Agriculture as economic bedrock
THE tasks before President Muhammadu Buhari are multifarious and gargantuan. But they are not insurmountable. With time, patience and meticulous planning, there shall be light at the end of the tunnel. One of these tasks is the resuscitation of the lost glory of agriculture. All over the world, the industry is the oldest. So, it is in this country, as it forms the bedrock of our economy. Now that oil may also lose its glory, attention must focus on agriculture.
Food is basic to man’s existence, besides housing and clothing. Some years back, I was a co-traveller with an engineer from Poland. Looking left and right along the Ibadan-Lagos Expressway, the Pole blustered: “ Mr. Oshisada, your country is rich in wide expanse of arable land, yet you complain of food scarcity. In my country, Poland (Central Europe), we are not endowed as much, but we are not lacking in foods. What are your successive governments doing to provide leadership in agriculture?” Non- plussed, I sat back to ponder over his question, “What are your governments doing to provide the leadership in agriculture?” The question is pertinent.
In my considered opinion, our past governments, military and civilian, failed to provide the leadership in formulating positive policies on agriculture. If they had, such policies were not pursued in earnest, but by happy-go- lucky approaches. Agriculture is the science and practice of farming in the widest sense. It includes the productions of all types of crops, the rearing of livestock and the care of the soil. It is one of the oldest practices dating back to tens of thousands of years.
As long as the country ignores agriculture, so long shall we remain hungry with dependence on food importations that hugely deplete our foreign exchange reserves. The development of the agricultural sector is essential to overcoming poverty and hunger. Crops are of two types – food and cash crops – which successive governments ignored since the commercial production of petroleum began in the country in 1958, with paltry 4,000 barrels per day, and sourcing the same exclusively from Port Harcourt, Rivers State as compared with the present output of 2.7 million barrels per day.
Ever since, attention has turned from food and cash crops productions to petroleum, occasioning pervasive corruption in all strata of our society. In the faces of all and sundry, is hunger evidently written as the corollary to oil discovery. The situation could not be so, had there been right thinking leaders in the country. In May 2010, Nigeria’s Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) estimated that the nation’s crude oil reserve would not last beyond 25 years at the then rate of depletion, as per The Guardian, November 11, 2010. Amid that gloomy expectation, our leaders were unperturbed. Revenue from petroleum is not judiciously husbanded. Structural utilities are in ruins. And agriculture is neglected. One feels apprehensive for Nigeria and Nigerians, if it subsists by 2040. Now that the oil is flowing, albeit with dilapidated refineries, nothing credible is achieved. What, if it runs out in 25 years’ time?
How do we reverse the trend? Rice, which is now our staple food, is an imported item that heavily depletes our foreign reserve. There is no effort to cultivate it in commercial quantity for domestic consumption, not to talk of exportation. Our leaders must make agriculture a really mechanized industry of central focus. Today, farming is concentrated in few hands, some of who have either retired from the land or dead, whilst the youths are now operating as bus conductors at the garages and bus stops. Land policy is not encouraging to prospective farmers who cannot simply jump to another man’s family land to till the soil without communal turmoil ensuing. The ancient traditional system with hoes and cutlasses still prevails, instead of mechanization in large scale. In the old Western Region, pupils were exposed to agriculture in schools’ farms. Why not revive the system, instead of allowing the youths to rot in frivolities and utter idleness?
Man must feed before his venture into cash crops production for exports. Some years back, a lecturer in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Dr. Bamiro Adebayo, said that agriculture remained the foundation for an over-all economic growth, but noted that this was not fully utilized in Africa. He pointed out that critical challenges hinder accelerated agricultural production and productivity in Africa and that millions of people in the region were reported to be chronically hungry and millions of children are malnourished. “Despite the challenges, Africa has the potential to become the major bread basket of the world. Africa has sufficient agricultural potentials with vast natural resources that can be managed to be able to feed the world,” Dr. Adebayo explained.
Indeed, I cannot fail to agree with him. But what efforts were made by past governments? Buhari’s administration is intent upon correcting the situation. History pages are replete with the teachings that in the Near East, spreading to Mesopotamia, Egypt and China, agriculture developed when their leaders could pull up themselves by their bootstraps. Ancient Egypt developed irrigation, crop rotation and livestock breeding. The Romans, too, were good farmers with their agricultural treatises. What legacy is Nigeria bequeathing to Africa, like the aforementioned countries? Our governments have a lot to learn from modern Israel, concerning agriculture. Our youths can be sent to Israel to understudy its system. Israel is able to sustain itself in food productions; there, arid land is made productive. Nigeria may not be arid country, but political will, as a spring board to investment in agriculture, is essential to economic growth.
For the Buhari Administration, there are ways out of the lifelong stagnation in agriculture. It is not a solution to be consigned exclusively in the hands of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. First, bureaucracy can be a hindrance to decision-making. Second, expert knowledge and advice may be lacking. With the benefit of hindsight, this writer suggests that a special body (Commission) of agricultural economists, from our universities and other countries like Israel, Egypt, Malaysia or Brazil, be set up to tackle the problem. Foreign expertise is desirable for cross-pollination of ideas.
Creditable people with credible antecedents deserve to constitute the membership of the Commission for positive lifelong results. In each of the 36 states of the federation, identical but subordinate bodies must be established. This piece is without prejudice to avalanche of literature on farming industry. This writer’s grouse is, however, that too much of lip service is paid in response. Action is incompatible with the outpourings of literature on the sector. Fortunately, Buhari’s administration realises that agriculture is a fulcrum to our development. So, let it be.
•Oshisada, a veteran journalist, wrote from Ikorodu, Lagos.