By a recent projection, Nigeria’s population by year 2050 would have massed up to 500 million. That could mean nothing less than a certificate of disaster for a nation that depends squarely on importation of food items to feed its people.
Over the years, Nigeria has been lethargic on efforts and initiatives towards meeting its food demands locally. On the strength of its petrol-dollars, it felt too comfortable to import just about anything including tooth pick which it could produce in huge proportion locally. Nigeria acted carelessly and most unwisely by neglecting agriculture which some 40 years ago, was the main stay of its economy!
Today, the huge wastes, mismanagement and inability to plan over the past years have worked in concert to enthrone the regime of economic recession. It is time for agriculture to be promoted as a means of succour and a major avenue for bail out. The flag of agriculture is simply an immediate joker for ending recession.
In the pre and post independent Nigeria, agriculture offered employment opportunities to more than 70 percent of the populace. Specialisation by comparative advantage made the Eastern, Western and the Northern regions of the country to earn foreign exchange from rubber plantations, cocoa and ground nuts respectively. Such enhanced competitiveness among the regions on economic development. Succinctly, the resources from agriculture came handy for oil exploration and the subsequent emergence of Nigeria as an oil producing nation.
For Nigeria, the sudden oil boom that came its way only produced a modicum of blessing and a short span era of bliss. Oil resources changed the psyche of leaders and the led. For years, national economy became monolithic, anchored solely on oil and leaving leaders after leaders to evolve the instincts for plundering and squandering of national resources and wealth.
The government of President Muhammadu Buhari which is barely two years in office is making frantic efforts to re-invent the structure of the national economy. The need to pull Nigeria quickly away from the brink of economic collapse where it was left by successive past regimes, explains the emphasis by the government on diversification. Agriculture, from available plans, is the pillar on which the will to reinvent the economy is now resting.
Weeks ago, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) endorsed an agric master plan developed by the Ministry of Agriculture towards causing an instant revolution in food production in Nigeria. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is an integral part of the agenda. According to available reports, agriculture within the next two years will begin to generate foreign exchange for Nigeria with exports of rice, cassava, wheat, fruits, vegetables and other items already being produced on mechanised levels across the country. On this, the evidence is not far-fetched as the cultivation of rice for exports has reached advanced stage in some states of the federation.
Recently, the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele assured Nigerians of government’s preparedness to ramp up rice production for export. According to him, the emphasis on rice production alone under the government of President Buhari has generated about 500,000 employment opportunities in some states. He also affirmed that the CBN had registered at least 70,871 farmers in Kebbi for an Anchor Borrowers Programme. Those registered, he added, had begun the cultivation of farmlands for the large scale production of rice and wheat. Already, farmers have been equipped with 500 threshers for harvest in 12 rice-producing states of Ebonyi, Enugu, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna, Niger, Kogi, Benue and Taraba.
Nigerians are to expect more on the strength of a strong partnership between Lagos and Kebbi states to grow and market rice. Lagos and Kebbi states in March this year, signed a memorandum of understanding on large scale rice production, deploying adequate resources for the laudable venture. The goal of Lagos-Kebbi partnership on food production, according to the Kebbi state governor, Senator Atiku Bagudi, was to first “produce 60 to 70 per cent of Nigeria’s rice needs, and replicate same in other food items.” With the mileage covered so far, stakeholders are already assuring that the price of rice locally will crash before the end of the year. There are reports that rice is to be sold for less than N10,000 in some northern states. Plateau state recently announced resolve to locate itself in the map of states primed to grow rice for export.
More cheering is a report on efforts by the Federal Government to create additional jobs for over 758,500 youth across the country under the Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP) to boost agricultural productivity. The three-year programme, according to the National programme Coordinator, Mrs Karima Babangida is drawing support from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
Babangida said under the YEAP initiative, some 740,000 jobs would be ‘market-oriented’ for agricultural producers. From the lot, 18,500 jobs, she said, would be reserved for university graduates across the nation. Under the market-oriented, 20,000 youths would be selected from each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), she added. Nigerian youths are gaining more as the Ministry of Agriculture some weeks ago launched the First Farmer’s Graduate Scheme at Kampe in Yagba West Local Government Area of Kogi State.
Also, the Road Map on agriculture by the Federal Government anchored on, “The Green Alternative” is a good narrative on how it intends to position agriculture to take Nigeria to a new realm of economic boom with mass participation by Nigerians. The Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh said the Green Alternative is designed to put the private sector in the saddle to create linkages with small and large scale farmers while availing them of better organization methods, technological access, financial services, and linkages to input supply chains and markets, among others.
The Green Alternative agenda on agriculture is not unmindful of the conflicts between farmers and herdsmen over arable lands across the country, while fashioning out security measures built on planned construction of ranches in strategic states of the federation. An interim security measure in this regard, involves the deployment of Civil Defence Corps with specially trained officers to be on guard within the communities noted for incessant menace of herdsmen and cattle rustlers.
From indications, the end of economic recession that is currently threatening to cripple Nigeria is in sight. In this new era, young graduates, the unemployed, retired civil servants, retired Army Generals, political appointees and past heads of states are eager to take to farming.
An immediate governor of Sokoto State, Senator Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko indicated this much in his recent statement when he urged his colleagues and lawmakers in general to start investing in farming. Wamakko is one of the few lawmakers currently cutting wealth from large scale farming. His words of encouragement is no less a good idea for Nigerians with idle resources to take to farming. Nigerians in general may start up with the practice of back yard farming.
With strong measures in place at the instance of the Federal Government, foreign investors are also on the queue to gain footholds in attempting mechanised farming on the ever-fertile soils of Nigeria. The investors from Spain, Italy and China are indicating interest on setting up dairy industries to process raw agricultural products. It is all a tell-tale that Nigeria, a sleeping giant, is truly on the verge of waking up to new realities in an attempt to make up for its chequered past.
*Idowu Samuel, a journalist and public analyst, writes from Abuja and could be reached via 08038039494