A strong and an efficient agricultural sector would enable a country to feed its growing population, generate employment, earn foreign exchange and provide raw materials for industries. The agricultural sector has a multiplier effect on any nation’s socio-economic and industrial fabric because of the multifunctional nature of agriculture.
However, it suffered neglect during the days of the oil boom in the 1970s. Ever since then, Nigeria has been witnessing extreme poverty and the insufficiency of basic food items. Historically, the root of the crisis in the Nigerian economy lies in the neglect of agriculture and the increased dependence on a mono-cultural economy based on oil.
The sector now accounts for less than 5 per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product(GDP). As noted earlier, its neglet and the dependence of Nigeria on a mono-cultural, crude oil-based economy have not augured well for the wellbeing of the economy.
In a bid to address this drift, the Nigerian government as from 1975 became directly involved in the commercial production of food crops. Several large scale agricultural projects specialising in the production of grains, livestock, dairies and animal feeds, to mention but a few were established.The Nigerian Agriculture and Co-operative Bank (NACB) was established in 1973 as part of government’s effort to inject oil wealth into the agricultural sector through the provision of credit facilities to support agriculture and agro-allied businesses.
In spite of these efforts, it is heartrending to note that as from the mid 70s, Nigeria became a net importer of various agricultural products. In 1982 alone, the country imported 153,000mt tons of palm oil at the cost of $92 million and 55,000mt tons of cotton valued at $92 million. Between 1973 and 1980, a total of 7.07 million tons of wheat, 1.62 million tons of rice and 431,000 tons of maize were imported, ever since then, Nigeria has been spending an average of billions on the importation of rice annually.
During the presentation of the budget to the National Assembly, President Goodluck Jonathan, said that the agricultural sector was being totally transformed to enable the nation move from traditional farming to modern agriculture as a business both for her small and large-scale farmers.
Speaking further, the President said the best way the country could grow her economy and create jobs was for every Nigerian to patronise Nigerian-made goods and this was why the federal government was introducing enabling policies to drive the process.“We are introducing fiscal policy measures that will encourage the purchase and utilisation of locally produced commodities.”
The president stated that from July 1, 2012, wheat flour would attract a levy of 65 per cent to bring the effective duty to 100 per cent, while wheat grain would attract a 15 per cent levy which would bring the effective duty to 20 per cent. To this end, he said in addition to encouraging domestic rice production, a levy of 40 per cent would be placed on imported polished rice leading to an effective duty rate of 50 per cent.
Reacting to the challenge of inadequate capital base for farmers, the president said that single digit credit would be offered to them through direct budgeting, and N450 million loan which would be provided by the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) to support the Nigerian farmers.
Jonathan reinstated that government would embark on private partnerships in order to drive the agriculture sector as was the practice in other developed countries of the world, adding that fertiliser procurement and distribution would be executed by farmer groups and private sectors.
Meanwhile, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Develoment, Alh. Bukar Tijani, said government could not afford to continue with the importation of foods, rather it would utilise local resources to ensure self sufficiency in food production.
The President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Alhaji Adamu Abdulahi, urged the federal government to end complete dependence on oil exports and revive the agriculture sector, he also advised government to assist farmers particularly on the issue of private partnership approach on the distribution of fertilisers.
However, Nigerian government needs to actively promote the establishment of agro-based industries that are capable of processing the country’s agricultural raw-materials in a most efficient manner.
Thus, the emphasis should be on the local processing of raw crops for local industries as well as for export. This would create more employment opportunities, and additional income would be generated.