By Amaechi Agbo
The need for the revival of Colleges of Agriculture in Nigeria as the largest employer of labour and mainstay of the nation’s economy was the focal point on Wednesday when members of National Heads of Colleges of Agriculture and other Related Disciplines, (NACHCARD) met in Abuja to chart away forward in sector.
Addressing journalists at the end of the meeting, NACHCARD Chairman, Dr Oluyemi Akande said that Colleges of Agriculture and other related disciplines have suffered years of neglect and lack of funding despite the enormous and important role they play in the research, man-power training, policy formulations and development of agriculture in the country.
Emphasising the importance of Agricultural Institutions in the nation’s economic sustainability, Dr Akande noted that during both pre and post-colonial eras, agricultural institutions played major roles in the development of agriculture especially in the areas of research activities and exportation of some agricultural products.
He however lamented that in the present day, emphases are on consumption rather than exportation simply because the agricultural institutions which are saddled with agricultural research systems and produces the needed extension officers for the disseminations of research findings have been neglected and skimmed out of economic diversification and transformation agenda of the government.
Dr Akande added that owing to the oil boom in the 1970s, agriculture has assumed a downward trend as available data show that at independence in 1960 the contribution of agriculture to the GDP was about 60%. “However, this share declined over time to only about 25% between 1975 and 1979.
“Between 1970 and 1982, agricultural production stagnated at less than one percent annual growth rate, at a time when the population growth was between 2.5 to 3.0 per cent per annum.
“There was a sharp decline in export crop production, while food production increased only marginally. Thus, domestic food supply had to be augmented through large imports.
“The food import bill rose from a mere N112.88m annually during 1970 – 1974 to N1, 964.8m in 1991,” he said.
NACHCARD listed challenges facing agriculture in the country despite all the Federal and State governments efforts to include lack of soil survey and mapping, use of traditional farming tools and methods, lack of proper irrigation system, lack of transport and market.
Others include unscientific and undemocratic distribution of land, over pressure of manpower, poor economic condition, lack of research activities due to lack of attention on agricultural institutions in the areas of synergy, collaboration, financial and infrastructural interventions. Lack of infrastructure development such as good road network, fertilizer, pesticide and insecticide thereby resulting in stagnation of processes and logistical nightmare.
“Access to markets has remained a recurring headache making the idea of Farming very unattractive to most people,” he said.
Despite the obvious challenges, Dr Akande is optimistic that beyond all of these coupled with greater attention and revival of Colleges of Agriculture and institutions “The current government policies on economic diversification and transformation that gave birth to green alternative programmes, agriculture still remain the backbone of Nigeria economy. The era of oil boom is gradually freezing out.
“The fact remains that Nigeria’s agriculture sector has enormous potential, with an opportunity to grow output by 160% from USD 99 billion at present to USD 256 billion by 2030.”