Towards A New Nigeria (4)

… Revamping Agriculture

THIRTY-nine days from now, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu would be sworn in as the 17th President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. The ceremony climaxes his quest for becoming the president. Therefore, all eyes are on him to work the talk of his campaigns. Nigerians are eager to experience the renewed hope as envisioned in his 80-page campaign document. Indeed, it is time for Tinubu to roll up the sleeves, throw off the Agbada and get to work.

LUCKILY, he has promised to hit the ground running. In his acceptance speech he said he understands the challenges ahead of the nation and pledged “to listen and to do the difficult things, the big deeds, that put us on the path of irreversible progress. Hold us firmly to account, but please give us a chance first.” Give it to Tinubu, he has uncanny ability to identify and put together a winning team. That was his record in Lagos where he was Governor. That was the record he maintained during the campaign that got him victory. The nation now awaits the team which will drive his dream of a great Nigeria.

ONE of the cruxes of the incoming administration is agriculture. Agriculture is, arguably, one of the oldest practices of most human societies, and the processes of food production have been continuously refined and improved upon to meet different challenges and developments through the ages. Nigeria has a very rich history with agriculture. For many years, it was the mainstay of the nation’s economy, especially during the closing years of colonial rule and the early years following independence in 1960. For example, in the 1960s, before it turned to oil, Nigeria was one of the most promising agricultural producers in the world.

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BETWEEN 1962 and 1968, export crops like cocoa, cotton, groundnut, rubber, among others were the country’s main foreign exchange earners. The country was number one globally in palm oil exports, well ahead of Malaysia and Indonesia, and exported 47 percent of all groundnuts, putting it ahead of the US and Argentina. But its status as an agricultural powerhouse has declined, and steeply. While Nigeria once provided 18 percent of the global production of cocoa, second in the world in the 1960s, that figure is now down to 8 percent. And while the country produces 65 percent of tomatoes in west Africa, it is now the largest importer of tomato paste.

THE discovery and exploration of crude oil in Nigeria changed the fortunes of agriculture, and even Nigeria. The wealth of crude oil was instantly attractive to the country and sounded the death knell for agriculture as successive governments, basked in oil wealth to the detriment of agriculture, in no time and with half-hearted commitments and very low investments from the government, agriculture was relegated to small time, rural practitioners with little and stale technological knowledge or inputs.

HOWEVER, the decline in crude oil revenue has once again exposed the vulnerability of Nigeria’s dependence on crude oil as a major earner of foreign exchange. Consequently, Nigeria is finding it difficult to pay for its food import bills and there is hunger in the land.

ACCORDING to research, the total area occupied by Nigeria is 92.4 million hectares (924,000 kms) of which land and water respectively encompass 79.4 million and 13.0 million hectares. Agricultural land covers about 78% of Nigeria’s total land area equivalent to 71.9 million hectares. Unfortunately, only about 28.2 million of the agricultural land is really being cultivated. Still, the farming practice in much of the cultivated land is the bush fallow system. Also, out of the two millions of land estimated to be irrigable, only about 220,000, representing 7% is actually irrigated. This reflects a gross disproportionate utilization of agricultural land when compared to the rate of population growth.

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Also, many agricultural research institutions across the country are lying fallow without developing research findings for the advancement of the nation’s agricultural sector. This is caused by successive governments’ neglect of the institutions. Insecurity in the farmlands is a great challenge. The urgent need to redesign and upgrade Nigeria’s security apparatuses could not be over emphasized, not just for agriculture development, but for overall benefits of Nigerians. Farmers are still in great fear of being kidnapped or killed. Kidnapping has become a common occurrence such that farmers in some Northern states even go ahead to pay tax and harvest fees to bandits to avoid attacks.

We therefore encourage the president-elect to please take a critical look at the agriculture sector with the view to using it as a catalyst to the revamping our prostrate economy. No doubt, if government is serious and genuinely develop the agriculture sector, our teaming unemployed youths would key into it, thus removing them off the streets and reducing crime rates. We encourage Bola Tinubu to record marginal progress in areas where the outgoing administration has failed to adequately address . We believe that agriculture remains one of the fundamental issues that would drive growth. Government should realize that farmers need irrigation, innovation, single-digit interest rate, infrastructure, and mechanisation to change the fortunes of Nigeria’s economy, employment, food provision and other spin-offs.

There is no way agriculture can grow using cutlass and hoes anymore. Mechanisation and irrigation are vital if we are going to feed ourselves and export  Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that growth in the agricultural sector had been on the decline since the first quarter of 2015, with marginal growth recorded only in the fourth quarter of the same year. The inability of the government to provide critical infrastructure, such as motorable roads in rural communities, mechanisation and irrigation facilities, to aid all-year farming is a major factor responsible for the persistent decline in the sector in recent years.

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We call on the president-elect to focus on provision of tractors for mechanisation to attain food sufficiency. Nigeria with over 220 million people is one of the least mechanised farming countries in the world with a tractor density of 0.27hp/hectare, far below the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 1.5hp/hectare recommended tractor density for Africa and other developing countries.

Another major problem facing smallholder farmers is the lack of adequate food storage and credit facilities. Most of the current intervention funds such as Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS) and Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), were anti-farmers, as real farmers are not benefiting from it. The president-elect should realize that his hard-earned victory is a testimony to the confidence reposed in him by the electorate which should not be taken for granted. One of the things he could do is to actually develop the agriculture sector and quickly too.

Towards A New Nigeria (4)

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