Agriculture should be the next priority after education for the President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT), to reroute Nigeria’s pathway to glory. Agriculture can create 100s of millions of jobs, eradicate poverty, reduce social crimes, attain food security, and attract millions of foreign exchange-earnings. Developing agriculture in Nigeria today is akin to plucking the low-hanging fruits, which requires simple effort, concerted determination, and focus. This is because Nigeria has unlimited agricultural potential and the capability of feeding the African continent. The development of agriculture depends on four key resources – education/knowledge, human, water, and land resources.
Nigeria is stupendously blessed with human, water, and land resources in large quantities. On water resources, Nigeria is divided into seven climate zones, with average annual rainfall from 600 mm in the Sahel savannah of the north to 4,000 mm in riverine areas of the south. Rainfall provides trillions of liters of water annually in addition to other trillions of liters from River Niger. River Niger passes through the country and drains an average of 5,589 cubic meters of water per second into the Atlantic Ocean.
The River is the third largest in Africa with a length of 4,180 km and a drainage basin area of 2.1 million Km2. In addition to surface water, Nigeria has an estimated 87,000 million cubic meters per year of renewable groundwater resources, according to FAO. This amounts to 87 trillion liters of groundwater annually. Thus, there are huge unquantifiable water resources for agricultural development in Nigeria. On land resources, Nigeria has 91 million hectares of arable land with rich soil fertility, favourable topography, and climates. However, only 50% of the land is being utilised.
On human resources, the current population of Nigeria is 220,047,970 as of Saturday, March 25, 2023, according to the United Nations data (Worldometer). Over 75% of the population is under the age of 35 years, vibrant and energetic but inexperienced. Despite these huge resources, the performance of the Nigerian agriculture sector is abysmal in the last three decades. Nigeria cannot produce adequate food for this large population. Now, much of the agricultural products consumed in Nigeria are produced and processed in other distant countries before being imported.
The Punch newspaper of 2nd January 2023 reported food and beverage imports for households rose by 71.12 percent between the third quarter of 2018 and the corresponding quarter of 2022. In the third quarter of 2022, a total of primary and processed foods and beverages was worth N277.64bn. This translated to the Nigerian importation of foods and beverages worth N3.085 billion daily from 1st July to 30th September 2022. Why?
The challenges against agricultural development in Nigeria can be classified into two; technical and insecurity. The technical challenges are diverse and complex but deeply rooted within the framework of poor extension services.
Poor and inadequate provision of extension services is responsible for the low level of agricultural productivity. The national average yield of cereal crops is a mere 1.2 tons/ha against the potential yield of 8 – 12 tons/ha. An example, the average yields of maize and rice are 1.6 tons/ha and 2.0 tons/ha against the potential yields of 10 tons/ha and 12 tons/ha, respectively. Even cassava, the crop, which Nigeria is reported to be the leading country in the world for its production has an average yield of 13 tons/ha against the potential yield of 60 tons/ha.
This poor productivity is a result of poor or inaccessibility of improved production technologies, improved seeds, practices, appropriate equipment, and poor infrastructures and skill. Increasing the productivity of farmers is required to develop agriculture for food security and wealth creation. The case of the USA is a clear example of this direction. In 1981, the USA produced 11% of the World’s grains with about 4% of its population engaged in agriculture.
By 2016, with greater refined technologies, extension advisory services, and quality inputs, the country produced 16% of the World’s grains with only about 2.5% of its population in Agriculture. Compare the statistics with happening in Nigeria today, the country has more than 60% of its population engaged in agriculture but cannot produce 50% of its required food and spends billions of USD to import 95% and 97% of consumption needs for wheat and sugar, respectively.
The insecurity challenge against agricultural development is the recent one but the most catastrophic, scary, and deadly with fatal consequences. Kidnapping and banditry actions strive mostly in the forests and rural areas where primary agricultural activities take place. In recent years, many farmers have been driven out of farms for looming fear of the twin evils; kidnapping and banditry/insurgence.
An example of the lethal act was the case of Zabarmari in December 2020 where about a hundred farmers working in their rice fields had their throats slit or skulls shattered with bullets in the most gruesome manner. Even this year, precisely on March 10, 2023, a total of 36 fishermen were reported killed by insurgents in Gupdilo while returning from Mukdolo in Ngala Local in the northeast. There are other reported and unreported cases of farmers and travelers kidnapped or killed in different areas across the nation.
However, despite the mountainous challenges, agriculture has a brighter prospect in Nigeria. As a matter of urgency, Nigeria must declare a state of emergency on agriculture; the government at all levels (federal, state, and local government) must invest heavily in agriculture, if possible, through legislation to galvanize agricultural revolution through the use of improved technologies, equipment, and expertise. The insecurity issues must squarely be addressed through interventions of the causes as well as effective policing and subduing the evildoers using superior firepower.
We must remember, food insecurity is the mastermind of all other insecurities; banditry, insurgence, kidnapping, robbery, corruption, and human degradation. We must first consider agriculture as the livewire of our nation, which when disconnected will be akin to disconnecting the oxygen supply to a patient in an intensive care unit, death will be a matter of seconds to such a patient.
How can we raise our level of agricultural investment? There is already a Bill for Agricultural Trust Fund before the National Assembly, which when legislated; Agriculture would receive the needed impetus, investment-wise to be modernised.
Additionally, states and National Assemblies with the support of the executive arm of government can legislate an increase of budgetary allocation to the level of Mobuto declaration of 10% of the annual budget against the less than 4% currently in place. Therefore, special treatment for an agricultural extension can be made by fast-tracking the release of the National Agricultural Extension Policy.
The policy was already developed and I am privileged to be part of the team that finalized the policy document. The development of the policy was a painstaking national assignment that was done over five years by agricultural experts, technocrats, and academics. Thus, the policy contains ready-made and holistic solutions to the challenges to agricultural extension service delivery in Nigeria. BAT presidency should make the release and full implementation of the Agric extension policy a top priority.
I hope the issues raised in this three-part piece will not escape our president-elect as we patiently await May 29, 2023 when a ray of light is expected to appear at the end of the tunnel. We are indeed tired of hopelessness, the abyss of poverty, and squalor. Tinubu should reroute Nigeria to a glorious future. May God help him and the nation, amen.