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Holes in Nigeria’s many agricultural initiatives

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THIS time 60 years ago, agriculture was the engine of growth of Nigeria’s economy. It catered for the 95 per cent of the country’s food needs and contributed over 60 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), besides employing over 70 per cent  of Nigerians. Today, Nigeria sings a new economic song but not favourable to agriculture and overall economic advancement of the country.

  Agriculture is the oldest productive activity in the world; besides, it is most fundamental to the economic growth and development of any nation. As precious and coveted as any mineral resource seems, none has been found worthy to displace the role of agriculture since time immemorial.  

The discovery of crude oil transferred huge wealth to the country’s public expenditure that it granted Nigeria easy access to many international capital markets leading to the decline of agriculture which was the country’s economic mainstay.

The new leverage opened a new economic narrative for the country. The socio-economic life in Nigeria as it were then chiefly revolves around agricultural activities. The chasm in the shift the government policies created from agricultural programmes to petroleum evoked economic challenges for the country till date. 

According to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), contribution of Nigeria’s agricultural sector to the economy in first quarter of 2020 was 21.96 per cent to the nation’s GDP, a     statistics that would have been frowned upon in the First Republic. The NBS data earlier revealed that in 2019 half-year statistics, that Nigeria exported food items worth N90 billion while import was put at N334.3 billion.

This represents a huge trade deficit showing a common trend that has labeled the country as a net food importer over the years. Nigeria paints a picture of a country that suffers food insufficiency and maintained that consistency.

Agriculture is primarily for food sufficiency; providing enough for the populace and profitability; whether for domestic use or export to make money. Before agriculture lost its prime spot, Nigeria’s significant gain in agriculture was spurred by farm settlements and other agricultural programmes before proceeds from crude oil truncated the initiative.

For an agricultural programme that started in the 1950s, farm settlements spurred and sustained the economy of the country’s four regions. The idea behind farm settlement was to promote efficiency in the utilisation of land resources and dignity in farming through provision of infrastructure.

Not only does the scheme encourage food sufficiency and industrialisation but it also discourages youth urban migration and by extension, encouraging rural development. Nigeria modeled the settlement after the Israeli Moshavim, a co-operative, semi-collective agricultural settlement, designed as part of the Zionist State building programme where members work together to develop the land, increase the economy of the state and defend the nation.

On the strength of the farm settlements, the Eastern Region thrived chiefly in palm oil produce and cashew with settlements such as the Ada Palm in Imo State; Umudike cassava, yam and palm produce in Abia State; the Obudu Ranch for rearing of local cattle (Muturu cows) in Cross River State; Cashew Settlements in Oghe, Enugu and Okigwe, Imo State, as well as Ada Rice in Enugu, among others, were established. The Western and Northern Regions had similar settlements dotting the landscape of their various regions. In the West, cocoa, coffee and cattle ranch were products of the programme. In the North, groundnut dominated other crops. The groundnut pyramids in the North gained international attention, while the Midwest thrived in rubber plantations.    

Agriculture as the economic mainstay in the First Republic encouraged rapid economic growth and healthy competition among the regions. It was an era that the Eastern Region was adjudged as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Proceeds from agriculture in the region were used to establish the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, African Continental Bank (ACB), one of the first ingenious banks, Eastern Nigeria Television (ENTV), Enugu, among others.

Cocoa House, a 26-storey building in Ibadan, once the tallest building in tropical Africa was built from the proceeds of the Western Region made from cocoa, coffee and other agricultural commodities. Western Nigeria Television (WNTV), Ibadan, the first television station in Nigeria, was built from agricultural proceeds, so was the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University.

In the North, groundnut, cotton and other crops engineered industrialisation of the region, producing the famous textile mills among other industries. The Mid-Western region was Nigeria’s pride as Africa’s largest producer of natural rubber.

Gen. Gowon initiated the first programme to tackle the dwindling fortunes of agriculture in Nigeria. He launched the National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP) in 1972, as crude oil began to change the nation’s economic narrative. The programme aimed to make Nigeria self-sufficient in food production. Consequently, land reform and mass literacy policies were recommended for farmers.

As the NAFPP failed to remedy the situation with Nigeria sliding down the food insufficiency index, the Gen Gowon regime in 1973, consolidated on the river basin programme to boost food production with decree no. 73 of 1973.The decree extended the set to extend the projects nationwide.

The idea of the river basin actually started with the commissioning of the Lake Chad Basin Commission as established in 1963, in the north of the country as part of the intervention to boost agriculture. The River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs) of 1976 established eleven RBDAs, to  boost economic  potentials  of  the  existing  water  bodies  particularly  irrigation  and  fishery  with  hydroelectric  power generation  and  domestic  water  supply  as  secondary  objectives.

In 1976, Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, who took on the mantle of leadership after the assassination of Gen Murtala Muhammed launched Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) to curb the growing dependency on crude oil export as the country’s major economic earner, achieve self-sufficiency in food crop production and inspire a new generation to return to farming as agriculture has lost its role as the country’s main export.

As Nigeria experienced inability of the agricultural sector to satisfy the food needs of the nation, continued growth in poverty, the rise in increase of food importation, the Shehu Shagari administration in 1979, terminated the OFN and introduced the Green Revolution. The programme aims to reduce food importation, increase local food production using modern inputs such as high yielding varieties of seeds, fertilizers by mechanised farming and reduction in unemployment.

The Green Revolution rather than paint Nigeria with green money, suffered funds diversion produced imaginary farmers than real ones. Unexpectedly, the Green Revolution failed to achieve its objectives and was characterised by a rise in the unemployment rate and increased food importation. An era that saw the ruling government political associates engaged in massive food importation into the country.

The Second Republic Green Revolution also witnessed large-scale regime of fertilizer subsidisation which started in the 1970s with the broad objective of promoting agricultural productivity. As the federal government engaged the Green Revolution, food prices soared, the nation’s currency; the naira, began its steady stumble to this day. As the economic situation worsened, inflation set in and for the first time in Nigeria’s history, austerity measure was introduced in December 1983.

Coming on the heels of the Green Revolution is the National Fadama Development Project (NFDP), commonly referred to as FADAMA was introduced in 1990. It’s a Hausa name for irrigable, low-lying plains underlain by “shallow” aquifers found along major river systems.

The federal government incorporated the programme to address the challenge of poverty in Nigeria by using irrigation to grow a variety of crops. FADAMA is sponsored jointly by donor agencies like ADB, World Bank and the federal government, and is in stage III of the programme.

In further pursuit of food sufficiency and profitability in agriculture, the Value Chain Development Programme (VCDP) was introduced in 2014. The VCDP was an initiative of the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) programme to anchor in Nigeria government’s vision for holistic agricultural transformation through commodity value chain approach, with emphasis on enhancing productivity and access to markets for rice and cassava smallholder farmers.

The latest intervention initiative came through the Central    Bank    of    Nigeria    (CBN) Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP). The Programme was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) on November 17, 2015. It aims to create  a  linkage  between  anchor  companies involved  in  the  processing and  smallholder Farmers (SHFs) of the  required  key  agricultural  commodities.

According to CBN, the  programme thrust  of  the  ABP  is  provision  of  farm  inputs  in  kind and cash (for  farm  labour) to  smallholder  farmers  to boost  production of these commodities,    stabilise    inputs   supply    to    agro processors  and  address  the country’s negative  balance  of payments on  food.   At harvest, the SHF supplies his/her produce to the Agro-processor (Anchor) who pays the cash equivalent to the farmer’s account.

Reform in any sector of the economy is bound to initiative positive change; a change that underlines profound catalysis for growth and development. Advancement, neither technology will find its right footing in an economy enmeshed in food crisis or any that agriculture undermined. 

Nigeria has been initiating various agricultural programmes, subsidising fertilizer for over 40 years and has not had a good result. What could be wrong? Why do rich personalities in Nigeria go into agriculture? If it is not lucrative, they won’t go into it. How come agriculture is a lucrative venture, yet not a rewarding venture for the country?  

Myriads of other questions abound on why the country’s agricultural programmes after hundreds of billions of naira investment over the years seem to be a misplaced priority. The answer could be that the various programmes are not well communicated to the people. Another factor could be in implementing the programmes. And what could be the chief cause?

Corrupt practices in the system may be the answer. For instance, the fertilizer subsidy regime is enmeshed in racketing; seeds and seedlings hoarded and later sold at high cost to farmers. Through government intervention programmes, there is growing legion of political farmers than real farmers. 

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