Agriculture: Gradually Returning To Service Nigeria’s Economy
AGRICULTURE used to be the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. As oil revenue increased, successive governments out of lack of leadership vision ignored this economic multiplier until President Goodluck Jonathan administration made agriculture a top priority of his government. So far, the present government’s agricultural programmes have recorded appreciable gains that can be further leveraged to ensure self-sufficiency in food production and possibly economic stability in the face of dwindling oil price.
Nigerians, especially the Christian community who observe Christmas celebration and other end of the year activities have always witnessed price hikes in almost all types of foods, especially rice. But December last year was a month that could be referenced to have signposted the gains made by the Jonathan administration in the quest to boost food production and ensure that the journey towards self-sufficiency in agricultural practices reflects in practical terms on the quality of life. This was due to the 70 per cent growth in food production following the present government’s commitment, investment and efforts in the agricultural sector. The development is unprecedented in the history of the country since the oil boom.
It would be recalled that in 2011, the Jonathan administration took giant steps towards food sufficiency by initiating the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) through the Ministry of Agriculture. The GES programme was essentially designed to plug all the leakages in the fertilizer and agricultural components distribution programmes and ensure that farmers, rather than profiteering middlemen, access the components and the subsidies attached to them.
Last year’s Christmas celebration provided a window for an assessment of the programme. In 2013, rice prices shot up by about 25 per cent during this high demand period. But in 2014, prices largely stabilised and citizens were able to purchase almost at the same rate they bought the previous year.
The Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, recently said the current rice transformation policy would lead to the national goal of rice self-sufficiency.
“Nigerian rice farmers have increased output by over 2.8 million metric tonnes of rice paddy. The total output of paddy in the 2012 wet season and 2012/2013 dry season brought to the market an additional 1.409 million metric tonnes (MT) of paddy or 916,137 MT of milled rice from 403,222 hectares of cultivated land. By the 2013 wet season and 2013/2014 dry season, output more than doubled to 2.96 million MT of paddy or 1.92 MT of milled rice from 802,108 hectares of land.
“What this means that if the current tempo is sustained and the area of land devoted to rice cultivation were doubled, Nigeria would produce over and above the quantity of rice being imported, leaving room for export.
“This has happened because through the GES programme, government has given massive support to farmers. Without this, the quantum jump in production would have been elusive.”
With increased farming activities, government has also been solving employment problems along the way. Agriculture, being a critical employment enabler, experts say, has capacity to reduce the spiraling unemployment rate in the country significantly. There is no doubt that, so far, tremendous gains have been recorded in the sector that was comatose before now. It was a result of the progress made in the sector that some yam sellers in the North allegedly donated N5 billion to General Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign funding.
Speaking on the progress made in rice production recently, Special Assistant on Media and Strategy to the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye, said the upbeat in rice production activities in the 2012 wet season and 2012/2013 dry seasons resulted in 751, 248 jobs produced in rural communities. This, according to him, was in addition to hundreds of thousands of other indirect job opportunities for input suppliers, farm labourers, transporters, warehouse operators and other stakeholders in the value chain.
“The rice transformation agenda under the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) was truly ambitious, but realistic. After two years of attempts, the decision to embark on such an ambitious programme has proved worthwhile. There are many areas in which efforts of the government have restored hope and brightened prospects and we will continue to work on these areas to ensure that in a few years down the road, greater gains would be recorded,” he stated.
Citing the example of cotton, a product that was high in the country’s export list in the 60s and 70s, Oyeleye said plans were already underway to ensure this class of agro products grow as high as rice in the coming years. He noted that when this happens, the nation’s hitherto healthy textile industry would become alive and millions of direct and indirect employment would be created.
On the prospects of restoring the cotton industry, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina said: “I have looked at the creativity in the Nigerian fashion industry and can only imagine what that growing industry would be like when we begin to receive the results from the foundation we are currently laying in cotton production.
We want to ensure that the diversified Nigerian economy of the near future would be driven by agriculture.”
So there is no gainsaying the fact that under the Jonathan administration, the prospects of changing the country’s fortunes through the agric sector is looking good. The gains from the GES have provided a new vista through which the economy can grow and sustain the country and its people with or without oil. When the time comes and Nigeria is able to feed itself, revenue losses from needless imports can then be aggregated and channeled to other critical areas of need.
Danbada, a farmer wrote Otukpo, Benue State