By Chinyere Anyanwu [email protected]
At independence on October 1, 1960, expectations that the country would be standing surefooted on several fronts were deeply engrained in the hearts of the citizens.
But 62 years after, those lofty expectations seem muffled, leaving behind frustrations and bitternessamong the people.
Among the sectors of the country that had held high hopes of enviable transformation was the agricultural sector, which was already doing considerably well prior to independence.
During this period, and immediately after independence, agriculture was the mainstay of the economy.
The country was reputed for cash crops such as rubber, cocoa, timber, palm produce and groundnut, among others, which were foreign exchange earners for the country. It was equally self-sufficient in several food crops including cassava, maize, yam, cocoyam, wheat, among others. But with the discovery of crude oil, the sector, which holds the potential to steer the country’s economy out of the woods, was relegated to the background.
Following the discovery of crude oil and after independence, Nigeria’s agriculture suffered setback owing to the neglect of the sector by government. The cultivation and maintenance of cash and food crops were neglected owing to abundant cash inflow from oil. Nigeria went from being an export country to an import-dependent nation, importing almost everything.
Due to the dwindling performance of the country’s agriculture sector, successive administrations, both military and democratic, have formulated and implemented various policies and projects aimed at restoring the sector’s pride of place in the economy. The period of sectoral restoration was marked by the successive governments’ recognition of the sector’s importance to the economic survival and sustainability of the country. They have formulated and implemented various policies and projects targeted at resuscitating agriculture and repositioning it to occupy its rightful place.
There was the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) programme of the Obasanjo-led military administration; the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP); the 2016-2020 Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) also known as the Green Alternative; the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) scheme aimed at subsidising fertiliser by 25 per cent; Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Funds (ACGSF); Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS), and Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), among others.
Other measures included the restriction of forex for imports of certain food items, outright ban on importation of goods that can be produced locally, removal of subsidy for the importation of 41 non-essential commodities and the border closure between August 2019 and December 2020.
Through these efforts, Nigeria’s agriculture has recorded considerable achievements which are a far cry from the desired level. Today, the country is doing relatively well in rice production boasting of over 68 integrated mills spread across the country with a combined production capacity of three million metric tonnes as of January 2022. Oil palm produce has also received attention from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and production of several other crops has received boosts from both government and the private sector.
Women and youths empowerment programmes are further steps taken by government to reposition agriculture, which have come in the form of massive awareness among women and youths to attract them into agriculture and agribusiness. This has given birth to a crop of youths and women who are hugely investing in agriculture and giving the sector a fresh breath of life. Some of them are doing exceptionally well in agro-processing and agro-export in the food and cash crops value chains.
Despite these moves to bring agriculture back to its enviable position, several challenges have kept it struggling over the years. Major among these challenges has been the insincerity of implementing authorities in the implementation of the programmes intended for the resuscitation of the sector. Farmers have always insisted that funds and other inputs intended for their use rarely get to them and where and when they do, it is usually after struggling through several bureaucratic bottlenecks.
The non-mechanisation of the country’s agriculture has contributed in no small measure to keeping the sector stagnant over the years. Till date, manual labour still characterises Nigeria’s agricultural practices. Farmers’ cooperatives that engage in cluster farming are still having a heck of time accessing large scale farming equipment for production.
High interest rate on funds meant for the sector is another challenge militating against its progress. According to stakeholders, commercial banks give loans at about 29 per cent interest, Bank of Agriculture (BoA) gives loan to farmers at 14 per cent interest for agricultural production and agro-processing, while government interest is 9 per cent but they insist that any interest rate on agriculture loan that is above 5 per cent is not tenable.
The issue of post-harvest losses equally constitutes a setback to the sector’s sustainable growth and food security. Lack of processing equipment needed to process excess farm produce into other products has often resulted in wastage of perishable produce thereby creating scarcity during off season periods of such commodities.
Lack of good road networks that make it difficult to get farm produce to the market, especially in rural farm communities, is another challenge confronting the sector.
The high level insecurity, especially that emanating from herders/farmers crises, that has beset the country in the last six to eight years has set agriculture and the nation’s efforts to attain food security back tremendously. The regions known as the nation’s food baskets have been majorly hit by these crises which have seen farmers abandoning their farms and taking refuge in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps or relocating completely to urban areas.
Assessing Nigeria’s journey in agriculture in the last 62 years, the Vice President of Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG), Mr. Emmanuel Ijewere, says it has been a journey marked by corruption, incompetence, insincerity and planlessness.
The NABG vice president summarised the country’s agricultural sector from independence in 1960 till date thus: “In 1960, Nigeria was doing beautifully well in agriculture. Then we had military rule which coincided with the oil boom. The military said we don’t need to spend too much energy on agriculture, we already have much money coming from oil. That changed the entire psyche of Nigeria. We abandoned the farms, we abandoned the villages and headed to the cities and we turned an importing country. Every food we needed we were importing. That was the second stage.
“Then it dawned on us when we had the oil burst that our future is still in agriculture. So we started going back but the going back itself was faced by a number of things. First and foremost, corruption; two incompetence; three, planlessness, and four, insincerity of government at the local government, state and federal levels.”
He said, “the little light we had was when Dr. Akinwumi Adesina was Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.
He brought agriculture into the forefront and fortunately, we had a president who supported him but his term was short-lived.
Immediately after, we went back to where we were where corruption, insincerity, planlessness took over. That is where we are today.”
Expressing hope on the future of Nigeria’s agriculture sector, Ijewere noted that, “we need to have an absolute and total reorganisation; we need to go back to that thinking in that small light we had that will be mixed with what we had in the 1960s when we got independence 62 years ago. Put that together, Nigeria, within a period of 18 months, with sincerity can turn it (agriculture) absolutely around.
“For example, research institutions say that today, Nigeria is producing 60,000,000 metric tonnes of cassava, but we have the scientific capacity, the ability, the land and the people to turn it around within 18 months to 100,000,000 metric tonnes. So it is for yam and for everything else.
So the issue now is, what future do we want? A future of oil and corruption or a future of hard work and the use of all those things that God has given us?”
A prompt and action-backed answer to Ijewere’s concluding question will point Nigeria’s agriculture towards a food-secured and economically self-sustaining future.