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The damning report on agriculture

The recent World Bank report that Agriculture has contributed little to the nation’s economic growth in the past 15 years is correct. It is lamentable that the country has, over the years, failed to tap into the enormous potentials of the sector to grow the economy.

The global bank had, in the report entitled “Africa’s Pulse – An Analysis of Issues Shaping Africa’s Economic Future” said that agriculture had contributed more to economic development in resource-poor nations than in resource-rich nations such as Nigeria. It contended that, rather than grow their economies through agriculture, resource-rich nations on the continent including Nigeria, have depended more on rents from mineral resources.

According to the report, though resource-rich countries have been growing faster on average during 1996-2011, some resource-poor countries such as Ethiopia, Rwanda and Mozambique have also grown fast, driven by services and agriculture. This scenario, the report said, contrasts sharply with those of Angola, Nigeria and Zambia, three of Africa’s long-standing resource-rich and faster growing countries, where resource rents and services make up the lion’s share of growth. The report also noted that while agriculture contributes 2.5 percent points per year to the economic growth in the three fast growing resource-poor countries, it contributes only one percent in the three fast growing resource-rich countries.

These differences, the bank observed, have implication for poverty reduction in the two groups, while noting larger volatility in the growth pattern of the resource-rich countries, which is a reflection of volatility in resource rents. The World Bank report on agriculture in Nigeria is not new. Rather, it is a confirmation of what most Nigerians already know. Before the discovery of oil in commercial quantity, agriculture was the mainstay of the nation’s economy. The regional governments Nigeria had at independence in 1960 were able to leverage on agricultural produce in which they had comparative advantage to grow their economies.

While the North was known for its groundnut pyramids, the West was known for its cocoa and the East, its palm produce. And when the Mid-West region was created, it leveraged on its rubber plantations. What the global bank is telling Nigeria now is that it must diversify its economy in order to achieve higher economic growth. Depending on oil exports alone will not do the magic. The nation must invest its oil proceeds on agricultural ventures and other manufacturing concerns that would drive the economy and create lots of jobs for unemployed Nigerians.

At independence, agriculture employed over 70 percent of the nation’s population. Currently, the sector is neglected and cannot boast of engaging a sizeable percentage of the population. In many rural areas of the country, only the aged and children engage in agriculture. Let government bear in mind that oil is a perishable resource that cannot last for ever. It is high time the country moved away from a mono-product economy to one that has many products to export. Luckily for us, every state of the federation can boast of one or more crops in which it has great potentials. There is enough arable land in the country for crop farming and animal husbandry. All states should develop their agricultural potentials.

The future of the nation’s economy rests more on agriculture. If there is adequate encouragement of agriculture, the nation will be self-sufficient in food production as well as produce enough for export. Fortunately for us, the world’s demand for groundnut, cocoa and palm oil has not dwindled.

The global demand for some of our staples like yam and cassava is also high. We can still leverage on these crops and others to boost the nation’s economy. If the nation’s agriculture is well developed, it will stimulate higher economic growth. Let us learn lessons from the remarkable economic growth of resource-poor African cou ntries that are doing well in agriculture.

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February 2016
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