, the so-called machines are imported without consideration for spare parts and service centres. So, when they break down, there would be no one and no place to take them for servicing. This is as frustrating as the lack of proper storage facilities, exposing harvests to attack by pests, which results in losses or a reduction in the quality of the crops. Also, a paucity of improved varieties of plants and livestock and the antiquated mentality of rural farmers constitute a clog in achieving set targets.
It is noteworthy that recent government policies show that the government is trying to initiate programmes to boost the agric sector and introduce implements to boost crop yields. The Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, OSGGF, announced a new agricultural policy.
“The policy aims at attaining self-sustaining growth in all the sub-sectors of agriculture and the structural transformation necessary for the overall socio-economic development of the country as well as the improvement in the quality of life of Nigerians.”
The broad objectives include:
*Attainment itself sufficiency in essential food commodities
*Increase in production of raw materials
*Increase in production and processing of exportable commodities.
*Modernisation of agric production, processing, storage, and distribution
*Creation of more agric and rural employment opportunities
*Protection and improvement of agric land resources and presentation of the environment
*Establishment of appropriate institutions and creation of administrative organs
Also, the government recently launched a new agricultural policy, called National Agricultural Technology and Innovation Policy, NATIP. This came on the heels of the Agricultural Promotion Policy, APP), which existed from 2016-2020.
The new six-year plan was designed to modernise the agricultural sector in line with global trends. It is to be implemented between 2022-2027 and specifically “aimed at sustainable development of the national technological and innovative capacity to fast-track import substitution with particular emphasis on the reduction of rice, dairy and fish importation as well as further increase resilience in digital agriculture, thereby promoting potential value chains and agricultural investment.”
The NATIP revolves around ten themes: Stakeholders Synergy and Alignment, Knowledge Creation and Transfer, Rapid Mechanisation, Agricultural Development Fund Establishment, Extension Service Delivery Revitalisation, and Livestock Development.
Others are Priority Crop Value Chain Strengthening, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Marine and Inland Fisheries Development, Market Development, and Agricultural Lands and Investments Partnership.
“The policy document also covers the crosscutting areas of Digital and Climate-Smart Agriculture Promotion, Rural Infrastructure Development, Nutrition, and Exports Standardisation. It also includes Agricultural Lending and Insurance, Data and Information Management, and Quality Agricultural Inputs Access.
Agricultural Land and Water Resources Usage, Women and Youth in Agriculture, Cooperatives Revitalisation and National Food Reserve and Food Security are also part of the new plan.”
However, if the government truly desires to use agriculture to catalyse the country’s economy it has to breathe life into its projections and consider the few steps hereunder:
*Technology: This is the age of technology. Nigeria should go a step higher to mechanise agricultural production through the provision of modern farm machines and equipment. It should make it a priority to provide modern farming equipment to replace the old methods and machines that are not as productive.
*Education and skills acquisition: Without proper education or skills training, mechanised farm tools cannot be adequately and safely deployed. So, it is important to train local farmers and get them to improve their skills.
*Proper supervision: There should be proper coordination and supervision of farming activities. This is where the Agricultural Research Council comes in.
*Infrastructure: Provision of good roads and other infrastructure that can aid food production, movement, and storage.
*Agro-chemicals: Provision of agro-chemicals, such as fertilizers, herbicides, drugs, fungicides, insecticides, vaccines, etc., and so on. The government should also provide agro-chemicals for improved yields, such as fertilisers, to farmers at a subsidized rate in an attempt to improve agriculture within the nation.
*Incentive: The government should incentivise able-bodied youths to get involved in agriculture through the introduction of viable and profitable programmes and policies. Such incentives could be in the form of provisions of free or cheap farm inputs like fertilizer and pesticides as well as financial grants or soft loans.
*Export: Government must be intentional and intensive in limiting the importation of food products, especially those products that Nigerian farmers could handle if encouraged. The aim should be getting local farmers to produce more crops and export them instead of importing them.
*Water: Water is very important to both animal and plant life. However, a major problem confronting farmers is inadequate water supply. Due to climate change, it has become impossible to rely on unpredictable rainfall. This calls for the construction or reconstruction of the irrigation system so that farmers could access the much-needed water to supply water for planting at all seasons.
*Consistency: The government must ensure that its policies and programmes are well thought-out and stable. It is not good as has been noticed that programmes are jettisoned before they even address the issues they were meant for.
*Cooperatives: The farmers should be encouraged or helped to organise themselves and take advantage of the packages on offer. This will help t facilitate their access to funds and thereby expand their farming engagements, buy more raw materials, and working capital, acquire assets to help their business, and employ more Nigerians but must guide against the urge to use the facilities to acquire more wives.
*Sincerity: Apart from funding and provision of the foregoing or more, the government must kill corruption, which has always killed its initiatives. The country has had many laudable programmes, such as Operation Feed the Nation, OFN, and Green Revolution that ended up failures because the huge funds provided were looted by the operators. There should also be trained and dedicated manpower to run the sector. Government must be clear in its policies. Ambiguities and lack of specifics and focus have contributed to policy failures.
Indeed, the government should be commended for the various efforts it had initiated through the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to make credit available to farmers and other players in the agricultural sector over the years, especially recently.
Nevertheless, it must go the extra mile to remove the clogs in the wheel of success of the sector as stated above.
It is not just about making pronouncements or even actually making available funds; the government on its part should make sure that these facilities are accessible without the encumbering corruption in the system. The farmers should form cooperatives or simply come together as a group to be able to tap into governments’ efforts at making farming fun and profitable.