By Afe Babalola
Last week I stated why it is imperative that the agricultural sector be revived if any meaningful result is to be achieved in fighting the poverty and the growing divide between the rich and the poor. However, it is a notorious fact that almost everyone in Nigeria, particularly youths are not interested and do not want to engage in farming any longer. Most youths and unemployed graduates are only interested in white collar office jobs, and for the most part, these jobs are no longer available as in the past. Most local, state and federal government ministries and parastatals have stopped employment and, and majority of the industries and multinational organizations have shipped their bases to other countries. We are now confronted with unemployment of immense proportion, especially among our youth. The stark reality in the face of the economic downtown in the country due to the extreme shortfall in oil revenue is that we have to go back to the land and resuscitate the old glory of agriculture that has provided jobs and food for our forebears prior to the misguided pursuit of oil wealth. However there are enormous problems to be surmounted in order to revive the lost glory of agriculture in Nigeria. These problems include but are not limited to the following:
- The old fashion “back-crunching” type of agricultural practice is absolutely no longer appealing to our folks and in fact, most people detest this line of career pursuit.
- The agrarian family land owning system that we have treasured and practiced in Nigeria does not support nor permit large scale farming. That is, the passing of land from our forebears, i.e. great grandfathers to grandfathers to fathers to children as inheritance have limited the land holdings passed down to current generation. Simple land holding is small and cannot support large scale farming.
- The current economic recession is another major impediment towards the pursuit of any grand and large scale farming by anyone, be it government and or private individual.
- Another serious factor to contend with is nature itself! Anyone who cares to know can see that the pattern of rainfall has changed significantly in the recent past. Some people will call this climate change. In order to mitigate against this, government in the northern part of Nigeria, with the support of the Federal Government, institute and practice irrigational system of farming. This is an expensive venture in the southern part of Nigeria without the concomitant support of the federal government.
- The banks have not made anything easy in the Nigeria economic space either. Bank interest rate on loans have hit the roof to a point beyond which no investor can venture into agriculture with bank loan and end up with any profit at the end of the day.
- Then there is the absolutely poor state of transportation across the country. There are no good road to convey agricultural goods, not to talk of the absence of rails and airport in your nearest vicinity, if at all.
- To cap the problems of agriculture confronting the nation, is the near absence of storage facilities for perishable agricultural products. The federal government have attempted to build silos across all parts of the country, but of course like many things constructed by the government, they are either in a state of incompletion and or abandonment. The near good news on silos lately is that the minister of agriculture is now seeking the revamping of these storage facilities through public private partnership (PPP).
As a result, any meaningful attempt at reviving agriculture will require massive funding. Specifically farmers will need access to funds to boost their activities. At the moment, the government makes funding available through several scheme including an agricultural loan available from the Central Bank through the commercial banks. Whilst this loan carries a much lesser interest rate than that which ordinary commercial loans attract, there is still need to bring down the interest rates on loans available to farmers. If required, government may consider the establishment of a bank or agency dedicated only to the provision and management of funds for agricultural purposes.
In addition it is expedient for government to identify and utilise several other means of providing funding for the agricultural sector. Luckily numerous researches have been conducted as to how governments in developing countries can go about achieving this. Thus there is already in existence a vast pool of knowledge from which government can draw in reviving Agriculture in Nigeria.
In order to revive the lost glory of Agriculture in Nigeria, we must quickly apply the following recommendations as follows:
- Agricultural science must be taught in all elementary and secondary schools as a compulsory subject.
- All universities must encourage students to study agriculture through reduction in school fees such as exemplified by my University, ABUAD where there is 50% reduction in tuition for all students admitted to study agriculture. In addition, graduates of agriculture must be empowered to practice their profession upon graduation just as ABUAD has been empowering its agriculture graduates with N250,000.00 for its initial startup investment in any area of farming.
- Across the country, each local government should be encouraged to ask families to come together, and combine their lands together, in order to work together and generate a large scale industrial farming.
- Also, local governments should encourage cooperative systems in each local government areas across each state of the federation.
- A pilot scheme can be initiated in each local government whereby either 10 families or 10 cooperatives will be assisted to acquire two (2) hectares of land each for farming. This two hectares of farmland per family will be inspected and supervised by the government in collaboration with ABUAD. The government will buy agricultural implements to plough the land for use during the dry season. Owner’s account will be debited for this job after harvest. The land will be ploughed and prepared against the rainy season. During the raining season, one (1) hectare of land is used for cash crops (cocoa, coffee, palm tree etc) and the other hectare of land is used for food crops like vegetable, maize, cassava, yam etc. In the growing season, money will be provided for the tilling and care of the farm.
Food crops will be harvested and sold
At the end of the growing season, food crops will be harvested and sold from where each of the 10 families make money and the government can also recoup money invested. Also, the cash crops will be allowed to grow for 3 – 5 years before harvesting and again, money is made. This process will be repeated every year with new 10 families and or 10 cooperatives in all the local government in each state. When this is repeated in a state with 20 local governments in ten (10) years, ten (10) hectares of cash crops and ten (10) hectares of food crops multiplied by twenty (20) local governments have been initiated and promoted to produce both food and cash crops. This singular pilot project will engineer food surpluses in the society and money-making cash crops to provide wealth for the families. For the government, no money will be lost and the government can recover all money invested.
I believe we can revive the old glory of agriculture in Nigeria in general. We can do it. The current economic realities not only require a return to agriculture, the future and well being of generations of Nigerians yet unborn demands it.