OUR HERITAGE TO THE RESCUE By Lateef Sanni A
A young man in possession of a knife deciding to slice onions with his bare hands would not only be showing the world his foolishness but also his ignorance. Like a popular Yoruba maxim goes, “what we go in search of in Sokoto is in our Sokoto”. Sometimes, these African wise sayings seem like prophecies.
The present economic situation Nigeria finds herself coupled with the ruling party’s “clamour” for diversification into Agriculture has made the present administration appear to Nigerians the way Lionel Messi is seen by football lovers- a demi god. You hear from every nook and cranny, “exactly what we need”, “oh, the Nigeria government has woken up”, “this is the government we want” etc. Not to play down the enthusiasm and hope rekindled in Nigerians by the ruling party in our lost Heritage- Agriculture, it is just necessary to note that this is not the first time the government is championing this course.
Several programmes have been initiated in times past to prosper the Nigerian Agricultural sector, from the First National Development Plan between 1962 and 1968 which had in it several initiatives to Agriculture, to several other plans and strategies to foster Agriculture, like the National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), launched in 1972, establishment of the Nigerian Agricultural and Cooperative bank (NACB) in 1973, Introduction of the Integrated Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs) in 1975 and the National Grains reserve programme (NGRP) in 1975. Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) 1976, River Basin and Rural Development Authorities, established in 1976; Green Revolution Programme, inaugurated in 1980 and The World Bank-funded Agricultural Development Projects. This is to show that, the plan to develop agriculture has been on the cards even before a large chunk of the electorates were born.
Watching the 8th Bola Tinubu Colloquium which was centred around mapping out a pathway for the resuscitation of the Agricultural sector, listening to experts in the industry and most notably and fascinating, the presentation by the Kebbi State Governor, then I ask myself: is it that we do not know all these before now or that we decided to deliberately punish ourselves and put generations in excruciating anguish?
According to one of the speakers at the Colloquium, Lanre Carew,”Nigeria imports an average of 44 millions trailer full of contraband frozen food daily, amounting to about 1.7trillion trailers in a year”. I begin to wonder, can the government feign ignorance of this? Definitely not! A former governor of Kano State introduced the irrigation farming in the state. He was being mocked then but today, it’s achieving its aims even though the federal government has failed to substantially support the cause. Since economists are not just Problem Identifiers but Problem Solvers, what then is the way forward?
Very importantly, there is a need for the reorientation of our youths as regards working on the farm. The youths need to be made to understand that going into Agriculture is beyond putting hoe on your shoulder and engaging in frog jump on the farmland. There are some who are willing to soil their hands by toiling the farmland, others can be entrepreneurs-create jobs in the agricultural sector, control other factors of production. That’s is also engaging in agriculture. The earlier we see the clearer picture, the better for generations to come. According to an independent researcher, the average age of farmers now in Nigeria is between 45 & 50 years. This simply means the youths have deserted this path like victims of the Ikeja cantonment bomb blast running for their dear lives. A lecturer at the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta bemoaned the attitude of students studying even Agricultural Economics. According to her, there is a course called FYP which involves the students working on the farm. Ironically, during the periods for this course, the students “fall sick”, then they graduate and all hope to work in the banks and offices. One can imagine such mindsets from even the supposed students of Agriculture. The average youth does not want to work on the farm because he thinks farming is petty. This orientation needs to be changed.
Also, it is worthy to note that the reformation of the Agricultural sector should be seen as an Integrated Circuit whereby all the parts need to function simultaneously to make it work. Each and every economic player has a role to play. The Geographers should help identify a good marriage of crop and locations. Some crops can fare better compared to other crops in particular areas. The era of some crops been biennial or annual crops as we were taught in our secondary schools is gone. Science has made us seen that we can have as much as possible harvest of crops based on different techniques and methods. Those in the field of science, genetics and biology to be precise, should help identify the breeds of seeds that will better farmers yield and with quick maturity, whereby, we can have an all round the year production of food, rather than wait for months or years for another plantation. Agriculture has grown astronomically beyond this thinking. Our Western Neighbours in the continent, Ivory Coast have begun the local manufacturing of Chocolate in their territory. A tree doesn’t make a forest. There is the need to integrate all units.
Further, a major deterrent to the growth of Agriculture which is not a rot of today but is as old as Nigeria herself is the problem of Planning without implementation, not to talk of proper implementation. Nigeria has been practising Paper Agriculture- many plans to develop the agricultural sector have been sabotaged due to poor implementation capacities. Our excellent planning skills and adept skills in failure in implementation would both bag us Oscars if they were available . Implementation here has to do with ensuring that the funds created for agricultural purposes are used solely for such purposes. Looking back at the various Agricultural Development Programmes, the large bulk of the funds earmarked for agrodevelopmental purposes were either diverted by corrupt individuals or by the Government to other projects. Some got the loans and instead of investing it in agriculture decided to get married to their second or third wives- economically unproductive engagement. There are lots of potentials in the agricultural sector. According to Lanre Carew, an agricultural expert, “We can create 2.5 million jobs around the poultry value chain in 3 years.” We ardently need to work towards these potentials.
Furthermore, another very vital issue is the case of wastage. Once the harvest periods of crops are over, the left over farm produce are left at the mercy of wastage like bathe water with no beneficial value. As of today, there are no government owned post harvest plants that can transform our leftover produce into meaningful products. According to various reports and researches, 70 to 80 percent of our farm produce grow into waste due to lack of post harvest facilities. For instance, We are the 2nd largest producers of tomatoes in Africa,13th in the world Yet spend N16 Billion annually importing tomato paste. Here we are creating first hand racism against ourselves. Our tomatoes are bleeding.
Finally, there is the need to go back to the grassroots- our secondary schools. When the 70 year olds were still young, once you’re a student in form 1, you will be given a portion of land to cultivate which they did joyfully and reported to designated personnel. This aided food production. Travelling down to this “rocket age” as it’s fondly called, how many schools have farmlands dedicated to this course? Even those that have, how many are cultivated? And those that cultivate, how many are cultivated rightly? These are questions we need to provide answers to if indeed we want to prosper as a nation and save our unborn generation transitory pang.
Conclusively, it will be very disappointing if after filling our ears with the great potential of the agricultural sector, the present administration fails to deliver on its promises on diversification of the economy, especially through agriculture or perhaps they perform below the hype the have generated. It will merely be a case of old wine in a new bottle for Nigerians. “Diversifying the economy can no longer be a slogan, it has become a necessity”, these are not my words, these were the golden lines of the first citizen of our nation, President Muhammadu Buhari at the 8th Bola Tinubu Colloquium.
It then remains to be seen whether indeed, this government would prove to be a shining light at the end of the tunnel.
“Education without hoe and cutlass is not complete” – Wise Saying
Lateef (@reserved_single), a Graduate of Economics from the University of Lagos is a Writer, Public Speaker and Social Media activist whose love for journalism is synonymous to Motherly love!