Nigeria’s huge agricultural potential is not in doubt and tapping such for the country’s development is the right thing to do.
The country is well endowed with rich and abundant natural resources for lifting millions of people out of poverty and hunger, and generating foreign exchange earnings through agricultural exports. The country’s arable land is estimated at 84 million hectares, although only 40% is cultivated and water resources of 230 billion cubic metres. There is huge potential in forestry, animal husbandry, fisheries, and food and cash crops.
The challenge is in turning this huge potential into prosperity for the vast majority of Nigerians. At independence and for the most part of the decade of 1960s, Nigeria was the world’s largest producer of groundnuts and palm oil, the second largest exporter of cocoa, and was also self-sufficient in food production. Agriculture contributed significantly to Gross Domestic Product, foreign exchange earnings, employment of the labour and regional economic development across the country.
Over the subsequent four decades from 1970 to 2010, agriculture witnessed a relative decline. As the oil sector became the engine of economic growth, foreign exchange earnings, and with benign neglect, agriculture lost its pride of place. The groundnut pyramids in Northern Nigeria vanished. Malaysia overtook Nigeria in palm oil production and exports, a major revenue earner for Eastern Nigeria. Cote d’Ivioire, Ghana, and Brazil overtook Nigeria as major exporters of cocoa, which had been a bedrock for development of Western Nigeria.
While several past interventions including Operation Feed the Nation and The Green Revolution tried to make some dents in the sector, they have not been sufficient to turn around the fortunes of agriculture. Agriculture now accounts for a fifth of GDP compared to over half in the early 1960s, only five per cent of foreign exchange earnings compared to more than two-thirds in the same period, while the country’s imported food bill reached an all-time high of N3.2 trillion in 2011.
The introduction of Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) between 2011 and 2014 sought to bring about major transformation to the sector through reforms in input delivery, agricultural financing, value chain development, and farm mechanisation. The ATA achieved some positive results. Between 2011 and 2014, national food production grew by 21 million MT, food import bill fell from N3.2 trillion in 2011 to N635 billion in 2013, and direct farm jobs rose by 3.56 million in the period 2012 to 2014.
It is against this background that President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is launching the Agricultural Promotion Policy (APP) Roadmap. The APP Roadmap aims at building on the achievements of the ATA, while tackling two key gaps in Nigeria’s agriculture. First, agriculture currently does not meet domestic food requirements, thereby draining foreign exchange with food imports, due to an unproductive farming model and inefficient input system with an aging population of farmers that lack adequate access to seeds, fertilizers, irrigation, crop protection and related support. The second challenge relates to an inability to export agriculture produce at quality levels required for market success to earn foreign exchange due to insufficient food testing facilities, a weak inspectorate system, poor coordination among relevant agencies and poor knowledge of target markets.
The APP Roadmap outlines the actions and initiatives with three main pillars and 17 priority areas for measuring progress in repositioning and revitalising the agricultural sector over a five-year period from 2016-2020. The first pillar on productivity enhancements covers nine key areas: access to land, soil fertility, access to information and knowledge, access to inputs, production management, storage, processing, marketing and trade, and consumption and nutrition.
At the core of the Roadmap is treating agriculture with a private sector agri-business approach driven by market place participants, farmers, investors, financial institutions, local communities, and states. The second pillar, therefore, relies on private sector investment in agriculture by ensuring greater access to finance and promotion of agribusiness.
Government intends to catalyse private sector investment with the provision of supporting infrastructure, systems, control processes, and oversight. The third pillar addresses institutional constraints and strengthening coordination of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and its agencies with other MDAs, especially in Power, Transportation and Trade.
The APP Roadmap seems to sound the right cords on key objectives of food self-sufficiency, reducing import dependence, agro-export foreign exchange earnings, value addition, wealth creation and job creation and environmental sustainability. As with other past initiatives in the agriculture sector, however, the devil is in the implementation. It is one thing to produce good strategic policy framework document for the sector, it is another to ensure political, policy, financial, and institutional commitment, consistency and sustainability that ensure effective and efficient implementation.
This newspaper urges that emphasis on market-orientation and commercialisation must not be to the detriment of rural poor farmers and local communities. De-risking the value chains must focus on both commercial and rural poor and subsistence farmers. Rural poor farmers must also have access to technologies, financial services, inputs supply chains, and market linkages that will enhance their productivity. As the Roadmap rightly notes, inclusiveness should ensure the full participation of stakeholders including farmers’ associations, cooperatives and other groups.
Overall, when it comes to agriculture transformation and improving the livelihood of Nigerians, especially rural farmers, Nigerians know what should be done. What is needed is the courage and commitment to doing the right thing on a sustainable basis. In this context, the APP Roadmap is just the beginning; much more still need to be done to get to the ultimate end of the road, which is turning huge agricultural potential into prosperity for the vast majority of Nigerians.