Revamping Nigeria’s Ailing Agriculture Sector —Tayo Ogunbiyi


A recent revelation that the Federal Government has spent N98 trillion on the importation of food in the last four years has once again brought to the front burner the crucial need to revamp the nation’s dying agriculture sector. Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, who made the disclosure while addressing the Nigerian Senate at the recently concluded ministerial screening exercise further disclosed that in 2010 alone, the nation spent a staggering N635 billion on wheat importation while another N35 trillion was spent on rice importation as well as N217 billion on sugar importation and another N97 billion spent on fish importation! Subsequent governments in the country have for long been paying lip service to the development of the non-oil sector, but have all failed when it comes to actualisation. Various administrations in the country have come out with different policies and programmes aimed at transforming the agriculture sector but the results have not always been anything worthwhile. For instance, the much celebrated ‘Operation Feed the Nation’ and ‘Green Revolution’ of the Obasanjo-led military government and the civilian administration of Shehu Shagari respectively did little to ensure food security for the country.

Over the years, as a result of the neglect suffered by the sector, the export potential of cash crops such as cocoa, groundnut, cashew among others, has seriously diminished. It is sad today that Nigeria is no longer a major exporter of cocoa, groundnut, rubber, and palm oil. Ironically, these were the produce that the nation’s founding fathers built the prosperity of the country upon. It is amazing how a nation that was once the biggest poultry producer in Africa now has its total output reduced from 40 million birds annually to about 18 million. The truth of the matter is that agriculture has suffered from years of neglect, poorly conceived government policies as well as lack of basic infrastructure. Despite the fact that agricultural production rose by 28 percent during the 1990s, per capita output rose by only 8.5 percent during the same decade. Consequently, agriculture has not been able to keep pace with Nigeria’s rapid population growth as evident in the sad reality that Nigeria, which once exported food, now relies heavily on imports to sustain itself. Contented in its newly found oil wealth, succeeding governments in the country simply allowed investment in agriculture to decline to a ridiculous state. The prospect of the sector, nevertheless, still reflects in its being accountable for over 26.8% of GDP and two-thirds of employment in the country.

The issues involved in the sorry state of agriculture in Nigeria today are multifaceted. For one, the budgetary allocation for the sector over the years has seriously nose-dived. As against the United Nations specified 10% of annual budgetary allocation, what we budget for agriculture in recent time is just around 3 %. When one considers the fact that we have not been able to achieve full budget implementation, in the last twelve years, then the precarious state of agriculture will better be appreciated.

Second, there seems to be a communication gap between the farmers and policy implementers. In most cases, the policy implementers don’t really carry the farmers along in the process of policy implementation. This, perhaps, is responsible for the inability of subsidized fertilizer and loans from the government and its agencies to get to the real farmers who are in dire need of it.

Thirdly, the mass departure of the young ones from the rural areas to the cities in search of the proverbial golden fleece has created a vacuum thus leaving agriculture to the old and weak ones. Consequently, the best form of farming we have now, where it exists at all, is subsistence farming. Equally, lack of necessary infrastructure to encourage mechanized farming is another bane of agriculture in the country.

It is therefore not surprising that Nigeria cannot be categorized as self-sufficient in food production. Data from various world organisations reflect the declining fortune of the sector in the country. Available statistics shows that Nigeria has over 53 million starving people, about 30 per cent of its estimated 150 million people.

To reverse the trend, government needs to really appreciate the potentials of the sector as a catalyst for economic and industrial transformation. Consequently, government needs to recreate a modernized professional and commercial farming sector, supported by improved infrastructure and research into high performance seeds and livestock. To encourage the teeming army of unemployed youths in the country to take to agriculture, government should make access to loans meant for agriculture much more easier while large scale farming powered by mechanized infrastructure should be the central goal.

Equally, local food production needs to be encouraged by making inputs available, giving farmers access to more farm land, providing micro credit at subsidized cost, supporting adequate processing and storage, providing market facilities, and discouraging import of produce with local substitutes through tariffs. It is also important that a significant portion of the country’s annual budget be set aside for the development of the sector. This can be achieved if government reduces its expenses on ventures that are grossly unproductive.

Similarly, there is an urgent need for the country to put in place an agricultural investment code that could guide and enable foreign investors to make informed choice on their areas of interest in the agriculture sector. This is presently lacking in the country and if we are to maximize the potentials of the sector, it is imperative that we develop one.

The time to pay adequate attention to the agriculture sector is now as it offers unlimited opportunities for accelerated economic and industrial growth across the land. To continue to neglect such a vital sector will cast doubt on our seriousness as a people.

•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa,Ikeja, Lagos.

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