EKO JOHN NICHOLAS
Everywhere around the world, agricultural production is central to the overall well-being of the populace. This is why different countries place high premium on agriculture and strive to develop the sector, thereby guaranteeing sustainable food security, employment opportunities, among others.
But, Nigeria, where over 75 percent of the population; mostly rural dwellers, are involved in agricultural activities, the sector remains largely subsistent, primitive and undeveloped.
The country is currently the world’s largest importer of rice, spending over 2.5 billion dollars (approximately N400 billion annually) on importation and other food items from less-endowed countries like Thailand and Indonesia, according to recent reports by the International Food Production Research Institute. This is despite the fact that successive administrations have always made agriculture their key policy programme, budgeting billions of naira to the sector without concrete results.
The President Umar Yar’Adua administration has also made agricultural development one of its seven-point agenda – allocating billions of taxpayers’ money to the sector since its inception, with little or nothing to show for it.
It is an incontrovertible fact that Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s leading producers of palm oil and rubber respectively, came to Nigeria to learn how to cultivate these basic cash crops, and even went away with some seedlings. Ironically, Nigeria now imports these same products from both countries!
Nigeria is blessed with both human and natural resources, and has never lacked the desired soil or favourable weather conditions needed for successful agricultural production. What has been lacking is massive government investment, due partly to the discovery of petroleum in commercial quantities. This explains why the various research institutes; though staffed with seasoned researchers, remain largely unproductive, due to under-funding and attendant dearth of facilities.
If the necessary attention is paid to agriculture, it will provide employment opportunities for the teeming youths loitering the streets of various cities. It will equally guarantee, among other things: alternative source of foreign exchange; poverty alleviation; food security; rural empowerment; eradication of youth restiveness and militancy; and place the economy on the path to recovery.
Root crops like cassava, yam and potatoes do well in various states across the country. The story is the same for cereal crops including maize, millet, sorghum, etc which are cultivated across Northern states. Livestock production is also very successful in both Northern and Southern states. The rivers and oceans are also rich in aquatic foods; and the country has a very rich forest belt in the southern parts. The list is endless! Yet, our ruling elite still go cap in hand to countries like Thailand for rice and other basic food items. This is essentially because it serves as an avenue to make easy cash rather than develop the nation’s agricultural industry.
To be continued