Though the need to accord top priority to Agriculture in Nigeria with a view to enhancing food supply in the country can no-longer be over emphasized considering its importance to the development of human psyche. Tapping the vast economic potentials in the sector is fast becoming more fashionable to boost the economic prosperity of the country. In this report GEORGE OKOJIE x-rays ways of making the country get its fair share in the global market.
Despite the fact that agriculture for a very long time remains the mainstay of the Nigeria economy from the perspective of its 42 per /cent contribution to Gross Domestic Product, the vast economic potential of commercial agriculture that could turn the sector to the nation's green gold seemed to have been taken for granted.
Though the sector accounts for an estimated two- third of all employment opportunities and the contribution of 10 per cent to the non -oil sector of the economy, focusing on commercial agriculture presents the country with a most exciting and unique chance to capture a significant share of the global trade.
The reason to make projections in this direction for enhanced economic growth is simple. It is estimated that the world population will increase by 2.5 billion over the next 40 years from the current 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion people in 2050.
Development pundits affirmed that though the population growth will not be evenly distributed across the globe, majority of is projected to occur in emerging economies.
If these broad based statistics are anything to rely upon, many countries of the world will experience strong economic growth and an increasing number of middle class consumers who are bound to be caught in the web of demand for wider variety and more complex food product thereby placing strain on food market.
Again if the present crop of leadership is determined to replicate the Singaporean experience and move from third world nation to first in one generation, it could leverage on China's population which is presently growing by 18 million per annum.
China presently consumes 16 per cent, 30 per cent and 20 per cent of global wheat, rice and corn resources, while 50 per cent of all soybeans are exported to China. These trends are likely to continue and Nigeria, the nominal giant of Africa could take advantage of the strong food demand to boost its economic prosperity.
Although, the Goodluck Jonathan led administration appears to be thinking in this direction by virtue of its blueprint on agricultural development, industry watchers are of the view that the country's system can eat up any person and screw any good idea they are bringing to salvage the situation.
The Minister of Agriculture Dr. Akinwumi Adesina who is at the forefront to change the nation's age long template of agricultural development that never had impact on the country's economic growth, projected that the Federal Government would realise over N410 billion from rice and cassava flour production by the year 2015.
He said the government is currently treating agriculture as business and not as development program, saying ,"We are embarking on this massive efforts to turn Nigeria away from a food importing nation, to a food self sufficient nation, one that can feed itself with pride".
The Federal Government is currently banking on its potentials in agriculture to transform the country and has made provision for about N2 billion in the 2012 budget for young commercial farmers to encourage them to grow food for the nation.
The minister said about N350 billion would accrue to the nation's economy by the end of 2015 following the import substitution policy for rice, while over N60 billion would be generated from substituting 20 per cent of bread, wheat flour with cassava flour.
Amid constraints, he said strategies needed to ensure the actualisation of the goals include passing legislation that would make it mandatory for flour mills to utilise 10 per cent of cassava flour as substitute for bread wheat, blending of 10 per cent of ethanol made from cassava with petrol, ensure zero tariff for import of agricultural equipment and provide tax holidays for investors in the agriculture sector.
He explained that the goal of the government is to make Nigeria an agriculturally industrialised economy, create wealth, jobs and markets for farmers, and to revive the rural economy, saying the government is determined to grow the size of the agricultural sector from the present level of $99 billion per year to about $300 billion per year by 2030.
According to him, "Our biggest focus is on rice, to make Nigeria fully self-sufficient in rice. We have completed three new integrated rice mills with a total capacity of 90,000 MT per year. Nigerian rice mills are now producing long grained, parboiled rice of very good quality that is competitive with imported rice from Thailand or India. Demand for Ofada rice is rising due to our efforts to promote local rice.
"Government has succeeded in attracting foreign investors to invest in the rice sector. An investor is investing in large scale rice production and milling in Taraba State, on 30,000 hectares of land which is being shared with the communities, while encouraging young farmers to get into commercial agriculture. This rice farm alone will produce 300,000 metric tons of rice, which is 15 per cent of all the rice currently imported into Nigeria.
As a way of responding to some of the major constraints which borders on less than 17 of the country's arable land cultivated for agricultural purpose, low use of fertilizer, continued dependence on rain -fed agriculture and minimal investment in research and infrastructure, emphasis are currently geared at tackling the challenges posed by the limitations.
Adesina told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY while commissioning agricultural projects recently executed by the Nigerian Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR) the government is prepared to pump funds into research, infrastructural development and provision of fertilizers for farmers to improve their productions.
Adesina who harped on the importance of research said, "I have seen some of the laboratories in the research institute, the central laboratory has a lot of sophisticated equipment that allow them to monitor what goes on in the waters and the diversity of aquatic species that you have and the level of pollution, in particular of metals that are in the waters. Even in the lagoon here. Without that type of capacity you will not know what is going on in the marine asset that we have.
"With a lot of pollution and fishes we must know whether what we are eating are actually safe and the research is helping a lot with that.
"They have set up fish feed plant and Nigeria imports roughly $38 million fish feed as a result of that we are not using our own materials. What they have done and done very well is to actually start using local materials for the fish production. This will reduce the importation of fish feeds outside the country. It will also help us to be self sufficient in fish feed production using local content.
"We must turn Nigeria away from being dumping ground for cheap imports. The culture of buying and selling, bring in everything from wheat and rice and other food items have destroyed Nigeria's agriculture.
"Nigeria before the present intervention by Mr. President spends a whooping 10 billion US dollars or over N1.3 trillion per year, importing wheat, rice and sugar. As we do, we export jobs to other countries, while we destroy our own agriculture, dashing the hope of millions of Nigeria farmers. Mr. President eats locally produced rice and serve his guest the same."
The minister said emphasis is now on to grow local and eat locally produced food stuffs, saying the Federal Government goal is to add the 20 million MT of food to the domestic food supply and create 3.5 million jobs by 2015.
He said the Federal Government has ended the age long corruption in the fertilizer distribution system where government procures fertilizers and distribute, saying the Federal government leveraged on N30 billion from commercial banks to help the farmers to get access to seeds and fertilizers at a reduced rate.
As the agricultural sector gradually becomes the treasure trove for investors, agriculture in commercial scale some state governments in the country affirmed, holds the prospects of very high return on investment.
In Lagos for instance, the state government has been very proactive turning agriculture to business with the establishment of the Agricultural Youth Empowerment Scheme, known as Agric-YES programme of the state government located in Epe axis of the state.
Though Miss Olanrewaju Oloko, who studied Biochemistry at the Lagos State University, could not secure any job after her graduation from school in 2008, she had since taken up farming to make ends meet.
Her desire to contribute and help boost the food basket of Lagos State, South West Nigeria made her to enroll in the Agricultural Youth Empowerment Scheme, Agric-YES of the state government in Epe.
According to her, her desire had always been to contribute her quota to the country's socio-economic development. By implication, Agric-YES now provided vast opportunity to play this critical role, which she said, Nigeria needs, to achieve sustainable agricultural production and realize its food security objectives.
"Food is a special need in human life. It is a weapon in times of war. So, I desire to do whatever that can help me contribute to the development process in my immediate community and beyond. This is in line with the vision of Agric-YES to ensure food security in the state."
She told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY she is presently earning a living through Agriculture after completing the six Agric-YES programmes. The state government had given the first 100 beneficiaries of the scheme N4.5 million loan grant to take off by establishing their own agricultural ventures.
For the Chairman/ Chief Executive Officer, Ramana Group of Companies, Mr. Bolaji Ogunseye, a sustainable development expert, the country lost the opportunity of hosting the Head-quarter of Songhai Model Agricultural Scheme that has contributed to the Benin Republic's economy through agriculture.
He said the Songhai integrated model is a rural and agro-allied business development and wealth creation project which also has a training, production, research and development centre for sustainable agriculture that could make agriculture a goldmine in the rural parts of the country.
Ogunseye said Songhai model is an agro-allied rural expansion or development with a specialty approach to agricultural development which ensures that, "Everything from any production process goes as raw materials and input to another process, but not knowing it is a challenge; that is point one of the Songhai model production using organic strategies which is emphasising the three R's of reduce the quantity you use as inputs, re-use and re-cycle".