In this report, GABRIEL EMAMEH captures the views of stakeholders and farmers on what the government and concerned Nigerians should do to get the country out of food insecurity
Reversing the Nigerian story to its hay days of sustainable growth and development through agriculture has in the last few years given rise to a nationalistic movement propelled by the ongoing agricultural revolution by Nigerians who have seen the need to take advantage of the huge opportunities that abound in the sector with or without government’s support.
For a country that recently came out of recession it was plunged into as a result of a sharp slide in the price of crude oil in the international market three years back, coupled with wide spread corruption and mismanagement of government resources by previous administrations, there would be no better time than now for the government to develop plans towards stabilising its economy. The idea is simply to beam its searchlight on the possibilities that abound in the agro-industry.
Statistics continue to indicate that unemployment is a huge menace that is threatening the country’s economy; yet agriculture, which interestingly is the only solution to this huge problem, has not really been given the required push as the best option to solving the problem.
Experts in the agric sector have insisted that putting premium on the sector, not only by expanding its scope on incentives for farmers but also partnering with stakeholders like recognised cooperatives who are key players in the sector to change that Nigerian narrative, will answer the national question.
This, they pointed out, is to encourage patriotic Nigerians who have realised the potentiality of the agricultural sector and are willing to get their hands dirty to tap from this goldmine, which by every means remains the major life wire of the Nigerian economy.
Already, efforts by the current government through its various initiatives and intervention programme is gradually yielding results, though not enough to give the exigent push to make the country compete with its counterparts in the committee of nations in the agricultural value chain.
The President Muhammadu Buhari administration took it as a starting point that the Nigerian question could be solved only by addressing the present situation whereby importation of raw materials and even agricultural products are stifling the country’s exchange rate.
The situation, according to stakeholders, is a clog in the wheels of the nation’s economy, which hitherto recorded remarkable growth, pre and post independence Nigeria, before the oil boom in the late 60s. But this opportunity that was supposed to lift the country and place it in a leading position among its peers across the world was wafted.
Nigeria’s agricultural potentials put the country in a position not only to feed the world, but also to make it a China in Africa. However, these potentials have not been properly tapped or utilised for the optimal benefit of the country’s growth and development.
There have been reforms by successive Nigerian governments for increased agricultural productivity but most of them could not achieve much. Since the early 1970s to date, there has been a steep drop in agricultural production correlating roughly with the rise in federal revenues from petroleum extraction.
Whereas Nigeria had previously been the world’s leading exporter of cocoa, production of this cash crop dropped by 43 per cent between 1972 and 1983, while productivity in other important income generators like rubber (29%), groundnuts (64%), cotton (65%) and palm oil (50%) all dropped by those percentages. These margins of the country’s exportation of these agricultural produces should have been doubled in the 2000s if successive Nigerian governments did not relegate agriculture to the background.
The decline in agricultural production was not limited to cash crops during the oil boom, as national output of staple foodstuffs also fell in the early 80s. This situation is in contrast to what was the case in Nigeria of 1960, just after independence, when the nation was more or less self-sufficient in terms of food supply, while crops made up 97% of all revenue from exports.
Agriculture experts have posited that immediately Nigeria abandoned this sector that was capable of feeding the people for oil, the country gave itself up to the elements in the West whose only interest is not how well the Nigerian state should be managed but how well they can exploit the political structure of the state to actually deepen its underdevelopment.
In deed till date, the government and those saddled with the responsibility of managing the agriculture sector have not really looked inward to improve farmers’ yields through agronomic practices and finance, such that farmers are not only provided with the necessary farm facilities to increase production, create more jobs but also reduce post-harvest loses through the provision of transport corridors and storage facilities.
This has left a huge burden on the average Nigerian farmer compared to what his counterparts in other climes enjoy from their governments.
Stakeholders have also maintained that such a situation, if not properly managed, will always encourage importation of agricultural products into the country, thereby stifling increase in production of local content.
Experts, however, advise that as the country gradually moves towards self-sufficiency, there must be genuine efforts on the part of government to re-visit agriculture through partnerships among farmers, like cooperatives who have invested massively in the sector, the government, the private sector, international organisations, foundations, and research institutions. The aim is to improve productivity, create more jobs as well as improve the nation’s GDP.
Efforts should also be made to attract foreign investors to invest in agriculture and also mechanise it, while at the same time incentivize agriculture and provide an enabling environment for agricultural activities in form of infrastructure, loans, supports and other key factors that will make agriculture more attractive.
Today, despite several efforts and initiatives by the present government to make the sector attractive to farmers, those saddled with the responsibility of managing the agriculture sector, both in private and public sector, neither carefully looked inward to apply the model that best suits the Nigerian agriculture environment nor adjust to the structure already put in place by private agro-entrepreneurs.
This then brings to question the national question, which of course is the question of development, growth in manpower and the growth of every sector of the Nigerian economy which by all indications should be centred on agricultural investment.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend, national coordinator of Nigeria Farmers Group and Cooperative Society (NFGCS), Mr Retson Tedheke, said Nigerians should begin to look inward to encourage local content, which is part of the answer to the national question often debated.
He noted that it is only a radical investment in the agricultural sector that can guarantee a future for Nigeria that is devoid of unnecessary and unhealthy competition for available resources.
Tedheke said, “The national question is a question that can be solved by our capacity to grow from where we are, which is about the local content. When you look at this question from what the Buhari government has done, you have to appreciate the fact that we are redirecting our thought to a system of governance and productive process capable of developing Nigeria from within. All politics is local and all development must be local, all growth must be local because at the end of the day, this will create way for those who are capable of changing the Nigerian story of impoverishment to the state of massive growth.
“Nigeria has 50 million hectares of arable farmland. With a population of 180 million people out of which about 60 per cent are youths. The only way we can sustain the volume that we have is through investing radically in agriculture. If government meets the required resources such as machinery, factories that make agriculture more attractive, you are going to realise that we don’t need oil to become a China in Africa”
The NFGCS national coordinator argued that while a return to agriculture is the only guarantee to stabilizing the Nigerian economy, Nigeria’s astronomical population growth has not been considered by those manning the nation’s economy.
This, he said, is a huge threat in view of the fact that the country has not set up a system or set of policies that should address this threatening development which the agro sector can carefully and confidently manage.
Tedheke continued: “What I think the Buhari government is trying to do and why most of us have keyed into the agricultural revolution is that Nigeria has a lot of land and manpower. Now, how do you utilise what you have to get what you want? If you look at all these countries in the world who have gone through the processes of proper development, they utilised the resources they have to get what they wanted and after that they started creating processes of mechanisation.
“For example, you have land and you have people. What do you do? You try and open up the farmlands. As you open up your farm land, you will need machineries. As the demand for machineries increases, the need to open up factories that are capable of building bulldozers, tractors and chemicals also increases.
‘’So, when you are taking loan as the president is doing with China today, it becomes a situation where the loans are used for the productive capacity that is necessary to develop the manpower ability of the people to stabilise and sustain the economic growth of the country.
“One of the reasons that led to China giving up Hongkong to Britain was because of the opium war where the British owed China for coffee. Rather than pay up the debt, they started selling opium to the China. That is what led to treaty of Leki. The British economy was not developed with oil; it was developed from the farm through cotton. The American war of independence was as a result of the British tax on tea.
“How was Africa colonised? It was colonised principally because of the surplus production and surplus market. If you look at the colonialisation of our people, agriculture was the core concept of that colonial process. The biggest example of agricultural revolution can be taken from the China example”.
Tedheke further observed that the agricultural sector has not received proper attention from government, just as he averred that the sector can improve considerably, given the necessary support by government.
He also lamented what he considered the unfriendly monetary policies that had stifled the chances of evolving a very productive and effective agricultural programme.
He compared the Nigerian farmer who received no help from government to his counterparts in other countries who were continuously being assisted by the governments of their respective countries. He concluded that the farmers in Nigeria could meet the target of churning out huge tons of food to satisfy the needs of the country’s behemoth population if given the requisite assistance.
He stated: “Agriculture is the only sector that is capable of reducing the unemployment indices within the next one or two years. Why don’t we look at the systems that work and utilise them. For example, the average Indian farmer is subsidised by 70 per cent, the American farmer is subsidised, the Chinese farmer is subsidised but who is subsidising the Nigerian farmer?
‘’Let’s look at it holistically. It costs about N300, 000 to N400,000 to farm one hectare of maize in Nigeria. I am going to put myself against the Zimbabwean, Chinese, Indian and American farmers in context. One, I don’t have access to easy loan on 3 per cent just like my counterparts in other countries who also get machineries heavily subsidised and paid for by their governments.
“The farmer in Zimbabwe have a company (Seedco) that produces seedlings, which already guarantees him 20 tons per hectare. It is the same thing for the farmer in Indian, Thailand, US etc. but here in Nigeria, we don’t get up to three tons per hectare because of poor seedlings.
“Competitively, you realise that the Nigerian farmer cannot really compete with his foreign competitor because if you go to the market today, a ton of maize is sold for about N100, 000 or less. So, you can see that after all your efforts, you are still losing about N50-N60, 000 because you are not subsidised.
“The average Nigerian farmer is currently struggling to be able to challenge the criminal insanity of the capitalist world that comes here to tell us that government has no reason being in business but when you get to their country, government is the only business. The government ended up bailing out World Street Bank, government bails out big businesses in the US, give tax break to the people, provides electricity companies with subsidies.
“We are suffering. It is double jeopardy for the Nigerian farmers. We need some support so that we can compete competitively with farmers from all other countries in the world. As a component of the Nigerian question, the Nigeria farmer needs support. The TraderMoni is good example and we commend the government for the initiative. If the support is given, the Nigerian farmer will have the capacity to produce more”.
While Tedheke decried the unwillingness of the Nigerian government to subsidize the cost of engaging in farming, and insisted that a subsidized farming scheme is very key to the agricultural revolution that Nigeria needs. He called on the government to create the necessary platform to partner with organised cooperatives with huge investment that is capable of creating more jobs opportunities. He said what they are mainly interested in as farmers is policies that enhance the standard of living of the people.
On his part, vice president of NFGCS, Efe Williams, regretted that the Nigerian farmer has never engaged in the agricultural processes without challenges, be it finance, seedlings, implements, equipment or marketing. He noted that it has always been herculean surmounting the unending challenges the average farmer passes confronts.
Hevsai, “The greatest of all is that of the high rate of securing agricultural funds from commercial banks, with 25% interest and a 9% Anchor Borrower rate. It has always been a miracle for the farmer(s) to survive the pressure of sustainability.
“The 4.3trillion debt default by only 430 Nigerians has a 3 per cent agriculture overhang. It simply shows that the real investors with access to huge bank loans have no investment in agriculture. An average tractor cost between N11m and above; a large farm may be requiring five tractors to plough and harrow the land. This of course is not for small holder farmers to achieve”.
“The government’s agricultural policy direction can only be effective if Nigerian farmers have hold on funding, equipments and and market protection. However, while genuine farmers are gravitating towards sustainable food production with all its huge capital outlay, the onus falls on the establishment to create the requisite environment to sustain their efforts”.
On his part, Johnson Andrew a farmer and teacher, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that, while a society is borne from communalism with people forming society for security, shelter and sustenance, the function of a government is essentially to keep these goals attainable by every member of the society, adding that agriculture serves this purpose from time.
He said, “For national cohesion, the people need security in food, health, employment and from danger. This can be best attained through government intervention in the provision of subsidies to help boost agriculture like subsidies in terms of farm tools, machineries and inputs, which will help the farmer in no small measure.”
Also speaking, a farmer, Ogbede Peter, said to drive nationalistic tendency in citizens the government must assure them of security and agriculture, which provide them employment, food and social structures.
He explained: “Farming is a lucrative business but the challenges most of the times spring forth wings to swallow up the profits. One of the numerous challenges is the aspect of Agro Inputs. The majority of the companies who are into sales of such agro inputs are private owners, thereby making cost of purchasing inputs and insecticides very high. Even the ones subsidised by government for farmers are hardly accessible.
“Another major issue is that of agricultural equipment. One of the secrets of high yield is tied to land preparation. Machines are owned by private companies and their leasing fees make it impossible for local farmers to use. The government has a huge role to play in assisting the farmer in cutting down costs of farming, thereby reducing the cost of food in the market.”
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