By Ibrahim Danbaba
AGRICULTURE used to be the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. But as oil revenue increased, successive governments out of lack of leadership vision ignored this economic multiplier until President Goodluck Jonathan made it a top priority of his government. Happily government’s agricultural programmes have recorded appreciable gains that can easily ensure self-sufficiency in food production and possibly economic stability in the face of dwindling oil price.
Indeed, December last year was a month that clearly signposted the gains made by the Jonathan administration in the quest to boost food production and ensure that the journey towards self-sufficiency in agricultural practices reflects in practical terms on the quality of life. This was due to the 70 per cent growth in food production. The development is unprecedented in the history of the country since the oil boom.
It would be recalled that in 2011, the Jonathan administration took giant steps towards food sufficiency by initiating the Growth Enhancement Scheme, GES, through the Ministry of Agriculture. The GES programme was essentially designed to plug all the leakages in the fertilizer and agricultural components distribution programmes and ensure that farmers, rather than profiteering middlemen, access the components and the subsidies attached to them.
Last year’s Christmas celebration provided a window for an assessment of the programme. In 2013, rice prices shot up by about 25 per cent during this high demand period. But in 2014, prices largely stabilised and citizens were able to purchase almost at the same rate they bought the previous year.
The Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, recently said the current rice transformation policy would lead to the national goal of rice self-sufficiency.
“Nigerian rice farmers have increased output by over 2.8 million metric tonnes of rice paddy. The total output of paddy in the 2012 wet season and 2012/2013 dry season brought to the market an additional 1.409 million metric tonnes, MT, of paddy or 916,137 MT of milled rice from 403,222 hectares of cultivated land. By the 2013 wet season and 2013/2014 dry season, output more than doubled to 2.96 million MT of paddy or 1.92 MT of milled rice from 802,108 hectares of land.
“What this means is that if the current tempo is sustained and the area of land devoted to rice cultivation were doubled, Nigeria would produce over and above the quantity of rice being imported, leaving room for export.
“This has happened because through the GES programme, government has given massive support to farmers. Without this, the quantum jump in production would have been elusive,” he said.
The increase in farming activities has helped in solving employment problems. Agriculture, being a critical employment enabler, has the capacity to reduce the spiraling unemployment rate in the country. There is no doubt that, so far, tremendous gains have been recorded in the sector that was comatose before now. It was a result of the progress made in the sector that some yam sellers in the North allegedly donated N5 billion to General Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign funding.
Special Assistant on Media and Strategy to the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye, said the progress made in rice production was in addition to hundreds of thousands of other indirect job opportunities for input suppliers, farm labourers, transporters, warehouse operators and other stakeholders in the value chain.
The gains from the GES have provided a new vista through which the economy can grow and sustain the country and its people with or without oil. Soon Nigeria will be able to feed herself; funds for needless imports can then be channeled to other critical areas of need.
- Mr. Danbaba, a farmer, wrote from Oturkpo, Benue State