By Chinyere Anyanwu, [email protected]
Nigeria has celebrated its 61st independence anniversary and there are mixed feelings about the nation’s level of development on all fronts, especially in relation to its natural endowments and human capital.
An assessment of the country’s agriculture sector since independence reveals that there have been considerable achievements but not up to the desired level. The sector, which holds the potential to steer the country’s economy out of the doldrums is yet to adequately find its footing owing to several challenges. It’s therefore been a potpourri of pains and gains.
Owing to the dwindling performance of the agriculture sector in the country, successive administrations, both military and democratic, have formulated and implemented various policies and projects aimed at putting the sector back to its critical place in the economy.
Looking at the nation’s agriculture in segments, the period before the discovery of crude oil, and before and immediately after independence was the sector’s glorious season when it was the mainstay of the economy. During this period, Nigeria boasted of 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, etc.
In the period after 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 owing to abundant cash inflow from oil were neglected. Nigeria went from being an export country to an import-dependent nation, importing almost everything including toothpick.
The period following this is the period of restoration marked by successive governments’ recognition of the sector’s importance to the economic survival and sustainability of the country. They have, over the years, formulated and implemented various policies and projects targeted at resuscitating agriculture and repositioning it to occupy its pride of place.
There was the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) programme of the Obasanjo-led military administration; the 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 were 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 border closure in August 2019.
Through these efforts, Nigeria’s agriculture has recorded some achievements. Today, the country is doing well in rice production boasting of over 40 rice mills with production volume running into hundreds of millions of tonnes annually. Oil palm produce is also receiving attention from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and production of several other crops have received boosts from both government and the private sector.
Further steps taken by government to reposition agriculture came in the form of massive awareness among youths to attract them into agriculture and agribusiness. This has given rise to the birthing of a crop of youths who are investing heavily in agriculture and giving the sector a fresh breath of life. Export of agro products, especially nuts and spices, has also been expanded with so many private sector investors venturing into the business.
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 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.
High interest rate on funds meant for the sector is another albatross militating against its progress. According to stakeholders, commercial banks give about 29 per cent interest 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 challenge of post-harvest losses equally constitutes a setback to 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 of such commodities.
Poor 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 herders/farmers crises that have beset the country in the last four to five years have set agriculture and the nation’s efforts to attain food security back a great deal. 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 (IDP) camps.
Speaking on Nigeria’s agriculture sector in the last 61 years, the Vice President of Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG), Mr. Emmanuel Ijewere, sees the sector as having bright prospects when the right things are put in place.
Ijewere said, “before independence, immediately after independence and before the civil war, Nigeria was very good in agriculture and we were poised to be a major player in the field of agriculture in the world. After the war, and combined with the oil money that was coming in, the military went wild. That was when they made the stupid statement that money is not our problem but how to spend it. And everybody abandoned agriculture because it was too tedious, it was too much work. You can go to the big cities and get the oil money easily. That was the beginning of the downfall of agriculture.”
He stated that, “successive governments, including the military ones, came up with several projects including Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), among others. All of them went to further finance the corruption that has already taken over the country. The farmer was discouraged, more people left the villages, went to the cities and left only old people in the villages who could not take advantage of the various agricultural advancements in the world.”
He, however, noted that, “as at now, I see great prospects. I see a situation where the private sector is getting more conscious of the fact that agriculture is the future of Nigeria’s economic development. More educated people are now coming in. Government is beginning to understand this. Even the state governments who used to go to Abuja every month to collect money are now taking agriculture in their states a lot more serious since that money is dwindling.
“All these things combined, it shows that going forward, agriculture has a brighter prospect. But in doing so, my prayer is this, and you may not like this prayer, may the price of oil continue to be low so that we can use those things that God gave us that will be more sustainable than oil. In any case, in the next five to 10 years, people are going to be in less need of crude oil in the world. So I think we have a great prospect now and I’m happy about it.”
Another stakeholder, Dr. Victor Iyama, President, Federation of Agricultural Commodities Association of Nigeria, (FACAN), believes Nigeria has not done too badly in its efforts to properly position agriculture and ensure food security.
According to him, “we have not done too badly but it could have been better. For a number of years, our concentration on oil has rubbed off on us and we are definitely not where we ought to be but from the look of things and the downturn in oil fortunes, we’ve taken up agriculture. We are not there yet but I know that if we continue with this tempo, we will be there in a very short while.”
Iyama insists that, “we have a lot of commodities, domestic and the ones we can trade internationally. On the domestic commodities, we are trying. On the ones we can trade internationally, there’s still a lot of gaps in our production capacity and we have to do a lot about that. How can we be producing 250,000 tonnes of cocoa when a country like Cote D’Ivoire is producing 2.2 million tonnes of cocoa? And we’re almost 10 times bigger than them.”
He lamented, however, that, “we are still doing more of promoting importation. We are talking about not seeing dollars, but nobody is talking about the obnoxious laws and policies of CBN concerning our export. There’s no way you can say you’re promoting export and you’re gagging exporters from having unfettered access to their funds. We are promoting importation and killing export. In this country today that we are looking for dollars, are we not supposed to be discouraging import? A country that has problem of inflow and dollar liquidity, what do you do? You restrict your importation to healthcare system and agricultural equipment. Any other person who wants dollar to do anything should go and source for it.”