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Rooting for agric in failing oil economy

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IT IS not in any doubt that global economy had in the past one month and half suffered setback due to COVID-19 pandemic.

  Many countries are getting choked in the heat of the global pandemic and their economies headed for the worse. With World Bank’s prediction of highest recession in 30 years history for Nigerian economy, certainly, the future is close to being up in smokes.

  In an economy that is 90 per cent dependent on crude oil, it is easy to predict the catastrophe in-waiting.

  From the beginning of the millennium, an era spanning about two decades, Nigerian Brent crude has not dropped to $32 per barrel level. The year 2020 has come with strong statement of intent on records to be broken in different fronts. First, the world is afflicted with global pandemic of highly lethargic proportion.

  Next is grounding of countries’ economy in the process. Nigeria economy is plummeting in the aftermath with her Brent crude hitting an all time low of $20 per barrel benchmark in modern history, at the international market.

  Further, record has not seen the world pushed into conflict with itself such that no sound of mortars or bombs is heard, yet casualty figures keep piling up in the count since the two World Wars. In the current battle, even co-operations of longtime allies are threatened.

Call it COVID-19 pandemic or anything, the fact remains that there is a warfare neither the victory nor the loss would be anything enviable to reckon with.

  Interestingly, missiles, mortars and other armaments have not only been rendered ineffective but as well useless in this warfare; while hiding in closed settings in the form of isolation seems the safest option in the interim.

  Consequently, global economy totters on brink; shuttling between stagnation and reversal motions.

   Where does Nigeria stand in this imbroglio? Fact remains that the country’s annual budget is over 88 per cent borne by oil revenue; commodity that its value has so much been affected by global economic moratorium the pandemic has dictated.

  Sadly, agriculture and manufacturing sectors which ought to be the backbone of Nigeria’s economy and strong insulator to the harsh effects of COVID-19 have been allowed to die, making very insignificant contributions to the GDP in the reign of oil.

  To cap the conundrum besetting Nigeria in this mix, the future of oil is certainly not cheery with scientists engrossed in research for alternative energy not entirely driven by oil.

What this means is that an end to the reign of oil is near and will no longer be a valuable commodity by the time alternative is discovered.

  Nigeria may not be in the forefront of this invention but every development in the sector has direct or indirect effect on her existence.

Suffice it to say that what Nigeria could not achieve with oil proceeds up till now, may not be achievable in the coming future, except by stroke of chance.

  However, the horizon is not entirely bleak for the country. Handicapped as Nigeria could be in an era of oil crash, there are still areas propping in prospects, with the country enjoying relative comparative advantage over her compatriots and poised for fair competition with even developed world if harnessed for that purpose. That is agriculture and may be a turning point towards her self rediscovery.

  No doubt, efforts have been made to relaunch the country into the prosperous path using agriculture as arrow-head in the project. Successive democratic Nigerian governments up to the present administration had made attempts at marking up agro production and make it main economy driving force but statistics today does not show the target has been met.

  Despite efforts made in that direction, agro domestic demands are far from being met while export over the last decade has been abysmal.

  Perhaps, the biggest challenge COVID-19 lockdown posed to government and people of Nigeria has been massive hunger. Voices of dissention emanating from various quarters had always been premised on starvation concerns.

The questions that beckon answers in the unfolding scenario are;; what roles can the country’s agro industries play at this critical point?

 Is agricultural practice in Nigeria not majorly subsistence despite decades of romanticising with development policies and why has it run on this course for so long?

Is there no compelling need to relegislate on farming processes in Nigeria to make it more productive, lucrative and even more honorable? When these elements are there, it will generate attractions to itself without much sensitisation. Nigerians are always on the lookout for investments where returns are guaranteed.

  “Dependable agricultural programme can solve half of Nigeria’s problems.” Poultry farmer, Chukwuma Njoku believes.

  He posits that available lands have not been fully utilised. “There are a lot of communities that with little incentives from government for farming, they would perform wonders. Government should think out a way of connecting with these people.

They should make farm implements like tractors, silos, herbicides, fertilizers available and affordable to local farmers in various communities, especially, now that the rains are setting-in and as well, irrigation facilities for dry season farming. These should be purposefully deployed for the development of agriculture in the state.

If in all the local governments in   Anambra State, there are functional poultry farms, robust piggeries or fish farms, would it not create substantial employment, revenue to the state in addition to contributing to solving feed ( meat) needs of citizens?”

  Perhaps, the schools farming programme adopted in Anambra State underscores the need to start the massive agro revolution from the basics; building future champions of the industry from today. Like community choose-your-project initiative of the state, schools within farming areas are to engage in any farm according to the peculiarities of their areas for better result.

No matter how negligible contributions from this sector may seem, it adds quota to the total output from the state as well as groom future farmers to drive the industry.

  Apparently, Njoku is not alone in this belief that agriculture can comfortably drive the nation’s economy and bring forth healthier society.

   Public Affairs Analyst, Ben Akak believes Nigeria has all it takes to feed her citizens and make substantial revenue from her agricultural export programmes if the right approach is adopted and the political will to allow the policy to succeed.

  “Nigeria must embrace mechanised farming without undermining subsistence practice too. The farming system has taken too long to be reformed. Where are storage facilities that can keep seasonal produces beyond their peak seasons?

How do farmers in the communities get necessary implements? Fertilizer procurement and distribution have been issues in the system, how has that been restructured to make it available to farmers at appropriate time?

  FADAMA approach has been useful in the system but Nigeria must move beyond cosmetic policies to engage more willing hands in the system.”

  The situation is not one that window-dressing poseurs can help. Not even sugar coated messages can do much but practical engagements pronged on positive delivery.

  States in Nigeria have different potentials for agro production. Incentives in the form of agric loans should be made accessible to farmers than opportunists.

  In Spain, vine plantations alone give employment to a good number of immigrants. Thailand has enormous rice farms that provide sufficient feed for the locals, employment to many and foreign exchange earnings in export trade.

  Nigeria has the land but capacity utilisation is a big issue. Since the banning of rice importation, it had been work in progress to meet local demand of the commodity.

The prevailing prices across the country’s market has not shown that Nigeria has made remarkable impact in the programme,  as majority of the populace cannot boast of  affording a 50 kg when they are in need of it.

  In Plateau State alone, good tomato farming programme can drive away importations of any canned tomato products even if open market competition between foreign and local is allowed in the sector. 

   The yam has potential for good yield both in the north, east and west zones of the country, making its scarcity in local markets and homes inexcusable. The same applies to cassava, yet hunger stares before Nigerians.

  It is indeed time to take a detour back to the prospective basics. To save the country from another tough pandemic (hunger) after COVID-19, state resources should be channeled into agro production, a sector Nigeria has comparative edge, than white elephant projects floated by insincere governments over the years which reduced Nigeria to shameful poor country.

If there shall be legislation compelling every community to float a given agro farm of their choice with government providing necessary logistics and supervision while the community provides land and labour in partnership arrangements that would not permit cheating or laxity on either side, the gains will be for the people and government as well.

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