WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
For most developed nations, national development hinges on two supports; agricultural development and industrialisation especially technology/steel development. Aside guaranteeing food security for the nation, agricultural sufficiency directly translates to industrial development as inputs to most producing factories are sourced from agriculture.
If we are going to get it right and lay the real foundation for total development of Nigeria, we must begin by getting it right in the agricultural sector. When we take advantage of our resources and produce food for the teeming population of the country, we will be on the startup for greater future that we dream of.
Earlier in the post-independence history of Nigeria, in a determined bid to accelerate the pace of development of the regional and national economic growths the government at all level undertook huge investment in Agriculture. Hope of Nigerians was heightened by the huge investment and expectation from the growing agricultural sector. It was the major income earner for the nation and the major employer of labour across turfs.
With huge foreign exchange earnings and government revenue, reliance on agriculture made development of major export crops more rapid. Infant factories sprang up in every corners of the country; employment opportunities abound and incidences of rural-urban migration was at its minimum.
That was the time when the sector was accounting for significant (65%) share of the national GDP and total export as well as employing the bulk of the nation labour force.
That was the time when most Nigerians were farmers and the Nigeria governments at all levels were both farmers and coordinator of farmers. From substituent crop production to meet immediate family consumption to large scale farming for local sales and government coordinated exports.
Unfortunately, the sector began a decline from the 1970s with inflow of revenue from crude oil and the subsequent deliberate progressive neglect of the sector by subsequent government; constituting a decline of the GDP from 65 percent in 1960s to 34 percent in 1974 and 8.0 percent in 2005.
This ought not to be but for the poor economic principle of our leaders who chose the abandonment of the agriculture sector at the emergent of the crude oil.
Managing the sector alongside the emerging petroleum industry would have meant effective diversification of the economy, which would have resulted in significant rise in total GDP with the accompanied increased employment opportunities, economic development balance and stability. Instead, we chose to neglect the ever abundant prospect of the fertile lands that can support all crops all over the country; the all season rivers and coast line bordering the Atlantic ocean and the livestock industry to the detriment of the nation economy and national development.
We remove all attention from these growth inspiring sector; farming and other agricultural practices that could ameliorate our unemployment crisis, reduce cost of food items, raise the national GDP and give rise to springing up of factories within the agriculture industry, are left rudimentary and with almost zero governmental input
The neglect of the sector began the paralysis of the industrial sector in Nigeria as raw materials which come from the sector dwindled and are no more forthcoming. As a result of the neglect and the consequent recession and austerity, there arose a total declining change in the industrials sector performance leading to contraction of the economy, decline in disposable incomes and substantial drop in domestic demand for industrial goods and then mass retrenchment of industrial labour force.
The business opportunities for red palm oil production globally are quite robust and impressive. Palm oil makes up nearly 50 percent of all global edible oil consumption. Currently, Malaysia and Indonesia are the dominating power in palm oil production and presently supply more than 72 percent of global market worth hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
Ironically, up till the late 1960s, Nigeria was the heartbeat of global palm oil production producing close to 43 percent of all palm oil consumed worldwide but today we produce only 2 percent of total global markets
In the late 1950s, Malaysia came to Nigeria to understudy our oil palm system and returned back to overthrow us and become the global largest producer of the commodity as at 1966.a report credited to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) states that, if Nigeria had maintained its market dominance in the palm oil industry, the country would have been earning approximately $20 billion annually from cultivation and processing of palm oil as at today.
But that bold loss is nothing when we evaluate what the southern Nigeria, once prided as the oil palm hub of the world has become; a docile, unindustrialized region with huge population of engaged youths and cry of marginalization. If the oil palm industry is still bubbling, maybe there wouldn’t have been IPOB and the so much aversion from that part of the country today.
While the south was producing oil palm, the west was topping the list in cocoa production. Across the western states, cocoa plantation was the deal and the western government effort at building the famous cocoa house at Ibadan was the icing on the cake. It is a fact that outside the massive contribution to the center, the early envious development of the west both in education and infrastructures were made possible only by the revenue from the cocoa business.
At that time, Nigeria and a few Africa countries were responsible for about 71 percent of global cocoa production; that figure has since dropped significantly to about 59 percent as at today with Nigeria constituting a major percentage of the decline. From being a major and leading exporter of the crop, we have dropped to fourth globally and still going down as our trees are getting old and weak without fresh plantation replacements. In 2010, cocoa only manage to account for 0.3 percent of our agricultural GDP and it has not gotten better till date.
Finally, cotton production and the groundnut pyramids of the northern Nigeria have become story and lesson that our children learn in schools. While the north unlike the other regions did not totally abandon agriculture, the groundnut and cotton industries were not lucky; they are dead.
When we lost it, a new dispensation began in Nigeria; the rush for government jobs, overpopulation of our cities, massive unemployment, increasing crimes and insecurity, and on the economy front; increasing and massive dependent and important of common and staple foods such as rice as well as processed livestock which contribute immensely to the weakening of the naira against the dollar and other currencies, and most importantly the onset of food instability in Nigeria.
Done with what is gone wrong; there have been efforts especially since 1999 by government to revamp the agriculture sector of the economy. The administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo banned the importation of a number of staple foods and frozen chicken to encourage local production but decisive and conscious policy decisions to encourage the farmers to take advantage of the move were not taken by the government; beside, our border policing structure was literally ineffective that smuggling of the very banned items continued unabated. The little success recorded was in the market for frozen chicken, though many were of the opinion that the ban on frozen livestock was very successful because the president( Obasanjo) was one of the biggest beneficiary.
The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan had many paper work decisions to encourage mass investment and participation in crops production and processing; the investment in national cassava to flour project is a typical example, it was expected that the success of the cassava to flour project would have been a big plus for the nation but somehow, we lost out of that possibility; the project failed.
The current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has its hands on several crops production rejuvenation but what strikes the most is the success already recorded in the rice revolution of the administration. In just a period of two years, Nigeria stature changed from being a major rice importing country to a rice producing nation, and still with the aspiration to export in the nearest future. Nigerian population of about 190 million consume approximately 6.7 million tonnes of rice annually at a cost of N0.59 trillion annually. As at today, we produce almost 80 percent of all rice consumed in the country locally.
Taking a clue from the success recorded in the rice revolution, we can only realize that replicating the same across all other crops of interest only require that we do the same thing that is been done to achieve what we are achieving in the rice production and processing. First, we must highlight the crops of interest and make the decisive commitments to make the farmer go to the farm. Secondly, we must guarantee a market that would not compete with foreign counterparts crops.
We must return to the same national agricultural policy of the 1960; the government must be fully involved in the entire line process of crop production of crop production and processing as well as livestock production.
Government investment backed with efficient control mechanism must be feasible in the sector. We must revisit the oil palm industry; if we had the capacity once, we can even do much better now. We must do the same across board for the revival of the groundnut pyramid and cocoa plantation.
We must make a coordinated effort to redirect a bulk of the unemployed population of Nigerians to the agriculture sector by way of incentivisation which is capable of absorbing all.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the employment figure of the nation keep increasing as new entrants are entering the labour force. Scrambling for white collar jobs and factory jobs have been unable to meet the national goal for employment because more Nigerians are entering the labour force bracket annually than those that are becoming engaged.
This is why I make the case for government to open up the agriculture sector to absorb more willing participants. Only in the last two years, the rice industry has generated lasting jobs for hundreds of thousands of Nigerians across its value chain (though this is not captured by the NBS), so we could have well over 60 percent of all currently unemployed Nigerians engaged in the sector from input production, to crop production to processing, storage, exportation and finally marketing.
Finally, I would suggest a policy framework that will design a cooperative venture between the government and all graduates of agricultural related courses in all institutions in Nigeria, beginning from their NYSC participation.
God Bless The Federal Republic Of Nigeria!