opinionBy Augustine N. Ezeji
Agriculture was the mainstay of the Nigeria economy, before Nigeria joined the league of oil producing nations in 1958. Before this date, the agricultural sector was a major employer of labor in Nigeria, with groundnut, cocoa, cotton, rubber and palm oil the main cash crops produced. And from the Western region cocoa revenue, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was able to implement his free education policy throughout the Western region. Then, agriculture constitutes to about 75 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Also, Nigeria was a major exporter of agricultural commodities and earned most of its foreign exchange from agricultural produce.
But with the discovery of oil at Oloibiri, River State in 1958, and as Nigeria began to earn fast money from oil sale, agriculture was relegated to the background. And at present, Nigeria earns about 82 percent of the foreign exchange from oil alone, when the country has the capacity, to make a substantial amount of foreign income from a diversify and more secured economy.
The National Bureau of statistics (NBS) reports that about 20.3 million youths are jobless in the country, while 1.8 million graduates enter the labour market every year. In addition, the World Bank Statistics put Nigeria among the five poorest countries in the world due to high rate of unemployment and low per capita income indices.
And the neglect of agriculture in Nigeria hinders effort at different levels to reduce poverty and unemployment, and increase food security, as well diversifies the economy. Several stakeholders at different occasions argue that if not for lack of credit facilities and negative attitude of many Nigerians to agriculture, there is no reason for many Nigerians to be unemployed, when there are over 80 million hectares of arable land, abundant water resources, adequate rainfall and diversified ecological conditions.
The inability to design policies that will create an enabling environment for both individuals and the private sector to invest in agriculture is a big problem. And the low budgetary allocation to agriculture portrays a lack of commitment. Nigeria needs to draw lessons from some of the world fast advancing economy, such as China, where agricultural development and reforms was a top priority for the entire government since 1950s. And the steady growth in agriculture and rural economy was significant to the acceleration of China's modernization process. China is the second country in the world after the United States known for spending on agricultural biotechnology.
The Chinese government made funds available for agricultural research and farmers' education for appropriate training. And to enhance agricultural research necessary institutions, such as Research and Development Institute and research universities were created. The institutions focus on discovery and implementation of new models for seed, fertilizers, and hydraulics. This strategy helped China improve their efficiency of production and maintain sustainable agricultural development.
The development of food interment, production and rural income development agenda in China, which was aimed to create food security, rural stability surplus income and labour supply, enabled about 250 million peasant farmers with each using an average of 0.65 hectares to feed a population of 1.3 billion people. And this greatly contributed to the reduction of poverty in China.
More so, China adopted the land reform policy referred as the Household Responsibility System- a privately leased land use system, designed to boost the rural economy and increase farmers' income. The system greatly enhanced food production as agricultural output grew at 7.9 percent annually. And at present, China is the world's largest producer of agricultural products. And China's agricultural sector employs over 400 million people and produces food capable of feeding about 30 percent of the world population.
And as the Nigeria's agricultural sector becomes more intertwined with the national economic transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan, it is very important to give agriculture the required attention to effectively address the economic and social problems affecting the country.
Provision of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and modern farm tools at subsidized rate, and availability of veterinary doctors, accessible road and good transport system are necessary steps for agriculture to thrive in Nigeria. Moreover, a good policy with an accompanying implementation strategy to facilitate and promote strong private sector investment in agriculture should be introduced.
Other ideas that should be considered as part of agricultural policies are rural electrification project and availability of functional irrigation. Nigeria has a River Basin and Rural Technology Development Authorities (RBDA) that aims to use irrigation to boost food production, but RBDA seems not to be meeting this mandate. In order to harness the country's water resources for food sufficiency, the RBD should meet the agricultural needs associated with water resources.
The implementation of ban policy on importation of certain farm produce, to encourage the consumption of the local farm produce should be well-supervised. And there is need to eradicate corruption, such as misappropriation of funds allocated to the agricultural sector. Also, adequate financing of agriculture in Nigeria in the form of loans to large and small scale farmers, will boost agriculture in Nigeria, because finance is the backbone of every worth venture.
While prioritizing agriculture, there is the need to reposition agricultural research institutes to meet the emerging challenges. For example, more attention should be given to bio-fortified crops development and distribution. A great achievement will be recorded in agriculture, if most farmers in Nigeria have easy access to pro-vitamin A Cassava stem and Maize seed, and improved breeds of animals for livestock farming.
And apart, from other agricultural world best practices that can be adopted to reap from the numerous benefits of viable agricultural sector in Nigeria, farmers should be encouraged to take up agricultural insurance policies, which will help to re-instate them in times of loss. Knowledge of insurance policies and other ways to increase agricultural productivity in the country can be achieved through expansive awareness among farmers.
An effective communication strategy will be required to drive this awareness campaign. Various communication media in Nigeria may be used to transmit the information. It is very important to approach the media wisely and design appropriate messages for both the local small and large farmers- enhancing agricultural knowledge and attitudinal change among the Nigerian farmers.
If agriculture is given the required attention, apart from the even derivation of foreign exchange and diversified economy benefits, agriculture will be seen as an attractive business and millions of jobs would be created in Nigeria. And this will accelerate development, ensure food security, self-sufficiency and alleviate poverty in Nigeria.
By Augustine N. Ezeji, a Communication and Research Officer with Rural Africa Water Development Project, Owerri (firstname.lastname@example.org)