It is often said that we eat to live and not live to eat. Indeed, food, clothing and shelter are universally believed to be the most essential of man’s fundamental needs. In actual fact, the necessity of food to man’s existence is not by any means debatable. In the words of Scottish Anatomist, Arthur Keith, ‘the discovery of agriculture was the first big step towards a civilized life’. In other words, agriculture is crucial to civilization.
In Nigeria, the immediate post independence years were the golden era of agriculture in the country. In the early 60s, service accounts for 32%, manufacturing 11% and agriculture over 30% of the country’s Gross Domestic Products. The productiveness of Nigerian soil, enhanced by conducive climate and weather, has over the years supported the production of variety of food and cash crops. Until early 1970s, Nigeria was leading in the production of cash crops such as cocoa, cotton, groundnuts, palm oil/kernel, rubber, etc which were mostly exported to Britain, United States of America, Canada and Germany.
Till the early 80s, animal husbandry, fishing and poultry contributed more than 2% to the country’s GDP. According to a 1987 report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, there were 12.2million cattle, 13.2 million sheep, 26 million goats, 1.3 million pigs, 700,000 donkeys, 250,000 horses, and 18,000 camels in Nigeria around this period. Most of these live stocks were owned by rural dwellers. Unfortunately, with oil as the mainstay of the nation’s economy, emphasis gradually shifted from agriculture. This placed many communities at disadvantage, especially in areas where oil exploration was massive as their land was no longer suitable for agriculture.
The evolving trend of mechanized agricultural production, storage system and preservation of agricultural production have been abandoned for tempting local and foreign income of oil revenue generated from oil sale. Instead of using oil revenue to further harness the numerous potentials and build infrastructures needed, the reverse has been the case. Oil, the geese that laid the golden eggs became special delicacy the table of leadership who had no value for agriculture.
So, rather than being a blessing to agriculture and other sectors, the discovery of oil was more of a curse.
When in 1976, the Federal Military Government launched ‘Operation Feed the Nation’ (OFN), it was meant to boost food security and provide employment, but sadly the scheme could not achieve its expected goals after two years. At the heart of its failure is the fact the real peasant farmers who had sustained the sector before the oil boom were estranged from the scheme while the whole scheme was tainted with fraud and diverse other allegations that made it largely unsuccessful.
As earlier stated, the coming of oil seriously hampered the growth of agriculture as subsequent governments merely pay lips service to investment in the sector. Even in instances where succor in the area of fertilizers subsidy was made available for farmers, it was often hijacked by middlemen, who sold to peasant farmers at exorbitant prices. Also, budgets earmarked for the sector never translate into increased food production for local consumption not to talk of meeting up with export demands. The agony of farmers is further worsened by poor infrastructure which makes transportation of produce from the various farms across the country a very cumbersome and frustrating experience.
Provision of vital agriculture infrastructures is crucial to the renewal of youth interest in the sector, especially now that unemployment is biting so hard across the country. If road network and agriculture settlements are massively opened up and developed, youth interest in the sector would no doubt receive a huge boost. Another essential infrastructure that could greater value to the sector is storage facility. With growing concern over wastage of agricultural products in season of harvest and scarcity, there is an urgent need to build storage facility with enormous capacity for storage, in and out of season. Similarly, improved power supply is also an indispensable necessity for an improved agriculture sector.
The twenty-first century agriculture that will be driven by our youth is not one that practiced using outdated implements such as hoes/cutlasses. It is rather a mechanized one. A system where local governments can take up responsibilities of acquiring agriculture equipments for the purpose of hiring and leasing to farmer and idle youth who are now threat to the security of the nation must be put in place. It is worthy to note that institutions such as the prison service, NYSC and various colleges of higher learning must be made invest hugely in agriculture
Now that the federal government and various States in the country are groaning under severe economic burden is the exact time to pay adequate attention to the agriculture sector as it offers unlimited opportunities for job and wealth creation as well as accelerated economic and industrial growth. The nation of Israel is not as fortunate as we are in this perspective. Yet, it is renowned for her rich agro-economy. We could draw lessons from China which bounced back from a great famine that took millions of lives between 1958 and 1961 to become the world numero uno in food production.
With an array of vastly available agricultural friendly land, we need not look further for economic emancipation as massive investment in agriculture will not only ensure food security but also address the troubling question of unemployment. Agriculture remains one major sector that could readily take care of youth restiveness as well as unemployment in the country, if only the various stakeholders concerned could step up efforts in this direction.
Odumade is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja