As Nigeria seeks to diversify its economy, lessen its dependence on dwindling oil revenue, and prioritise agriculture as an alternative source of foreign and local revenue in 2017, Abimbola Akosile looks at some calls and initiatives on the viable option

Agriculture worldwide has been identified as the key ingredient to any country’s stable economic growth, and crucial for the elimination of hunger in most countries in Africa.
In Nigeria due to weak infrastructures, the potential agricultural produce holds for the country as a major foreign revenue earner is yet to be tapped but the focus of the Federal Government is slowly turning things around.

Experts have stated that if the country must make any headway in improving agricultural activities and creating wealth for the citizens of the country, then there must be a mechanised approach to agriculture.

Paradigm Shift
Nigeria and other countries have been told that, in order to move towards more sustainable agriculture, a broader approach is needed to overhaul the world’s food system.
The call was made by the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), as he pressed for a global reduction in the quantity of chemicals and water in contemporary agriculture, according to a UN release.

Speaking at the recent 24th session of the Committee on Agriculture (COAG) in Rome, Director-General José Graziano da Silva called for a “paradigm shift” in global attitudes on agriculture, adding that only by decreasing the amounts of “inputs,” such as water and chemicals, could the sector move towards a more sustainable and productive long-term path.

Pointing to options such as agro-ecology, climate-smart agriculture, biotechnology and the use of genetically modified organisms, the Director-General emphasised that global food production would need to grow by 60 per cent by 2050 in order to meet the expected demand from an anticipated world population of nine billion.

Youth Involvement
The Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) recently launched an initiative to promote the involvement of youths in the agricultural sector; calling it a major step towards tackling unemployment in the country.

In a workshop jointly organised by Abira Agribusiness Support Initiative and the NESG, stakeholders called on governments at all levels and the private sector to channel resources towards creating incentives that would encourage younger Nigerians to pick up interest in agriculture as a means of livelihood.

Speaking at the event, Founder of the Abira Agribusiness Support Initiative, Mrs. Cynthia Mosunmola Umoru, said the summit was designed to engage the government in policy formulation and development across Nigeria and drive agricultural growth while taking advantage of the large youth population in the country as a source of efficient human resources for the fledging sector.

Tackling Unemployment
A chemical engineer and Professor of Chemistry, Dr. Oluchukwu Ekechukwu, has suggested unique ways to developing and enhancing agriculture in Nigeria, in a bid to tackle youth employment, ensure food security and reduce insecurity in the country.

Ekechukwu, also a Nuclear Production Engineer based in North Carolina, United States of America, proffered the cultivation of cash crops across a wide section of Nigeria and the use of wind turbines to generate electricity and provide employment for thousands of youths in the unemployment market.

While responding to an issue raised on these pages recently, the don said “The approach will involve very many people digging the soil and planting seeds and seedlings of certain cash crops. The cash crops of interest will be very high yield, short hybrid palm trees, cocoa, coconut tree, melon, kolanut trees, groundnut or peanut.

“An objective should be driving Nigeria to regain its position as the world’s number one producer of palm oil and palm kernel oil, the position it has lost to Indonesia, Malaya, Thailand and Colombia, in that order. These countries obtained from Nigeria the seeds of the palm tree, indigenous to Nigeria and other West African nations, cross-bred them to get high yielding, short hybrids that produce large quantities of fruits and oils. From 1960 till date, Nigeria lost its bearing and focused on crude oil production, to its detriment.

“To regain its position, Nigeria should immediately import back from those countries listed large quantities of the seeds and seedlings of the hybrid palm trees, if NIFOR does not already have such seeds. As the seedlings become available, the unemployed graduates, students and other unemployed people who are willing to work should plant them in their natural habitat, the ‘Palm Belt’ of Nigeria. This belt includes the following states: Abia, Anambra, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Enugu, Ondo, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Imo, and Rivers.

“Thus, employment will boom. Our villagers and local government enhancers must participate in the rehabilitation programme. Because of the high yield and fast growth qualities of the hybrids, positive product results will begin to show within 3-5 years. That was what happened in the countries mentioned above”, Ekechukwu added.

Osun-IITA MoU
In a bid to make agriculture the mainstay of its economy, Osun State Governor of Osun, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

The signing ceremony which took place at the governor’s Office in Osogbo‎ will have the state release 204.39 hectares of land around Ago Owu to IITA for the purpose of conducting research and setting up demonstration farms for best farming practices.

IITA, in turn will also carry out cassava, plantain and other crops multiplication and train Osun youths on modern, commercial and profitable farming.
Signing the MoU on behalf of the state government, Governor Aregbesola said releasing the farmland to IITA would complement Osun agriculture programme, extend robustly the agriculture value chain and create jobs for farmers, especially the youths that are being attracted to farming.

The Governor commended ‎ IITA and its Director General Dr. Nteranya Sanging for supporting Osun’s flagship agriculture programme, the Osun Rural Enterprise and Agriculture Programme (O’REAP). He stressed that agricultural development especially food production has been the main thrust of his administration’s policies since his assumption of office in November, 2010. ‎

Greater Collaboration
In a bid to reduce importation of rice varieties into the country, the federal government has moved to boost local production, backed by efforts from states and the private sector. The recent collaboration between Lagos and Kebbi States which resulted in the Lagos-Kebbi (LAKE) rice variety helped to feed numerous families in both states during the recent Yuletide season and its cost (N12,000 for a 50kg bag) served to help control the soaring price of rice products in the country.

With initiatives and collaborations such as the Lagos-Kebbi partnership, backed by federal government investment in the agricultural sector through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Bank of Industry, and increased agricultural production, processing and export, there is a corresponding increase in agricultural output and export, with resultant higher foreign revenue generation. In 2017, this is crucial if the economy must come out of recession. Enough of dependence on oil revenue; agriculture is the way to go.

RANDOM THOTS

Promising Start

After relentless criticism and image bashing from long-suffering masses, critics and opposition parties, the current administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari, is finally gradually coming good on its promises. This is as the administration, in keeping with one its key election campaign promises, has commenced payment of the N5,000 monthly stipend to the poorest and the most vulnerable in the country through the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) scheme of its Social Investment Programme (SIP).

Under the novel scheme, one million Nigerians would receive N5,000 monthly payments as a form of social safety net for the poorest and most vulnerable as provided in the 2016 budget. According to an official statement, in the first batch, beneficiaries in nine states including Borno, Kwara and Bauchi, Cross River, Niger, Kogi, Oyo, Ogun and Ekiti States, received their first payments on December 30, 2016. Whichever way this is viewed, it is a step in a positive direction and can only portend good tidings for poor citizens this year.

Although N5,000 appears a mere pittance in a recession-ravaged economy like Nigeria, if and when electric power is generated and supplied more constantly, these monthly funds, apart from feeding purposes, can be invested in small businesses like hairdressing or even boli roasting to supplement the incomes of the beneficiaries and generate a ripple effect on numerous families across the pilot states. If only the current administration would also move faster in its fight against corruption by prosecuting more sacred cows and concluding trials with convictions this year, another key campaign promise would be fulfilled. For this administration to show that it truly means business and wants to promote change, this is the way to go…isn’t it?

– Abimbola Akosile