BY Ray Morphy
A nation with about 200 million people and 70 per cent unemployment or under-employment, atrocious literacy rate and non-existent infrastructure has really no hope of survival, unless government immediately embarks on agriculture deliberately.
It is important to note that only real focus in agriculture will make a difference, and not the haphazard approach, which has not improved the agriculture sector! I mean the sort of agriculture that requires mass mobilisation that will encourage and lead to cultivation of all arable land, in every part of the country!
When the reader sees our landscape from the air as I often do, it will be glaring to him or her that no real agriculture is going on, anywhere. As a matter of fact, looking at the country from the comfort of an aircraft, you will notice that only insignificant percent of available land is cultivated. It is estimated that 82 million hectares of Nigeria’s total land area of about 91million hectares were found to be arable. Of this, only 42 per cent of the cultivable area was
farmed. Even the small area that is farmed, is farmed by old feeble people, who can barely scratch the land. Little wonder our agricultural output is one of the lowest in the entire world.
Worse still is the fact that most of the young people are in the cities chasing after nonexistent jobs! Farming is so unattractive that no self respecting young man will be willing to waste his time in the agric sector!
The economy of large scale agricultural production and intensive cultivation favours Nigeria. Agriculture will feed our huge population and also earn us huge foreign exchange from the exportation of our surplus production! Thankfully even now, the world recognises our agricultural production. Our beniseed is exported and consumed worldwide when processed into high-grade low calorie vegetable oil.
Our cocoa is also valued as raw material for the production of chocolate by developed countries and is unfortunately more expensive and more rewarding to the manufacturers than the return on investment by our local farmers who are shortchanged at the international market.
Unfair international trade is one of the reasons that we have dearth of investment in the sector, which brings to question what should be done to attract people to invest in the agriculture sector.
What can we do with millions of uneducated and under educated people?
What can we do with millions of hectares of arable land? What can save our teeming population from hunger and starvation if not agriculture!
Agriculture is our nation’s salvation and solution! We simply cannot run away from agriculture.
Sadly, our poor work ethic is inimical to intensive cultivation, the sort that is practiced in Israel and in Asian countries!
Moreover, many people have no real access to land and those who have are mostly incapable of really farming and utilizing their land! I mean real intensive farming with modern tools and requisite funding!
99 per cent of Nigerian farming is done without tools and without funds. What we call agriculture is just people scratching the land with hoes and machetes. What can such produce that can meet the demand of nearly 200 million people!
Firstly, such farming cannot make the farmer anything near prosperous.
The Nigerian farmer can neither improve his farming nor improve his life. If farming cannot make the farmer prosperous, it can never attract the young people who are really the ones that can make the land productive!
Unless the various levels of government take farming more seriously and also ensure that funds and investments move into that sector, food prices will keep going up and up! Unemployment will also continue to rise rather than abate! The corollary of unemployment is high crime
rate and no one can deny that Nigeria is in the midst of a horrendous crime wave!
The problem with Nigerian agriculture at the moment is that; there have been insufficient government investments in agriculture in the last 30 years. All the government programmes we hear of are largely on paper. When government claims to fund farmers, they hardly do.
Politicians have in the recent past masqueraded as farmers and collected funds due to rural farmers who make up the bulk of our farming populace; Farming is still largely basic and manual meaning that output per hectare farmed is abysmally low; young people are hardly attracted to farm work because of its poor reward system.
Farming therefore is left largely to old people. Remember that our farming is still manual, so what kind of output will old tired hands produce? The rural areas have practically no infrastructure, there are no roads for farmers to move their products out. Other challenges
include non-existent or poor preservation methods; lack of insurance for farmer’s losses so the business itself is unattractive and prone to horrendous set backs caused by pests or unfavourable weather. There is also the herdsmen’s destruction of farmlands. Many farmlands are no longer cropped because of herdsmen who routinely ambush and murder farmers without consequences. Adding to this is the disastrous policies of both the federal and state governments which discourage farming.
I am a farmer, my father was a farmer, my friends are farmers and I come from a predominantly farming area, so I should know.
By the way, any attempt to regulate farm produce prices without a long term farm investment and renewal plan will result in even higher prices.
If we want lower food prices, lower crime rate and a richer country, government should address the issues raised above. Until then, we have to live with the consequences of government’s inaction in the agricultural sector.