By Lawal Sale
Prior to discovery of oil, Nigeria’s economy largely depended on export of agricultural produce such as groundnut, cocoa and rubber, among others, which were then major foreign exchange earner for the country.
Nigeria is still an agrarian nation with over 70 per cent of arable land. Factors such as regular sunlight, adequate rainfall and fresh water are some of the advantages which can be explored to transform Nigeria into self-sufficiency in food production. Indeed, agriculture can spur Nigeria’s economic development.
Virtually all the cultivation in the country is carried out by subsistence farmers, while over 75 per cent of the citizens in rural areas are full-time farmers. But government should spearhead designed efforts to boost mechanised and commercial farming in the country. There is also the need to initiate strategies to change the mindset of young Nigerians, who are really obsessed with white-collar jobs, on agriculture, as they believe that farming is only meant for the illiterate or rural citizens.
The current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari recently introduced a number of stimuli and aid packages for famers, as part of its efforts to diversify the economy, revive agricultural production and reduce the country’s dependence on oil.
But experts have been canvassing the need for Nigeria to borrow a leaf from other countries that have achieved remarkable feats in agriculture and food security. They insist that Nigeria stands to benefit a lot from these countries, particularly in the areas of expertise, use of personnel and education.
For instance, China, since its reforms and opening up in 1978, has given agriculture and farmers utmost priority with the formation of reliable systems for agricultural subsidies, price protection and liberalisation of farm produce distribution. Taxes and dues on agricultural inputs have also been completely abolished in efforts to encourage farmers.
The Chinese approach in developing agriculture had been described as very pragmatic. The methodology is tacitly hinged on a policy of “giving more and taking less”.
The Chinese government in 1978 gave considerable emphasis to land reforms and subsidies in an effort to assist farmers and give agriculture the priority it deserves. In 2002, the Chinese government introduced subsidy policies for grain production, superior crop varieties, purchase of agro-machinery and tools, in addition to granting general subsidies for agricultural insurance premiums, among others.
By 2013, significant outcomes and accomplishments have started to manifest, as China’s grain output grew for the tenth consecutive year and exceeded 600 million tons, while the outputs of cotton, oil plants, sugar plants, meat, eggs milk and fruit peaked at 6.31 million tons, 35.31 million tons, 137.59 million tons, 85.36 million tons, 28.76 million tons, 35.31 million tons and 61.72 million tons respectively.
Even though, China operates a socialist market economy, Nigeria can learn a lot of lessons from its experience so as to achieve the aims of its “green alternative” project. If China, with a population that exceeds 1.5 billion inhabitants, can conveniently feed its citizens with minimal food imports, Nigeria too can thrive in agriculture and feed its 170 million citizens, instead of importing almost everything — from rice to tomatoes, wheat, meat, chicken and fish.
With the revitalised efforts of farmers and government support, Nigeria will surely regain its lost glory in agriculture and attain food security.
But there is caveat: government ought to increase its annual budgetary allocation to agriculture so as to enable the country to meet the emerging challenges of food security.
Besides, pragmatic efforts should be made to ensure proper transparency, management and accountability in the utilisation of foreign aid and grants from organisations like IFAD, FAO, UNDP and WFP, while strategies should be put in place to ensure that the intended beneficiaries of the funds and machineries are not short-changed.
The N750 billion package, which federal government recently put in place for farmers through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), is quite commendable. Government should, nonetheless, extend its assistance to farmers in the areas of land acquisition, reduction of import tariff for agricultural machineries and tools, fertiliser subsidy, provision of roads/infrastructure, storage facilities and processing facilities.
State and local governments should also support farmers via subsidies on fertiliser and other inputs, micro credits, waiver of taxes and levies on farm produce, provision of enabling environment, seedlings, pesticides and access roads. All these will certainly encourage old as well as new farmers and consequently stimulate efforts to boost food production.
President Buhari had, in one of his outings, reiterated the determination of his administration to develop the agricultural sector via programmes and initiatives that would facilitate efforts to make Nigeria self-sufficient in food production and an exporter of agricultural products.
Nigeria can learn a cogent lesson from the Chinese experience in the area of product storage and processing. In China, there are more than 78,000 agricultural product processing ventures. The ratio of agricultural product processing industry output to total agricultural output in the Asian country was put at 2:21, with the processing and conversion ratio of agricultural products up to 65 per cent as at 2015.
Agricultural product storage and processing is very fundamental, as it saves harvest, promotes employment, while increasing the income of farmers. In Nigeria, however, it is estimated that 40 per cent of the annual harvest is lost to inadequate harvest and storage facilities.
The transportation and storage challenges facing Nigerian farmers, particularly those cultivating fruits, vegetable and other perishable items are numerous and serious. A sizeable percentage of their produce perishes before reaching the market. The collapse of major food processing industries across the country has also contributed to produce wastages, while decreasing the farmers’ income.
Therefore, government should initiate practical plans to revive dead or moribund food processing factories, while facilitating establishment of new ones.
This will provoke food exportation and add value to seasonal crops such as oranges, tomatoes, bananas, apples and green leafs, while boosting the country’s economic development and creating employment.
Sale wrote from Abuja