The agricultural sector, unarguably, constitutes the most neglected sector of the Nigerian economy. Until the country joined the league of oil and gas producing countries over five decades, (precisely in 1958), the country largely depended on agricultural sector for her survival.
Agriculture was, indeed, the mainstay of our economic survival, both at the local, regional and national levels. But shortly after the civil war, in the early ‘70s, agriculture fell out of grace and took the back burner position in the scheme of things. It no longer gets priority attention as subsequent dispensations, military or civilian relegated the sector to the dustbin of history.
One still recalls with nostalgia how agriculture contributed over 65 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and raked in substantial chunk of the nation’s foreign exchange earnings.
In pre-independence Nigeria and shortly after the country became liberated from British imperialists, Nigeria was a net exporter of cash and food crops, namely; cocoa, groundnut, palm products, cassava, among others, which earned her good money. That was in the old good days. Now, not so anymore.
When some well-meaning Nigerians remember the prime place of agriculture in those days, they weep for the country. The reasons are not far-fetched.
Since the discovery of crude oil in 1958, first in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State, agriculture has persistently suffered serious setback and neglect from the three tiers of government. Unlike in the ‘50s and ‘60s, when agriculture was on top, oil has now taken over, garnering over 85 percent of the country’s foreign exchange.
Agriculture has been relegated to the background, at great national and domestic cost. This ugly development has cost present crop of Nigerians, and indeed, those unborn untold hardship.
Obviously, the negative impact of the negligence of agriculture is better imagined than experienced. Apart from impacting negatively on our table menu, government’s desire and capacity to create jobs for the teeming unemployed youths, especially graduates from tertiary institutions is virtually at zero level.
Moreso, poverty rate, increased productivity, diversification of the economy, food security and unemployment rate culminating to higher ate of criminality, have become the order of the day. The reverse would have been the case if the country had paid adequate attention to the agriculture sector and therefore, put the nation on the path of sustainable economic development.
It is generally believed that any country that is not self sufficient in food production cannot pride herself as a progressive nation. Perhaps, that is why the United Nations (UN) and other developed countries place so much premium on agriculture.
It is therefore, disturbing that Nigeria cannot be classified as self-sustaining and self sufficient in food production. Statistics from various world bodies and civil groups paint an ugly scenario of our dwindling agriculture sector. Nigeria, from estimates, has over 53 million hungry people which is about 30 per cent of the country’s 150 million population.
Similarly, 52 percent of the populace live under poverty line whereas less than 10 per cent constituting those commanding the nation’s economy, including politicians, oil magnets, contractors among few others, live stupendous and flamboyant lifestyle only comparable to multi-millionaires and billionaires in the Arab world.
The position of the nation’s agriculture sector constitutes a matter of grave concern largely because Nigeria was self-sufficient in food production and indeed a net exporter of goods to other countries in 1950s and 1960s. However, things changed dramatically for the worse following the global economic crisis that rocked developing countries from 1970s to date.
In fact, the discovery of crude oil and the rising profile in revenue earnings from the country’s petroleum sector occasioned official neglect of the sector and thus turned Nigeria into a net importer of food, importing virtually every agricultural product and bye-products.
Even worse is the fact that Nigeria now operates a monolithic economy which solely depends on oil and gas for her national survival and sustenance. What an irony!
Nigeria does not meet UN’s standard for agriculture sector. Federal government budgets less than 10 percent of its annual budget to agriculture while other less important sectors of the economy receive lion’s share.
Misapplication, or better still, under-funding has been the bane of agricultural development. It explains the persistent poverty ravaging the Nigeria’s landscape. Food production and food security must be cardinal in our national priority if we must get things right and beat our chest among the comity of nations.
Nigeria’s loss of food sovereignty and our dependence on food importation as well as total absence of food security will make the country susceptible to food crisis and thus vulnerable to other available social vices. And Nigeria cannot afford that now, particularly against the backdrop that we are craving to join the league of 20 strongest economies in the world by the year 2020, which is just 11 years away.
I consider it a big national shame that the country spends over N155 billion annually on rice importation while we boast of over 79 million hectares of arable land with diversified ecological conditions, abundant water resources and adequate rainfall and warm temperature.
Why should Nigeria spend over N500 billion annually on food importation if God has blessed the country with such enormous favourable natural endowments. All we require is for government at all levels to have the political will-power to reverse the anomally in our agriculture sector.
If Nigeria spends all her oil money on food importation, then, we shall end up impoverishing the nation; our children and indeed children unborn. The arable land we have cannot grow food no matter how fertile it is except of course we prepare the land to grow food. Only weeds will grow in the arable land if we fail to till or prepare it for agricultural purposes.