opinionBy Austin Uganwa
In a developing economy as typified by that of Nigeria, agriculture is a fundamental sector. It lies at the heart of food security and grapples extreme hunger and poverty, constituting engine for employment opportunities and economic growth. It also serves as a constant barometer to measure the success level of any government and to attain democratic sustainability.
In Nigeria agriculture occupies an exceedingly crucial place. The high population rate of Nigeria has a linear relationship with the rate of food consumption in the country. This essentially unleashes correspondingly intricate pressure on agriculture and agro-allied activities, far more than it is evident in other sectors. This implies that if Nigeria must feed its over 150 million population, it has to embark on a strategic shift, taking up agriculture as a national emergency that requires priority and strategic attention.
However, apart from population explosion, several other reasons favour large-scale, mechanized agriculture in the country. First, Nigeria is an agrarian society with over 70 per cent of Nigerians involved in subsistence farming. Besides, Nigeria boosts of availability of huge land mass, soil fertility, favourable climate, skilled farmers to put the nation on the global chart of top agricultural nations. What appears to be missing include; political will, lack of effective coordination, desirable credit facility. The urgent need for the nation to diversify, from the current monolithic economy that is largely dependent on oil, underpins the economic imperative of revitalizing the agricultural sector.
These compelling observations underline the imperative nature of the decision and recent actions of Abia State Governor, Chief T.A Orji, towards making agriculture state priority programme. Only a couple of weeks ago the governor launched the disbursement of the one billion naira agricultural loan and Roll-Out of Growth Enhancement Support Scheme held at Aguiyi Ironsi Cenotaph, Ogurube Layout, Umuahia. He has also established 17 Liberation Farms in each of the 23 Local Councils in the state while providing tractors to farmers to enhance agricultural development. On yearly basis, the State Government has been procuring large quantities of fertilizers which it distributes at subsidized rate to farmers. More so, it provided to farmers large quantities of Amazon F3 and CRIN CTI improved cocoa seedlings, in addition to other farm inputs to significantly boost the sector in the state.
To consolidate on the agriculture scheme, the State Government has taken a number of steps. It has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to guarantee the Federal Government's collaboration on cassava value chain development and transformation programme. It has also set up Agricultural Transformation Implementation Committee to monitor, pursue and accomplish government's broad goals on agriculture.
Governor Orji's tenacity towards achieving the agriculture project, according to him, is hinged on his policy of food sufficiency in Abia State ahead of 2015; increasing of export crops production and provision of jobs to the army of employable youths in the state. He believes that the initiative is part of the determination of his administration to build an economically viable state, through a sustainable agricultural development. "Our programmes and policy thrust are aimed at boosting food production because of the belief that self-sufficiency in food production is panacea for sustainable democracy and economic growth," he once noted.
Orji may well be right. Democracy makes little or no sense when the masses who are meant to benefit from it are walloping in hunger and abject poverty. Democracy without food on the table and provision of other social amenities is vagabond democracy and should be discouraged. When a government is elected and inaugurated as it was the case of the federal and the 36 states of the federation on 29 May 2011, a responsible government gets down to business to ensuring that democratic dividends trickle down the masses that voted it into power. It is wrong-headed, perfidious to do otherwise.
It is in this context that the effort of the Abia State Government towards making food available to the citizens of Abia State is considered noteworthy. It is important for other states to genuinely borrow a leaf from it and deepen their efforts in this regard. The ultimate goal should be geared towards making the states food sufficient for the sustenance of democracy. Besides, it will have a far reaching impact on wealth creation liberating the states from the shackles of funds paucity.
Dr Uganwa wrote from Abuja