By Emma Okah,
The whole talk about the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration will be blowing hot air if the nation cannot feed itself substantially from locally produced foods. This is particularly true because a large percentage of the food items of different classifications, which Nigerians consume at home, are imported from other countries, some of which are less endowed.
The direct foreign exchange loss is mind-blowing. Nations are respected in the international arena based on the potency of their economic strength and not their size or bogus claim to being a giant. And no nation can pride itself as viable when the majority of her people are hungry and unemployed. Many Nigerians are nearly eating from the waste bin, to put it mildly.
When patriots call on government to deliver good leadership and respect the rule of law, it is so that we can lay the foundation for a solid nation based on economic prosperity and political stability, and prepare for the rainy day. In Nigeria today, the cloud is just gathering before the rain and the signs are obvious that if the heavy rain comes, thousands will die of starvation. Agriculture, which once built and sustained the growth of the nation in the 1950s and 1960s has been so thoroughly neglected that it is now seen as a past time to keep a few retirees and peasant farmers busy. At a time when Nigeria should be building capacity in agriculture, our leaders are behaving like easy oil wealth will last forever.
The clock is ticking and many are wondering what would happen if the oil suddenly dries up today. Governments at all levels have intentionally refused to allocate resources towards supporting agriculture through massive provision of inputs, agricultural research and marketing outlets in Nigeria. The result is that agricultural policy direction by government has been ineffectual and watery. Unless Nigeria pursues a deliberate policy of agricultural revolution to back up and boost the efforts of peasant farmers, Nigerians will continue to live on borrowed food. Food crisis is real in Nigeria as indeed in many African countries. The ghosts of Operation Feed the Nation and Shehu Shagari’s Green Revolution have deserted the nation.
Lack of vision on the part of national policy makers has starved the agricultural sector of resources for decades. Like the power sector in Nigeria, the agricultural sector has continued to shrink, making African countries net importers of food, despite agriculture employing the majority of the population. According to Kofi Annan, the need to reinvest in agriculture to reverse this trend has become evident. This reinvestment holds a number of opportunities, not only for increased food security and the improvement of livelihoods, but also for economic growth and private sector development.
Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Ayo Adesina, has been talking righteously about the feats achieved by his ministry in the agricultural sector through efficient electronic distribution of fertilizers. Listening to him leaves one with an impression that Nigeria will get it right in the agricultural sector, but unfortunately, Mr Minister is still in the dreamland. Nigeria is yet to meet 30% of her national fertilizer needs. The fertilizers are still in the hands of the cartel that know the terrain well. Still talking about fertilizer, Rivers State is still miles away. Enquiries at the Ministry of Agriculture/ADP office in Rumuodomaya in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area showed that the fertilizers imported by the state government have been sold at subsidised rates to a few businessmen who came from the northern part of the country.
Trailer loads of fertilizer left the state and rendered the farmers in Rivers State hopeless and helpless. A lot of farmers from the state now head to nearby Imo State to buy fertilizers at exorbitant costs from private importers. As a commercial farmer, I know that it will be totally impossible for the peasant farmers to afford the luxury of fertilizers in their farming programmes. I have further cross-checked and it is obvious that the Federal Government’s fertilizers are not available in Port Harcourt. I just pray this is not the same story down the Niger. The reason is simple.
The nation has scanty regard for the agricultural sector because free oil wealth has beclouded the vision of our national reality. Why would any contemporary Nigeria leadership bother about agriculture, tilling the soil, planting, weeding, harvesting and storing when there are smoother valves? Simply put, the money from oil is enough to play the game. After all, every Nigerian leader had always seen the oil sector as a private estate. With a weak National Assembly and beleaguered institutions to check fraud and executive excesses, neglect of the agricultural and other critical revenue sectors is a matter of course.
At the formal launch of a natural cocoa product called Frangada, produced by a private company, Multi-Trex Integrated Foods Plc, in Warewa, Ogun State, recently, Dr. Adesina decried lack of attention given to agriculture by Nigerians, especially the youths, stressing that Nigeria has no reason to import any agricultural produce considering the abundant mineral and human resources in the country. “There was a time Nigeria had the largest market in cocoa production, but today, other countries have taken over. Ghan, today produces one million metric tonnes of cocoa, Ivory Coast produces 1.2 million, Nigeria is at 250,000 metric tonnes in cocoa production.”
However, this should not be so, he said. Dr Adesina spoke with pains in his heart as he recalled the good old days when cocoa held sway. All these sound like fairy tales and mere rhetoric because the three tiers of government in Nigeria want agriculture relegated. There were the groundnut pyramids in the northern part of Nigeria, cocoa in the west and palm oil and allied products in the east.
The glorious days are gone and there is no saviour in sight. In an era tormented by corruption, maladministration, raging flood, declining productivity, weak currency engineered by a consuming rather than a productive economic habit, Nigeria and Nigerians can only be poorer. My experience in public life tells me that leadership does not need the permission of law to do right in some cases, and it cannot do wrong when it acts in the best interest of the people. If a fraction of all the funds abused and stolen by government officials at all levels are channeled into agriculture, Nigeria will easily reclaim her lost agricultural prowess. The opportunity is not lost, but lessons must be learnt from the mistakes of the past.
Nigeria and many other African countries are under an international obligation to allocate 10% of their annual budget to the agricultural sector, but this is observed more in breach. Over the past two decades, there was a gradual decrease in the amount of resources allocated to agriculture from government budgets. Between 2005 and 2009, only 10 African countries allocated over 10% of government budget to agriculture. In addition, 18 countries allocated less than 5% over the same period.
But the highest Nigeria has done is 3%. With an employment profile of 70%, the nation needs to save the agricultural sector through large scale direct participation, allocation of more funds and procurement of inputs for farmers as a national policy.