Agriculture: An action plan at work, not talk
It is, indeed commendable and comforting to hear President Muhammadu Buhari say the other day that, it is high time Nigeria ended its dependence on oil revenue. By identifying the real direction the country should go with a view to revamping agriculture, Buhari has signaled a genuine commitment to Nigeria’s prosperity. Indeed, this is a welcome development because it will also help to reduce the number of youths who are caught in the conundrum of unemployment.
No doubt, agriculture will help to sooth the hurting effect of hunger in the land, as well as help revive the economy, which has been battered by the historic fall in the price of crude oil in the international market. The President, to pursue his agricultural dream for the nation, must understand that times have changed and they keep changing. This change with regards to agriculture is million miles away from Nigeria because the way agriculture is practised in Nigeria makes it less glamorous especially in the eyes of the youths which the government tends to target or speak to. Agriculture is the key needed to unlock unemployment thereby creating millions of jobs. In order to lure the youth and achieve this laudable economic dream, government must be seen to put things on ground to encourage young people into farming. For instance, with financial support and training programmes, young farmers can emerge in thousands across the country and boost food production as well as add value to the sector.
Sadly enough, agriculture suffers from entrenched negative perceptions in the minds of many young people. For them, a farmer is someone in the village doing backbreaking tilling of the ground, looking ragged weather-beaten and getting very little to show for it because he or she is very poor and cannot meet most of his or her basic needs. Government, therefore, needs to match its words with definite action so as to achieve results. The Federal Government should take the lead in efforts to properly package and sell agriculture’s benefits to the Nigerian youths by investing not just funds but time to educate and train the youths. The fact that Nigeria is on average of about 60% rural in population has defined the immediate bright future of agriculture.
However, it is disheartening to note that the Buhari administration has become renowned for doing nothing but eloquently blaming its predecessors for all Nigerians lack or cannot achieve. This is regrettable. To worsen matters, state governments have remained passive towards peasant farmers. As we all know, farming is done in the states, not at the Federal level, yet many state governors have not shown sufficient commitment to getting farmers off the ground by way of assisting them to adopt modern farming technology that will bring about the desired revolution in the agricultural sector. Indeed, Nigerian farmers work very hard and are determined to succeed but the sheer ineptitude on the part of government compounds their nightmare.
Another major challenge faced by farmers is the steady deterioration of the soil. In a situation where farmers plant the same field season after season and cannot afford to replace or fertilise the soil, that soil then, is ruined. The Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, the other day confessed his ministry’s decision to stop the distribution of fertilizer to farmers in the North East, the reason being that security reports revealed that insurgents use fertilizer to make bombs. Of course, this has raised the price of fertilizer astronomically. Wait a minute, the minister is not done yet, he said, “there is a cry in the air that Nigerians are hungry and we hear them loud and clear…” Now, the question that is begging for answer is, do they hear these cry as music for entertainment or would the worries push them to action in seeking solution to the crisis?
To bring back agriculture to such a glorious status it enjoyed in the 60s when the North was known for its groundnut pyramids, the West for its richness in cocoa while the East was endowed with palm products requires strong political will from leaders and huge investments in agriculture.
The harsh paradox of suffering amidst plenty for a country endowed with rich natural resources and arable land but unable to tap these resources in order to feed its citizens is too much to bear. Nigeria cannot be said to lack the knowledge, or the technology and means to halt hunger and reduce unemployment among the teaming youthful population. Nigerian leaders are merely visionless or they lack the political will to roll up their sleeves and till the land with a view to revamping agriculture. It is true that the challenges to success are as large as the potential consequences of failure. Even as it is an undisputed fact that no magic wand will cause food to be on the table or pull the economy out of recession without working hard for it. Therefore, the government needs to take the right steps to stem the tide of hunger in the land before it is too late.
• Ozah is a staff of The Guardian