RESTORING agriculture to its pride of place in a widely-diversified Nigerian economy requires versatile thinking, planning and meticulous implementation of strategies. It should go beyond the ongoing national emphasis on massive increase in the production of rice.
We must widen the scope of our ambitions and not only restore the massive production of our traditional food and cash crops but also go aggressively into the cultivation and consumption of “exotic” ones that can grow well on our soils.
Though the claims of Nigeria’s Labour and Employment Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige, that rice production alone has generated seven million blue-collar jobs was not concretely substantiated, it is true that the increased effort in local rice production which started a few years ago is providing profitable means of livelihood to thousands of young Nigerians.
We must be inspired by the benefits of the rice experiment and take the large-scale cultivation of agricultural products to other areas, particularly tea and coffee.
Happily, moves in this direction have yielded dividends, as the Senate has just concluded the second reading of a Bill to establish the National Tea and Coffee Development Council sponsored by Senator Yusuf Abubakar (Taraba Central).
When passed into law, the Bill is expected to provide the framework for the development, production, commercialisation and consumption of made-in-Nigeria tea and coffee to reduce the billions of naira we spend in the importation of these vastly popular beverages.
Nigeria has a number of areas that harbour year-round temperate climates which can adequately support the cultivation of these crops. These are found mostly on the Mambilla Plateau in Taraba, Jos in Plateau and Obudu in Cross River states. A focused agenda to mass-produce Nigerian teas and coffees will definitely bring new occupational and trade opportunities to our people who live in these areas to benefit from the bounties of their natural environments just as their peers in countries like Kenya and Ethiopia do.
Nigeria must recharge its commitment to its national Agricultural Policy which was re-launched in 2001 with a view to broadening the base of our agricultural development, encouraging the various localities to embrace crop production that perform best in their areas, modernising the farming and procession of farm produce, establishing relevant value chains on each product line and thereby providing abundant food and employment for our people.
We must emulate the examples of China and other Asian countries that developed their tea and coffee production processes within the past three decades. Today, our markets and shop shelves are filled with different types of imported beverages which can be comfortably produced in Nigeria. Nigeria can join the league of tea and coffee exporters, if only we apply ourselves to the efforts that will bring it about.