Agriculture represents the aggregate of occupations concerning cultivation of crops, raising of livestocks and poultry for food production for the benefit of man. It involves the occupation and business as well as the science of cultivating land to produce crops and rearing livestock or birds for food and income generation.
This explanation does not undermine aquatic agriculture aimed at fish production for the overall consumption by man to sustain existence and remain healthy too.
Across the globe, agriculture remains a common denominator in the quest to attain self sufficiency in food production. It provides employment to a substantial proportion of the labour force thereby contributing immensely to gross domestic product (GDP) of any given economy.
Nigeria is not left out in the invaluable contribution of agriculture to the overall development of the country, be it food production or the provision of raw material for industries. In fact, before the oil boom of the middle nineteen seventies, agriculture was the mainstay of the nation.
For instance, the Western Region of Nigeria was identified as cocoa producer, Northern Region was famous for its groundnut pyramid while the Eastern Region was run by wealth from palm oil and palm fruit and revenue from coal particularly in Enugu.
The cocoa tower in Ibadan, Oyo State, is the legacy of the cocoa era in Western Nigeria and the revenue from cocoa among others was used to finance the free education during the reign of the Great Obafemi Awolowo, Premier of Western Nigeria.
What cocoa, groundnut and palm fruit represented to the economy of Nigeria could be compared to what peanuts meant to the American agricultural scientist, George Washington Carver who lived between 1864 and 1943.
This is because when George Washington Carver looked at peanuts, he saw more than a nut in a shell after discovering more than three hundred uses for the peanut and other plants.
For instance, from peanuts Carver made soap, ink, flour, axle grease and other products and this represented great opportunity for farmers in Southern United States of America at the time. Interestingly, George Washington Carver showed farmers in the South how to improve the soil too.
Similarly, cocoa, groundnut, palm fruit, cassava and maize among others are goldmine elsewhere. Despite the wealth accruable from oil and gas subsector, agriculture remains strategic to the attainment of sustainable development and self sufficiency in food production.
In spite of neglect of the agricultural subsector of the economy, it is estimated that about fourteen million families engage in agriculture in Nigeria. The estimate further proposes that if an average of four persons per family actually practice agriculture, it would amount to fifty six million farmers out of the fourteen million families in agriculture. Unfortunately, these farmers are largely in subsistent agriculture, providing for their immediate families with little or no commercial intent. Worse still, these farmers use local and traditional implements, lack improved seeds and therefore the output is low which translate into abject poverty.
Already, the 2010 MDG report states that the proportion of the Nigerian population living below hunger threshold increased from 29% to 33% implying little prospect of achieving 2015 target.
It is pertinent to identify lack of appropriate fertilizer input, ignorance, illiteracy and unwillingness to practice improved agriculture as the bane of modern agriculture in the country.
It has been observed that while a farmer in Nigeria produces about one point two tones of maize per hectre, a farmer in Kenya who practices improved agriculture produces about eight tones per hectare.
Similarly, in rice production, while about one point five tone is produced per hectre in Nigeria, about seven tones of rice per hectre is actually possible with improved agriculture.
Improved agriculture involves adoption of modern technique, use of improved seeds, modern tools and quality fertilizer types as well as knowledge of soil and application to plant, against primitive farming tools such as cutlass and hoe.
On the use of fertilizer, an agronomist and head of Agricultural Services Notore Chemical Industries says the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) recommends about two hundred kilogramme of fertilizer per hectare but an average use of fertilizer by most farmers in Nigeria is less than ten kilogramme per hectare which is grossly inadequate.
Since cultural practices such use of local and traditional implements as well as negative belief against use of fertilizers remain the challenges to improved agriculture, the panacea would be the use of demonstration farms as Learning Centres to increase food production in Nigeria.
Learning centres demand that extension workers in the field of agriculture would meet with farmers in the rural areas and appeal to them to use a small part of their farm for demonstration alongside their cultivated land.
The demonstration farm which would be very small in size would be used for the best practices in agriculture where the right quantity of fertilizers, improved seeds to bring about better output.
The advantage of demonstration farms is that it will serve as learning centres for rural farmers who will see the difference between improved agriculture and traditional farming method in terms of increased food production and better yield simultaneously and in turn change for the better.
This module is being practised Notore Chemical Industries manufacturer of Notore Chemical Industries and reports say it is yielding positive returns.
Perhaps, what would be the challenge associated with the use of fertilizer would be to conduct soil test in all the geo-political zones to ascertain the type and quality of fertilizers to use as there exists disparity in nutrients required by various crops and soil where they grow. The use of one type of fertilizer for instance, NPK 15:15:15 for every crop anywhere in the country could be counter-productive.
In a third world economy in which Nigeria belongs, poverty eradication might be achievable with a warm embrace of improved agriculture resulting in increased food production.
And to attain this enviable height, the estimated fifty six million farmers must embrace the module of Learning Centres which will precipitate the relegation of traditional method of farming which hitherto was difficult to abandon.
There is also the need to resuscitate the Rivers State School to Land Scheme as a deliberate policy to return to agriculture which will not only increase food production but generate employment.