The renewed hope to resuscitate Nigeria’s moribund agriculture has orchestrated transformation in the sector. TAIWO HASSAN writes.
Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, agriculture had been the mainstay of the nation’s economy, providing the largest chunk of foreign exchange inflow into the country. Moreover, it contributed about 63 per cent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to official statistics from the National Bureau of Statistic (NBS). The incomes as at then were derived from the export of major cash crops such as rubber,
, palm oil, cashew nuts, groundnut and cotton, among others. Notwithstanding the low prices that agricultural products suffered at that time, the sector managed to strive on, continually sustaining the nation’s economy. Indeed, the sector was the largest employer of labour in the country then. Farmers that ventured into this sector were treated with respect as their farm productivity contribution yielded food safety and security for the Nigerian populace. Cocoa Nigeria solely relied on cocoa export for the growth of her economy. Precisely, the crop was the highest revenue earner for the country as at then.
Past governments, then, relied solely on foreign exchange realised from the sale of cocoa at the international market to build the country’s infrastructure. For instance, proceeds from cocoa sales was used to build the famous Western House in Lagos known as the ‘Cocoa House’, National Stadium, Lagos, establishment of Nigerian Television Authority, Ibadan in Oyo State, University of Ibadan (UI) among others, when the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the administrator in charge of the Western Region.
With the dramatic shift of focus to crude oil exploration and the attendant oil boom of the 1970s, agriculture was displaced as the nation’s main foreign exchange earner. Consequently, agriculture’s contribution to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined to 34 per cent, just as unemployment began to make an upward movement. The discovery of crude oil in large quantity in Nigeria as at then brought about neglect and rejection in the agricultural sector.
Consequently, the ability of the past governments to jettison agriculture in place of crude oil as the mainstay of the country’s revenue earner brought about decay in farm infrastructure. Indeed, many of the farmers’ inputs/tools deteriorated and withered away as oil exploration and production took centre the stage of the economy.
Despite the entrenchment of democracy in 1999, the country’s agriculture was still begging for attention. However, the coming on board of Dr Akinwunmi Adeshina, then the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, under former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan regime, brought a sigh of relief for agric development in Nigeria. Adesina worked assiduously to reposition Nigeria’s agriculture by rolling out policies that reshaped the sector towards the right direction.
Particularly, the former minister decried the decline in the nation’s agricultural sector, lamenting that since 1975, Nigetia had become a net importer of basic food items. The Minister said that agricultural productivity had fallen to its lowest ebb, compounding food insecurity, even though there was vast economic potential in the country.
However, in spite of the previous government’s effort towards repositioning agriculture, crude oil still accounted for the country’s revenue earning. President Buhari during his acceptance speech on May 29th 2015 at the Eagle Square in Abuja, sounded it loud and clear that his administration would give special attention to agriculture as a way of accelerating employment opportunities in the country.
Indeed, President Buhari’s desire to prioritise agriculture and two other sectors- manufacturing and solid minerals was orchestrated by the sudden plunge in crude oil price at the global market in 2015. He said that his administration’s major focus was to aggressively develop the non-oil sector of the nation’s economy against the continued reliance on crude oil as the mainstay of the nation’s economy.
Not mincing words, President Buhari, while announcing his cabinet ministers, appointed a one time Minister of the Federal Republic and a farmer, Chief Audu Ogbeh, as the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to pilot the affairs of the sector with a view of delivering the Federal Government’s outlook for Nigeria’s agricultural development.
The present administration came into office to meet an economy essentially in meltdown and had no choice than to take difficult decisions in the immediate and short terms in order to repair the huge damage done to the economy, especially by depending on oil. Added to this was the fact that government did not invest in infrastructure or deepen the diversification of Nigeria’s economy, or even building the nation’s reserves when oil sold at over $100 a barrel.
Particularly, the administration knew that it had to get the economy right and put it on the path of inclusive growth, with job opportunities for the huge population. One of the most critical components of that plan was to reposition agriculture as the arrowhead of the economic recovery effort. There is no doubt at all that if President Buhari’s administration gets agriculture right, it will also gets the economy right as well. Speaking at the public presentation of ‘The Green Alternative,’
The Buhari administration’s Agricultural Promotion Policy 2016- 2020, in Abuja, then Acting Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, stated that the roadmap that the Federal Government was about to present to the general public, identified two key challenges. First, is the inability to meet domestic food requirements: this is a productivity challenge driven by an input system and farming model that is likely inefficient, the lack of good seeds, fertilizers, irrigation, crop protection etc.
And two: the inability to export at the level required for marketing, which is typified by an inefficient system for setting and enforcing food quality, poor knowledge of target markets, a weak inspectorate system and poor coordination amongst relevant agencies. Precisely, the launching of the agric roadmap by the present administration has been described as very strategic and apt because it was set-aside in continuation of former President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA).
Another notable plan embarked upon by the President Buhari’s administration was the actualization of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s Anchor Borrowers Scheme, which has positioned Nigeria not only as a rice producing nation, but also as a net exporter of rice to neigbouring countries. The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari had prioritised that it was going to stop rice imports into the country due to its huge economic implication to the economy.
The present administration noted that rice importation was causing the country huge foreign exchange, adding that Nigeria spends billions of Naira on rice imports yearly. Indeed, the rice policy under the President Buhari was greeted with applause by stakeholders in the agric sector, who saw it as mission statement by the administration to aggressively pursue availability of food and food security in the country.
Though, the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers Programme was said to have been pushed by 14 states of Kebbi, Sokoto, Niger, Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa, Kano, Zamfara, Admawa, Plateau, Lagos, Ogun, Cross-Rivers and Ebonyi for rice and wheat farmers to advance their status from small holder farmers to commercial or large growers. Particularly, the Anchor Borrowers Programme had the potential of creating millions of jobs and lifting thousands of smallholder farmers out of poverty.
Experts’ prediction that the nation’s crude oil could dry up in the next 50 years, has further underscored the necessity for the nation to go back to agriculture as the most dependable means of sustaining the economy.
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