Agricultural sector which used to be the stronghold of Nigeria’s economy was abandoned as a result of crude oil discovery. Timothy Opaluwa writes on the feasibility of the sector reclaiming its past glory as the mainstay of the nation’s economy.
Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, agriculture had been the mainstay of the nation’s economy, providing the largest portion of foreign exchange inflow into the country. Moreover, according to official statistics, it contributed about 63 per cent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The incomes were derived from the export of major cash crops as rubber, cocoa, palm oil, cashew nuts, groundnut and cotton, among others.
Notwithstanding the low prices that agricultural products suffered at that time, the agriculture sector managed to strive on, continually sustaining the nation’s economy. With the dramatic shift of focus to crude oil exploration and the attendant oil boom of the 1970s, however, agriculture was displaced as the nation’s main foreign exchange earner. As a consequence, therefore, agriculture’s contribution to the nation’s GDP declined to 34 per cent, just as unemployment began to make an upward movement.
Disturbed by the despicable trend of agriculture in Nigeria, the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwunmi Adeshina said, “Since 1975, the nation had become a net importer of basic food items. Agricultural productivity had fallen to its lowest ebb, compounding food insecurity, even though there was vast economic potential in the country.
“In those good years, Nigeria accounted for over 60 per cent of the global supply of palm oil, 35 per cent of groundnut, 23 per cent of groundnut oil and 25 per cent of cocoa, while farmers from the north and south made money from their sweat. Then, the quality of life was good; children went to good schools, the nation was food sufficient but today, that has become history.”
Agricultural experts also bemoaned the neglect of the agricultural sector, blaming it mostly on the discovery of crude oil. According to them, the discovery of the crude oil lured many youths away from the farms into the cities in search of white-collar jobs. Perceptive observers also say that sustenance of the agricultural sector had not been helped by the phenomenal growth of the mining and manufacturing sectors, which also attracted a large work force.
According to Professor Ayo Gbolohan, an agronomist, the decline in agriculture had been catastrophic for the country, especially as Nigeria, which once led the world in palm oil production had now become a major importer of vegetable oil since 1976. “Between 1970 and 1982, agricultural production stagnated at less than one per cent annual growth rate at a time when the population growth was between 2.5 to 3.0 per cent per annum. There was a sharp decline in export crop production, while food production increased only marginally and this led to the augmentation of the domestic food supply through large imports,” Gbolahan lamented.
Also worried by the state of agriculture in the country, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, an industrialist and former Minister of Labour and Productivity, said that it had become shameful that much of Nigeria’s food requirements were imported. He also lamented that agricultural raw materials were not in such sufficient quantity as to effectively drive the nation’s agro-allied industry. “The decline has been so nauseating that the groundnut pyramids of the north, the rubber plantations in the Edo axis, cocoa and kola nuts in the Western areas and other commodities have become things of the past,” Gbadamosi bemoaned.
The decline in agriculture notwithstanding, successive administrations at the federal level, had over the years, initiated various programmes aimed at redressing the drastic decline in the sector. Agricultural analysts easily point to the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) programme introduced by the erstwhile military regime of Olusegun Obasanjo in 1976, the Green Revolution programme under Alh. Shehu Shagari and DFFRI under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Gbadamosi said that the OFN aimed to increase the number of the nation’s farmers and raise the people’s awareness of the key role agriculture played in an economy.
Observers recall that the fall in crude oil prices in the 1980s, which set the nation’s economy on edge, somehow prompted the Federal Government to begin to rethink the vast potential of agriculture. This inevitably led to the idea of the Green Revolution. With the benefit of hindsight, analysts say that the degree of success attained by the various programmes at different times, remains a matter for speculation but suffice it to say that as at date, the nation’s agriculture is still faltering.
The present administration under President Muhammadu Buhari, nonetheless, has reiterated its resolve to restore the nation’s lost glory in agriculture, aside from the increased unpredictability of the world’s crude oil market.
Expressing confidence that the President will reposition the agric sector to become the mainstay of the nation’s economy, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Senator Abdullahi Adamu said, “Now we have reasons to believe that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is serious; serious because the President has said it time and again, since campaigning for presidency and at his inauguration and recently at the presentation of the budget proposals.
“He, Buhari, has emphasised on getting agriculture back on track and we believe him. He is a man of honour, we believe as most Nigerians have testified, he is a man with integrity.”
Furthermore, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe, said that the Agricultural sub-sector will create three million sustainable jobs this year.
Ogbe also said that government has concluded arrangements to focus on Agriculture as one of the key sectors for economic diversification as well as the largest contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
He stated that the key initiative for the fiscal year, 2016 in the Agricultural sub-sector is to increase the national food supply to address national food security, to add 20 million metric tons of food annually and to create three million sustainable jobs annually.
“The ministry will continue with the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) programme as a platform to deliver inputs like fertilizer, seeds and agro-chemicals to small holder farmers,” Ogbe noted.
On critical projects and programmes, he said that the ministry in the budget 2016 will concentrate on import substitution commodity value chains; export substitution commodity value chains; labour intensive family enterprise (Life) programmes; agricultural mechanization and grazing reserves/ stock routes development.
He then reiterated the need to invest heavily in agriculture in order to attract youths to the sector.
“Nigeria could hasten to lift agriculture to the level of India, China and Thailand, including the nations of the western world then Nigeria can surmount her challenges. To get to that level, we need to make huge investments in land preparation, machinery, seed improvement, farmer education and encouragement or enticement of younger people into the agricultural terrain,” Ogbe said.
In an effort to further wake agric sector from its slumber, the Head of Office, Department for International Development (DFID), Mr. Ben Meller has promised more collaboration with the Federal Government in order to grow and develop the sector.
If government and stakeholders will stop lip service, fight corruption and diligently work together, then agric sector will finally bounce back as the back bone of Nigeria’s economy.[Leadership]