By Josef Omorotionmwan
WE have expressed sufficient disgust over the situation where Nigeria constantly finds itself in a serious paradox: While Nigeria is blessed with abundant land resources for cultivation and agriculture-friendly weather; she still spends fortunes in food imports. And contrary to expectation, we are engaged in the importation of finished products from crops cultivated in Nigeria.
We invariably end up importing our exports. Elsewhere, we have shown how we export timber and import furniture; we export crude oil and import fuel and petro-chemicals; we export cotton and import textiles; we export raw cocoa and import processed cocoa products; we export iron ore and import steel; we export alumina and import aluminum products… The list is seemingly endless.
This writer has narrated severally, how in 1981, members of the House of Representatives Committee on transport visited the Netherlands and were taken to a Company that refined oil that came only from Nigeria; and the refined products were also exported exclusively to Nigeria. This practice of doing business in the reverse gets nauseating sometimes. Worst still is the knowledge that some of the big brains behind these triangular fixtures may also be Nigerians in their search for blood money. Corruption in all forms and sizes has been with us for ages and the end is not in sight.
The latest entries in this theatre of the absurd are from China and India. There are indications that China might have kicked-off the process of buying up our yam tubers, usually at rock-bottom prices, take them to China for processing into powder form; and export them back to us at their own cut-throat prices.
The penultimate week, packaged “Indian Garri” started showing up in Lagos Supermarkets, to the utter consternation of many Nigerians. This is happening in spite of what the entire world knows about Nigeria and garri production: Nigeria is the clear leader of the world in cassava production – producing well over 45 million metric tones per annum, thus accounting for over 80 percent of the total world output.
Going by the World Bank and Nigeria Bureau of Statistics reports, Nigeria is also the largest exporter of cassava.
Again, for decades now, a number of cash crops – mainly cassava – have kept Nigeria on the world map of exports despite the country’s neglect of agriculture in the era of the oil boom. Cassava has long been identified as a critical foreign exchange earner for the country under the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, ATA.
India cannot be under-rated when it comes to business acumen. Those who may be tempted to equate India’s exportation of garri to Nigeria with carrying coal to Newcastle are perhaps ignorant of the full working of the Conspiracy Theory that is preponderant in the market place. And this is one area where India may not be a total stranger.
While the Nigerian researchers may be yet asleep, Indian researchers may be working quietly with their farmers. By the time the conspiracy theory comes home to roost, before you know what is happening, the Indian garri could out-stage the Nigerian one in the world market. The world out there is one of dog-eat-dog. Everyone hates cancer. From the much we know, the best way to destroy or promote any product is to say it causes or cures cancer.
Juxtapose this with the current trend: Garri produced in Togo, Cameroun and other West African countries have been adjudged better than the one produced in Nigeria, although the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, IITA, has been working hard to dispel this apparently devious information.
The Conspiracy Theory came sharply into focus in the USA during the summer of 1975 when a soft drink brand was making waves much to the chagrin of the handlers of another brand. Suddenly, there was a research finding, which showed that the popular brand contained some cancer-causing agents – based on laboratory experiments.
And so quickly, there was another research finding which showed that given the large dosage of the popular brand that was pumped into the experimental white rat, to produce a similar effect in man, that man must have taken five gallons of the product daily for five years continuously. That was how our popular soft drink was saved.
One lesson from this is that external vigilance remains the price of liberty. In the particular case of Nigeria, there is need to make research findings readily available to the populace as they are not meant to gather dust on the researcher’s table. Neither are they intended to be only for the purpose of securing academic promotions.
Truly, when the going gets tough, only the tough get going. The current challenge before us must serve as a wake-up call for everybody. In a situation where other countries are now venturing into areas where we traditionally had comparative advantage, it simply behoves us to push harder so as to stay ahead in those small areas we already occupy.
If we are satisfied with what we are doing say in the area of agricultural production, what may now be left is for us to add little value to what we are producing by processing them locally instead of shifting them wholesale to foreign countries for processing. In essence, the moral message to these foreign countries is: come and take these products to your place; give gainful employment to your people to process them; and we will come and buy them at any price as soon as they are processed. This does not make any economic sense.
From whom much is expected, much must also be given. Government must learn to put its money where its month is. Our new emphasis on agriculture cannot continue to be in the abstraction – it must be real. This underscores the imperative for adequate budgetary outlays for agriculture. A situation where a paltry three percent of the national budget is devoted to agriculture is, to say the least, nothing but benign tokenism and totally unacceptable.