Agriculture as key to poverty reduction

Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari, speaking in faraway Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, said investments and reforms in the agriculture sector in Nigeria hold the key to lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next ten years.

Specifically, the president spoke on the second day of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) Conference in Riyadh, where he underlined his government’s resolve to actualise its promise to reduce poverty in Nigeria.

The president points to some reform measures embarked upon by his administration such as giving loans to farmers, making available and affordable farming inputs and restrictions on food imports grown locally.

These reform measures, no doubt, provide good beginning to reform the country’s agriculture and help Nigerians out of poverty. It is also good that the president has recently formed the National Economic Advisory Council. The president and the council must, in particular, pay more attention to the problem of poverty in the country. What is needed, however, is change of focus and approach. Poverty in Nigeria, as elsewhere, is a thing to be eradicated completely and not just alleviated.

And this can be done, given the country’s resources, calibre of the president and his administration’s desire to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty, mainly through agriculture, an area in which the country is enormously endowed.

Nigeria is a country that is highly endowed with material and human resources, including a vast array of land that is arable. However, despite the presence of such wealth, the economic status of the country is decreasing and poverty is increasing. Previous governments, of course, can be held responsible for the decline in the economic status of the country. This is due to the fact that the governments saw no need to diverse the economy and chose to rely only on the crude oil that the country is also endowed with.

Undoubtedly, there are many sectors in Nigeria that can contribute to the development of the economic status positively but the role of agriculture cannot be sidelined. However, while about 80 percent of this land is arable, less than half of the land has actually been used for farming activities and the activities are mostly traditional and cumbersome.

But, looking at the vast importance of agriculture and the significance attached to it by the present administration, the sector would contribute more to the development of the economy and, hopefully, agriculture is going to be a very feasible business in Nigeria.

Before the advent of oil discovery in Nigeria, agriculture was the main source of income for the country. Apart from that, Nigeria is also blessed with enough food to feed the nation during that period. However, the petrodollars attached to the oil industry turned the attention of previous governments from the agricultural sector to the oil sector.

Of course, that development had caused an adverse effect on the economy of the nation. However, despite the fact that the source of income from the agricultural sector has been shifted to the oil sector, agriculture still plays some major role in the development of the Nigerian economy, especially providing employment to people.

As the rate at which unemployment and poverty increase in Nigeria, there is an urgent need for the government to uplift agriculture and make it even more relevant in the area of employment generation, especially for the youth. If proper attention is given to the sector, it will contribute to the eradication of poverty and unemployment.

If the opportunities of agriculture are being explored, the rate of poverty will be drastically reduced.

Apart from reducing the unemployment situation in the country, the agricultural sector also has the capacity of contributing to the foreign exchange of the country. Second to oil, agriculture is a significant foreign exchange earner for the country.

If the traditional agricultural methods are improved with modern mechanised methods, the agriculture sector will handsomely contribute to the economic development of the country.

Agriculture can also serve as a viable means of diversifying the country’s economy and, in the process, create wealth and employment and reduce poverty level. In fact, in view of the fluctuations in prices in the oil sector, there is the urgent need for the country to diversify its economy and increase the rate of economic development.

Importantly, if properly handled by the Buhari-led administration, agriculture can guarantee the much-craved for food security. Of course, considering the population of Nigeria, which is more than 180 million and still on the rise, there is the need for the country to possess ability to locally provide food for the populace.

Rather than importing most of the foods we consume, we should explore the arable and fertile soil of Nigeria to provide food for ourselves and, in this way, the economic development of the country will be ascertained and guaranteed.

It is based on this note, therefore, that the Buhari-led administration should be praised for initiating some policies, among which is the recent closure of land borders, to promote the agriculture sector of the country.

Another role of agriculture sector in developing the economy, providing employment and reducing poverty is the role performed by the sector in the provision of agro-based raw materials to cater for the fledging, manufacturing and production industry.

Animal products like cattle hide and wool and plant products like cassava, cotton, oil palm are very important raw materials demanded by industries. The provision of raw materials by the agriculture sector to these industries will definitely boost the output of the industries, provide employment, reduce poverty and, in fact, attract foreign investments into the country.

Of course, one other way in which agriculture will help is in the area of development of infrastructure which, if put in place, can increase the flow of foreign investments into the country.

However, the process of development of agriculture sector and eradication of poverty demand the involvement of Nigerians because the government cannot do that alone. Thus, the government must involve individuals and communities.

The traditional rulers, who are the custodians of what happens in the rural areas, and their subjects, especially, have to be involved in this process if the objectives of the government in using agriculture to reduce poverty is to be realised.

On when borders should reopen…

The Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Mr Godwin Emefiele, recently, said that Nigerians benefit immensely from the closure of the country’s borders.

Emefiele said this while fielding questions from State House correspondents after a close-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja.

“The benefit is that it has helped to create jobs for our people, it has helped to bring our integrated rice milling that we have in the country back into business again and they are making money,” he said. “Our rural communities are bubbling because there is activities, because rice farmers are able to sell their paddy. The poultry business is also doing well, and also maize farmers who produce maize from which feeds are produced are also doing business.”

And truly, the benefits are real and numerous, with the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service Mr Hameed Ali, saying that the agency’s revenue had risen to over N5 billion daily since the closure of the borders, and that more than 200 illegal immigrants have been apprehended across the border and thousands of bags of rice and other contrabands confiscated.

On his part, the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Mr Mele Kyari said the closure of the borders and other interventions had helped to decline the quantum of smuggling of petroleum products outside the country considerably.

Again, there’s no doubt that closing the borders has enhanced agriculture productivity in the country and created more jobs for the teeming unemployed population. It’s needless to say that Nigeria cannot achieve food sufficiency, job creation, security and economic advancement if it allows itself to be turned into a dumping ground by other countries.

However, despite its seeming advantages, Nigeria should not close its borders permanently and, gratefully, the government says that’s not its intention. And before the borders are reopened, there must be concrete engagements with countries that are involved in using their ports and countries as landing platforms for bringing in goods that are, eventually, smuggled into Nigeria. Like Godwin Emefiele said, our neighbours must meet conditions for Nigeria to reopen its borders.

Essentially, Nigeria should not allow others to undermine its economic policy and wellbeing and desire to make its industries, especially those that are now moribund, rejuvenated, provide jobs for its citizens and eradicate poverty.

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