By Mary Agbajoh
Agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy before the discovery of crude oil. From 1960 to 1969, the sector accounted for an average of 57% of GDP and generated 64.5% of export earnings.
From 1970 to late 2000s, the sector’s contribution to GDP and export earnings steadily declined, because Nigeria concentrated only on petroleum exploration for export.
However, since the inception of President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, there have been government efforts to revitalize the agricultural sector. The government came out clearly with a mandate to diversify the economy with agriculture taking centre stage with emphasis on agricultural value chain.
In other words, the ministry decided that agriculture would be run through its entire value chain – farming through processing, that is adding value and sales locally and internationally.
In line with the aforementioned, the proposal of President Muhammadu Buhari’s newly appointed Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Muhammadu Sabo Nanono is not only set to revolutionise the agricultural sector of the nation and it will equally add worth to the agricultural value chain.
In an attempt to revolutionise the agricultural sector in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s objective of food security for the nation and export same to incur foreign reserve, the Minister proposed the introduction of agricultural mechanized programme in 632 local government areas of the country, which include research for good seeds and effective extension workers.
This will involve directors hiring and tracking system so that whenever the directors are working you will know and also know the amount of work they do. In addition, there will be a workshop, a storage facility for seeds, crops produced in excess and processing plants to produce local commodities in the local government.
One needs to take the minister’s proposal into consideration with Nigeria’s huge population of an estimated 200 million people and when you project that in the next three decades it will be in the region of 400 million. Presently, it is estimated that we are only cultivating 34 million hectares of land despite the abundant land space.
This is nothing to write home about in terms of food production and sustainability of the envisage huge population. This is why Nigerians need to key into the Minister’s proposal of mechanization, production of improved seed and research which would be largely driven by the local government areas, while the Federal Government will guarantee the facilities.
According to the Minister, “Each of the 632 local government areas will have service centers and each center will have a brand new tractor, fully equipped with the admin and IT workshop. There would also be stores for seeds and fertilizer.
“With these, we will link farmers up with processing industries especially clusters at the local government areas that are producing the same thing. They will be provided with processing plants. The investment of potential manager of the service centers may not be more than N5 to N6 million, but they will own assets worth the tune of N150 million for a period of 15 years” he disclosed.
On how the initiative would generate income, the Minister explained: “A tractor that works for an estimated N60,000 -N75,000 per day, can make an income of about N30,000-N40,000 per day after expenses and with this, the service centers can pay for the tractor in an average of 6-7 years.
Mark you, the tractors can last for about 25 years. The development would further boost productivity and employment generation.”
Interestingly, and according to the Minister, the entire program is going to be private sector-driven. The government will give support in terms of loan facility guarantee and also ensuring the payment of the loan.
The beauty of Nanono’s agricultural chain initiative is that it will provide employment for Nigerian youths.
He has proposed to engage a large number of youths by training them as extension officers for local farmers. The Ministry also intends to train some as specialised extension officers. Their duties are to carry farmers along and equally become farmers on site.
Besides, he promised to create a synergy between agricultural and industrial sectors in order to boost employment.
Nanono, who is aware that seventy percent of Nigerian youths constitute the Nation’s population is of the view that the Federal Government’s effort would be in vain without an active youth engagement in agriculture.
“The youth should drive the new agricultural mechanization process in Nigeria. The challenge of feeding the growing population and creating a robust economy, food security, and job creation would be a mirage without the youth being fully involved in the mechanization of the agricultural sector,” Nanono stated this in a weekly programme.
Conscious of the importance of food security to the development of a nation, Nanono recently went on observation tour of some of the silos leased to companies in Jahun, Jigawa State.
The minister equally inspected the silo complex at the Strategic Grains Reserve in Gusau, Zamfara state, as well as the Silo Complex in Gaya, Kano State.
Nanono also reassured Nigerians that the government will ensure food sufficiency through its various interventions programmed across the country.
In order to achieve the objective of the Federal Government agricultural value chain, he has initiated the need to recruit and train 50,000 extension workers in the next three years in order to aid local farming.
Extension in agriculture is a service that assists farmers through educational procedures in improving farming methods and techniques as well as increasing production efficiency. The duty of the extension officers is to guide local farmers on how to use fertilisers in the different soils they farm on.
Be that as it may, if Nanono’s proposals finally come into fruition, Nigeria will be better of, in terms of internal food security and exportation which will accrue huge foreign reserve to the nation.
* Agbajoh, a legal/media strategist, lives in Abuja