According to the ‘Economist’, Nigeria displays (truly) the characteristics of a dual economy – a modern sector heavily dependent on oil earnings overlays a traditional agricultural and trading economy. During the colonial era, cash crops were introduced, harbours, railways and roads were developed, and a market for consumer goods began to emerge. At independence in 1960 agriculture accounted for well over half of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and was the main source of export earnings and public revenue, with the agricultural marketing boards playing a leading role, but today this leading role in the economy has been taken over by the national oil company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC).
According to the Central Bank of Nigeria’s data (2003), Oil still accounts for our major revenue (gearing towards 80%) and almost 100% of our export earnings. Although Agriculture (particularly forestry, livestock and fishing) is shown to serve as the major activity of the majority of Nigerians; it is clear that we indulge in agriculture purely as personal survival strategies rather than as a calculated effort to warming the engine of our countries economy. This is really where our National economic problem lies.
The gospel of economic salvation cannot be preached without due regard to agricultural development. Agriculture is the major and most certain path to economic growth and sustainability. It encompasses all aspect of human activities – being the art, act, a cultural necessity and science of production of goods through cultivation of land and management of plants and animals which creates an activity web-chain that satisfies social and economic needs. Agriculture is the mainstay of mankind; therefore wise nations all over the globe give it a priority by developing and exploiting this sector for the upkeep of their teeming populations through the earning of revenue for development purposes; as well as employment for the stemming down crimes, corruption and other forms of indiscipline which work against all factors of life, living and most of all economic production. While many nations in the world are working hard and reaping their harvests in this direction, Nigeria happens to belong among the few that have greatly retarded from their past glorious heights in agriculture, down to a near zero scale of agricultural production. Surely, this neglect is because of irresponsible and ill-purposeful leadership.
With an expansive landmass covering 923.771km2, an estimated arable land of about 68 million hectare; abundance of natural forest and rangeland covering 37 million hectares. Varieties of livestock and wide life, an agricultural friendly climate, coastal and marine resources of over 960km shoreline, expansive rivers and lakes covering 120,000 square kilometre and large consumer market as depicted by National population of over 120 million in 1991 (now estimated to be about 200million). Large regional and continental markets, as well as the ever increasing world market exist for the reaping of the potentials that agriculture can offer any economy. Nigeria has great agricultural potentials that will outpace oil and gas on the long run. That not withstanding, the country has had a history of agricultural prowess in the past, so, if it could work then, it surely will work better now, if judiciously and positively articulated. This is only possible if our oil-misdirected governments can start looking inwardly for other sources of revenue other than oil with an honest bid to boost agricultural production.
The importance of Agriculture cannot generally be over-emphasised in Africa or particularly in Nigeria. With poverty having finally taken resident permit in Nigeria in – although we were warned against it by Professor Pat Utomi in 2003, we cannot get out of it today by just relying on oil and gas. We cannot pretend to neglect the importance of Agriculture in the economic forward-wheeling of our nation. World Bank (2003) data show that more than 70% of Nigerians live below poverty line (which is less than a dollar per day), implying that there has been an astronomical growth in the levels of poverty of Nigerians from Independence to today. This is something we all should be ashamed of, yet it is a situation that can be remedied.
Nigeria is blessed with a wide variety of agricultural potentials, ranging from varieties of crops to varieties of animals and plants and natural agricultural-supportive factors like forests, waters, sands and most of all human resources that are being under-used (or not even used as at now). We have it all, yet we lack it all; and that is why we are hungry in the face of plenty to eat. How can our Nation grow well if we cannot cultivate and manufacture our own food? How do we intend to carter for the ever growing Nigeria population if we cannot confidently feed them to face life’s ever trying activities? For instance, it is well known that the level of animal protein consumption per individual in Nigeria is very low – the reason being that not much of attention has been placed in this area. With the increasing awareness of Nigerians on the need to take at least one egg per day (with population projected to be gearing towards 200 million) our animal protein intake per head is grossly low. But how many Nigerians can afford to put an egg (which is truly viewed as a luxury good) on their tables without necessarily opting for ‘garri’ (which truly will be more satisfying to the stomach and is therefore viewed as a core necessity)? Check it this way: an egg will cost an average Nigerian about N20 (about 16% of a $1) to buy; considering that an egg cannot be considered to be a ‘main course’ but just an a ‘value-added’ to the main food, an average Nigerian (who practically lives under N130 or $1 per day) therefore cannot afford an egg every day and must fall back completely to ‘garri’ which provides more succour, taste and flavour (but surely less nutritive value). That our masses therefore cannot afford eggs to eat is part of why we should be ashamed of our oil-bugged economy. Our inability to have good meal is what increased the craze for buying embalmed chicken imported from other parts of the world (thanks to Dr. Dorah Akunyili’s war) for our meals, thereby poisoning our systems and our mentalities. However, while the present government wisely and rationally banned the importation of these chicken corpses, nothing has been truly put in place to practically encourage poultry and other kinds of farming in this country. At times, one wonders if President Olusegun Obasanjo thinks that the more than 3,000,000 eggs/day production output from his Otta farm will serve the entire Nigeria. Efforts to encourage the Nigerian farmer with finance and other agricultural incentives have only given individuals and corporate bodies with political loyalty to the reigning government access to exploiting the ordinary farmers. Such incentives usually get to false-farmers who use the fund for something else other than for agricultural purposes. Since transparency is lacking in the system, real farmers hardly get the incentives but false-farmers do; and at the end of the day the economy loses the impact that such incentives were made to create. This happens because ours is a Nation that ignores such primary issues as agriculture which should be a very serious tool needed to overturn the sufferings of our masses by providing food, shelter, employment, decorum, revenue etc., as well as to propel the general growth and development of the nation to a sustainable level. The truth is that the agricultural sector of this nation is still being given ill-attention. Something needs to be done. It needs to be resuscitated because Agriculture is truly the hen-that-lays-the-golden-egg of any economy.
The present government came with a lot of promises to revitalize the agricultural sector of our economy which had once fed this nation and nations far and wide with her cocoa, groundnut, Palm oil (not crude oil), rubber, hides and skins etc. Almost six years now, one cannot confidently claim that much of these promises are being kept in the Agricultural sector, even in the face of some new ‘wonderful’ policies. The economy of Nigeria for now is more of a literature of controversy than a statistically reliable one. Gross Domestic Products’ (GDP) data usually released by the present government have been superfluous but when interpreted or translated into the livelihood of the ordinary Nigerian, it at best appears to be more of nonsensical economic expression that protects the image of the country in the International scene than a true growth in the economic Nigeria. With GDP growth of 7.1% (2004 estimate) and Agriculture providing 70% of labour force (1999 estimate), economists have been warring over the truism of these estimates and many have even accused the Government of fingering with figures to boost its face. However, whatever the outcome, what is on ground and well-known to all is that Agriculture has not been made a priority in Nigeria by the government and the Nigerian poverty needs urgent attention. The largely subsistence agricultural sector has failed to keep up with rapid population growth thereby forcing our Africa’s most populous country (a country once a large net exporter of food) to importation of food. The government has lacked the will of discipline to either implement a social-oriented reform or even the much-talked-about market-oriented reforms urged by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – such as to modernize the banking system (thanks to the Professor Charles Soludo agenda), to curb inflation by blocking excessive wage demands, and to resolve regional disputes over the distribution of earnings from the oil industry. To achieve a stable food-economy, Agriculture must be given its rightful place in the National development effort. This is important due to the menace and distraction being caused by our more than 4 trillion cu m and 27 billion bbl gas and oil reserves respectively. Too worrying to our Nation today is even the generally dwindling calls for the immediate revitalization of the agricultural sector. It is like a situation where many pro-agricultural voices are dieing out because of frustrations from the government by not giving enough heed to their calls in the past and present.
Agriculture, as the “engine house” of world economies needs to be overhauled and serviced in order that the tears of the Nigerian masses may dry up. This can only be possible when the government starts investing substantial capital into the sector. Also the Banks, Insurance companies, Co-operatives and Individual, groups and corporate investors should be encouraged to invest in this sector. In fact the Nigerian Banks particularly cannot be allowed to define their over-popularized and over-advertised “universal banking system” without relating it to agriculture. Insurance firms truly have to start picking interest in the area of agriculture to give it some safety and confidence. The farmers have to start having long-standing visions that can excel in growth terms to a sustainable private and public economy. Our legislators need to start thinking pro-actively on ways to enact economic laws that encourage and boost agricultural production, as well as laws that create enabling environment for its sustainability and safe practice. The politics of oil and profligacy and the unwarranted I-know-it-all mentality in governance cannot lead us to economic glory for now. Not turning to Agriculture will imply our continuous dependency on crude oil and unnecessary reliance on importation of goods that could have otherwise been manufactured at Kaduna, Aba, Nnewi, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Kano and Onitsha and most of our fast-growing new cities.
As a protagonist of agricultural development, this writer believes that Nigeria’s economic development can only be realistic through the total resuscitation of our agricultural sector. This will propel the sector to produce food and fibres to feed our people and the industry at a rate faster than the birth-rate; yet reducing the death rate. The injection of vigour into the agricultural sector will also fasten the creation of self-reliance, self-contentment and self-sufficiency (which will be translated to National sufficiency). Adequate supply of raw materials for industries, increased foreign reserve; and increase in the export of non-oil commodities and improvement in the standard of living of the masses are issues that a revitalised agricultural system can provide. This will encourage the growth of a physically fit and mentally alert population. Succinctly put, the development of the agricultural sector will generally improve the revenue generation of our nation and discourage our over-reliance on oil and gas which has created a ‘Dutch disease’ for the Nigerian economy. The economic independence which the agricultural sector can offer this nation (if developed) will undoubtedly propel us to political and economic independence, which we cannot truly boast of today as a debtor and borrower nation. Rural and urban development, rural and urban employment; and of course the control of urban migration and general development of other sectors of the economy will be the positive chain reactions of an improved Agricultural sector. All these can only be possible if the Federal government can increase its budgetary allocation to agriculture to a reasonable level in order to aid adequate research in the sector as well as enhance production, education and general management of the sector. This will boost the food and science technology industry, the chemical industry, banking / finance industry, the export business, the agro-franchise and industries; and even enhance the Federal government’s policy on National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP).
Nigeria, a nation believed to be one of the nations that have potentials to be great in the world because of her endowment with natural and human resources cannot unleash her potentialities if the country does not gain self reliance and self sufficiency. Our country will perpetually remain a borrower and debtor nation in the face of the booming globalization exercise. Until Nigeria summons courage to invest and exploit its rich agricultural sector, our country cannot achieve economic and political independence. More importantly, our present economically hazardous environment should be politically repositioned in order to harness the resources that a bountiful Agricultural sector can give birth to. Unless we invoke the spirit of agriculture in our national economy, our country will always remain the biblical ‘Jonah’ whose inability to self-actualize made him think he could keep deaf ears to the words of wisdom. Our government is still suffering from this “Jonah Complex” which has made it unthinkable for it to embrace agriculture as a true solution to our economic death. The government should embrace Agriculture with more confidence because good agricultural policies and implementation still is the only “big fish” that can transport our economy to the path of recovery and boom.
Chigbu, Uchendu Eugene