Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina
Crusoe Osagie reviews the Nigerian agricultural sector, which has largely been groping for over half a century
The colonial plunder of Nigeria’s agricultural resources before independence interestingly set the stage for a vibrant sector that almost single-handedly financed a society chewed up by self-serving western overlords.
Although the relatively efficient agricultural sector was created to stoke the British industrial revolution, it did not fail to establish Nigeria as a global agriculture powerhouse, with the West African nation leading the world in the supply of various commodities in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Pre-independence and just after 1960, Nigeria had its various agro-ecological zones expertly outlined to promote the propagation of selected crops in the various regions.
While the Western parts of the country were primed to develop cocoa as a major cash crop, the Northern parts of the country focused on groundnuts as major export commodities. Eastern Nigeria, and a region later called the Midwest, developed oil palm and rubber, leading the country to global glory through the commodities.
During these early independence years, Nigeria was the world’s largest producer of groundnuts with average output of 712,600 tonnes a year; the second largest producer of cocoa with about 210,000 tonnes, and Ghana was the only country ahead of Nigeria in cocoa output.
Oil palm in the Midwest and Eastern Nigeria supplied half the world’s export of palm kernel (407,200 tonnes) and 70 per cent of global palm oil exports at 160,000 tonnes per annum. These agro-commodities drove the growth of the nation’s economy through its Northern, Eastern and Western regions.
But the agricultural triumph soon began to make way for defeat. From contributing about 70 per cent of the nation’s revenue, and yielding around 65 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, the sector began to plummet in the 1970s.
As a result of the discovery of hydrocarbon in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State in the late 1950s, and the subsequent focus on the exploration of the finite resource, the decline of the erstwhile mainstay of the economy was rapid. As the 1970s rounded up, the contribution of the agricultural sector to GDP dropped to an abysmal 32 per cent.
Some of the efforts of the Federal Government to keep the sector afloat in the early 1960s included the 1962 to 1968 Development Plan, which was Nigeria's first national plan.
Among several objectives, it championed the introduction of modern agricultural methods through farm settlements, cooperative plantations, supply of improved farm implements and a sharpened agricultural extension service.
Some of the specialised development schemes initiated during the period included: Farm Settlement Schemes and the National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), launched in 1972.
There were other agricultural development interventions such as the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), launched in 1976; the River Basin and Rural Development Authorities, established in 1976; the Green Revolution Programme, introduced in 1980; and the World Bank-funded Agricultural Development Projects (ADP).
While each of the above programmes sought to improve food production, the ADPs represented the first major practical demonstration of the integrated approach to agricultural development in Nigeria.
The experiment started with World Bank funding, with projects at Funtua (1974), Gusau (1974) and Gombe (1974), blossomed into Ayangba (1977), Lafia (1977), Bida (1979), llorin (1980), Ekiti and Akoko (1981) and Oyo-North (1982) agricultural development projects. It later spread to other parts of the country.
It appears however that all these initiatives were introduced for reasons other than the primary purpose of promoting the growth and development of the agricultural sector, because the sector actually became comatose in the midst of all these well-intended programmes, which were never implemented appropriately.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina, has acknowledged that by 1975, the nation had become a net importer of basic food items. He lamented that agricultural productivity had fallen to its lowest level, intensifying the food security challenge, even though Nigeria possesses enormous agricultural potential.
“In the great years, Nigeria accounted for over 60 per cent of the global supply of palm oil, 35 per cent of groundnut, 23 per cent of groundnut oil and 25 per cent of cocoa and farmers from all parts of the country reaped the fruits of their labour,” he said.
A farmer and leader of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria based in Kaduna State, Shadrack Madlion, also spoke on the neglect of the agricultural sector, blaming it mostly on the lack of commitment of successive governments and discovery of crude oil.
According to him, due to the discovery of the crude oil, which is a relatively easier source of foreign exchange earnings, farming has been largely abandoned and young people that could have been gainfully employed in the agricultural sector, migrated to urban centres in search of prosperity.
This neglect, he said, had resulted in a decline in agriculture to the extent that between 1969 and 1985, agriculture production fell to less than one per cent annual growth rate at a time when the population growth was between over three per cent.
The Nigerian economy is such an irony. While most nations of the world carry out extensive researches to identify sectors that can drive their economic growth and deliver the lofty goal of poverty alleviation, Nigeria appears lost in the maze of too many economic segments with overwhelming potentials.
As a maritime nation with a vast population of about 160 million people and coastline measuring approximately 853 kilometres, fish production as an enterprise possesses the capacity to transform the entire Nigerian economy.
Out of the 36 states in the country, nine are located along the coast, where the waves of the Atlantic Ocean embrace the land and also, over half of the nation’s landmass is suitable for fish farming in artificial water bodies.
But paradoxically, at the moment, Nigeria spends over N100 billion annually on fish importation, to manage the enormous fish consumption deficit in the country.
With an annual fish demand in the country of about 2.66 million tonnes, and a paltry domestic production of about 780,000 tonnes, the demand-supply gap stands at a staggering 1.8 million tonnes, according to statistics supplied by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.
Group Chief Executive officers of Notore Chemical Company, Nigeria’s only fertiliser manufacturer, Mr. Jite Okoloko, however, remains optimistic about the chances of the sector in the coming years. “The policy direction of the present administration suggests that the Federal Government is now prepared to turn the tide of the agricultural sector,” he stated.
Okoloko explained that the Agricultural Transformation Agenda of the Adesina-led Federal Ministry of Agriculture had shown promise, chief of which is the commitment of the government to ensuring that whatever subsidy is intended for farmers get to actual farmers.
This was not the case in the past, as in those days, agricultural inputs such as fertiliser and seeds were subsidised with huge amounts by government to help farmers. But unfortunately, this subsidy was always hijacked by politically connected individuals and the inputs got to farmers late and at higher prices than un-subsidised items.
Managing Director of the Biostadt Company, Mr. Emmanuel Ajayi, agreed that with all the inefficiencies in input supplies being tackled and dependence on food importation being addressed, it would only be a matter of time before the sector rebounds. But the proviso, according to him, is that steps must be taken to ensure that the initiatives are sustained.
According to Ajayi, “If after the present Jonathan administration, the current minister is relieved of his job and all these initiatives are cast aside, then there clearly would not have been sufficient time for their effect to be felt because agriculture possesses a permanent set back of long gestation periods.”
With so many disillusioned youths roaming the streets aimlessly out of unemployment especially after graduation from the universities, the menace of unemployment has attained dizzying heights in the country.
And with farming being perceived as unattractive and a profession for poor illiterates and old people, the plea for young people to engage in agriculture has been nothing but an attempt to store water in a basket.
However, the Lagos state government seemed to have discovered the solution to the problem through its Agricultural Youths Empowerment Scheme (AGRIC-YES) which the commissioner described as an effort on the part of the state government to develop first class agro professionals on a landscape of 300 hectares of farmland and modern learning facilities and internet access.
Participants are selected after passing aptitude and oral tests for a period of six months training in aquaculture, poultry, animal husbandry and green house farming with another six months internship on full scholarships (accommodation, feeding and monthly stipends) at the establishment.
On completion of the programme the 100 participants per course are given a two-bedroom apartment N500 million and put in a cooperative of 20 persons each.
This innovation by Lagos and other concerned states is a step in the right direction, and Nigeria’s return to agriculture can only bode well for an ailing economy and hungry citizens.