By Kika Emefele
Nigeria’s current economic woes are primarily as a result of over-dependence on oil, a commodity presently known for its pricing volatility. The current economic quagmire has made many Nigerians to proffer soluations to the current situation. While some are calling for a restructuring of the nation’s political-economic architecture to free up the potential of the States, others have advocated the maintenance of the status quo, with greater emphasis on economic diversification. However, the present nature of our convoluted federal system calls for a more satisfactory and accomplished discussion of economic diversification.
The efforts to diversify the economy should be considered and effected with a robust approach towards bolstering the economy. Agriculture is one of the sectors we should focus on for the purpose of actualizing our economic diversification goal. There is no doubt that the present administration and its predecessor made agriculture one of the focal sectors to invest in towards strengthening our economy.
The previous administration under the stewardship of the then Agriculture Minister, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, commenced the process of maximizing the potentials of the sector. Some initiatives were introduced such as: the utilization of technology in a sector that has been mostly archaic in approach and practice, exemplified via updates and information to farmers through small holder farmers. In addition, concerted efforts were made to attract private sector participation to the industry, among other laudable interventions.
The current administration, acknowledging that more work needs to be done, has consolidated on the efforts of the previous administration by granting N40 billion in form of soft loans for rice and wheat production through the CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP). The creation of this fund is a strategic move for the the attainment of national food security, job creation and poverty reduction.
As laudable as the efforts of the current administration are, it should be said that more efforts are still required in order to positively transform Nigeria’s agriculture sector and turn it into a major revenue earner for the nation, as it once was. The issue of financing indigenous farmers has been a major impediment to the take off and growth of the agriculture sector.
It is pertinent to note that commercial banks, with the exception of a few, are still reluctant to provide credit facilities to the Agricultural sector, in spite of the encouragement by the Central Bank to do so. CBN has consistently encouraged commercial banks to meet and comply with their agricultural credit financing thresholds through schemes like Nigeria Risk Incentive-Based Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) and Micro Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund (MSMEDF). Yet, many banks still fail to avail farmers credit facilities.
Understandably, some of the reasons for the unwillingness of banks to give agricultural loans can be found in the widespread subsistent nature of farming in Nigeria. Especially, in rural areas which makes it practically impossible for farmers and banks to agree on loan modalities combined with the illiteracy level of some farmers. Furthermore, the farmers are scared of the double digit-interest rate associated with these loans. There is also the issue of diversion of funds by some farmers.
Moreover, there is a varying degree of improper engagement of the youths in the agricultural sector which is in dire need of well-trained manpower and technological advancement. A friend once made a remark that if a Nigerian farmer who died fifty years ago resurrects today, he can simply walk into a farm and carry on farming activities since nothing in practice and tools have changed.
Indeed, nothing has changed except the rhetoric. The farms we have are largely un-mechanized, with Nigeria having the lowest tractorization in the world in terms of intensity and density. Our youths who are known to be dexterous and creative, can resolve most of these issues inhibiting modern day technology in today’s farming. However, the youths cannot provide succour if graduate youths are not engaged in agribusiness. They need to be sensitized on the value chain of agriculture and the benefits it can provide. The Nigerian youths can provide the skilled manpower and managerial skills that are deficit within the sector considering the enterprising nature of some of these youths.
There is no gainsaying the fact that having agriculture as one of the big revenue earners of our economy would be to our benefit. It will, among other things, serve as a source of raw materials for agro-allied industries, help advance Nigeria’s quest and march to industrialisation. Furthermore, research comes up with new findings of breakthroughs and solutions obtained from agricultural produce, most of which can be found in our geographical entity.
The citizens and government of Nigeria should be more proactive in investing in the restructuring of this viable sector and harnessing its value chain in boost its contribution to the GDP and sustainability of our livelihood and economy. An example is Benue state, which recently took bold steps towards achieving citizens’ participation by declaring Friday a work-free day for civil servants to take part in farming activities in this year’s crop season.
*Emefele, a lawyer, writes from Abuja via [email protected]