The need for Nigeria to diversify its economy cannot be over-emphasized. Confronted with a bleak economic outlook occasioned by recession, the Federal Government and governments at all other levels, are at present seeking alternative and additional means of revenue generation.
The shortfall in international oil prices coupled with instability in the Niger Delta region has greatly affected the nation’s oil revenue. It is common knowledge that the country’s economy is over 70 per cent dependent on oil. With inflation rate currently at 18.7%, is quite clear that there are tougher days ahead for the country. It is, therefore, expedient for our nation to diligently seek alternative sources of income.
This is where the promotion of agriculture comes handy. Though agriculture is not new, as it had been a major source of revenue generation for the nation before the advent of oil, nonetheless it still stands out as a veritable and sustainable tool for growth and development, a potentially viable means of generating internal and external revenue for the country. With millions of arable land mass, high youth population, mostly unemployed, Nigeria cannot afford to under-utilize its potentials in the agricultural sector.
Experts have described agriculture as the game changer with the ability to create jobs for the teeming populace while at the same time, ensuring food security and alleviating poverty. According to statistics, Nigeria has 84 million hectares of arable land but only 40% of it is cultivated. This is an indicator that so much still needs to be done, with 60% of its rich arable land yet to be cultivated; millions of jobs can be generated while the over 53 million starving people in the country can be catered for.
Other statistics show that Nigeria is the highest importer of food in Africa. A Central Bank of Nigeria data indicates that within 5 months in 2014, Nigeria spent about $1billion on food importation. Some of the imported food items include rice, wheat, fish, sugar and many others.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the country has lost over N10 trillion since 2005, in foreign exchange, as it continues to sustain the economies of other countries through food importation. In 2009 alone, the country imported $700 million worth of fish and fish products to address a shortfall of 200,000 tones in local production.
To reverse this trend, and more importantly put our economy in sure stead, there is need for government, corporate organisations and individuals to invest heavily in agriculture and agro-allied ventures. To this end, the agriculture sector should be mechanized to encourage youths to branch into the field. This way, agriculture would no longer be seen as a job for the locals.
This perception of agriculture can only change if government begins to reintegrate, educate and empower the younger generation on mechanized and industrial farming. Government must also step up on food silos in order to reduce wastage while food importation, especially of major staple foods in which we have relative production advantage, must be stopped.
It will be recalled that the Federal Government recently banned the importation of processed frozen foods and rice. This move will go a long way in building local agricultural industry and create more jobs. It will also open up windows of opportunities to local farmers, businessmen and investors, who are interested in poultry farming, fish farming and rice production. This will also guarantee the quality of food consumed in the country especially imported poultry products which is said to be unsafe for consumption because of the harmful chemical used in preserving them.
With a population of almost 170 million, there are great prospects in agriculture in Nigeria. It is this prospect that is making state governments in the country to now undertake large scale agricultural ventures.
One of such is the ‘Lagos state – Kebbi state’ rice production collaboration which is expected to push thousands of tonnes of high quality rice into the market and generate thousands of jobs annually.
It will also guarantee the quality of rice consumed in the country. Similarly the Lagos state government is also tapping into its vast aquatic natural resource as it embarked on the development of industrial fisheries and aquatic facilities across the state.
Government should go a step further to bridge the gap between local food production, supply and demand such that the country can boast of revenue generation.
Therefore, we should not only aim at meeting local consumption, but should strive to break into the international market and join the league of top agricultural produce exporters like, U.S.A, Indonesia, Thailand and China.
All stakeholders must, therefore, wake up to the reality of the day and begin to tap into the enormous agricultural endowments within their environment in order to create employment and generate sustainable revenues to meet their various responsibilities. In the First Republic, all the regions thrived on agriculture produce.
This is the time for the Federal Government to also come up with a more concrete plan of controlling and managing the activities of herdsmen whose actions in recent times have wreaked havoc on farms across the nation.
Besides, government should harness the opportunities available in animal produce, as cattle rearing has enormous opportunities for economic growth and development.
At this point, all tiers of governments should take agriculture as a viable option to rebuild our ailing economy and once and for all deliver the country from the curse of over reliance on crude oil.
It’s imperative to reiterate that agriculture cannot be done on subsistence level; data from different world organization reflect the declining fortune of large scale agricultural ventures in Nigeria. It is time for us to up the stakes and take the business of farming more seriously.
We must intensify efforts in harnessing the enormous opportunities within the agriculture sector for economic growth and industrial evolution.