At a time when the Federal Government is focusing on agriculture, in its diversification programme, former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, has stated that Nigeria could overcome recession and food shortage and experience economic boom if it is fully committed to the growth of agriculture as an alternative to oil.
In a paper he delivered yesterday, entitled, “Sustainable Agriculture: A Credible Alternative for National Development” at the 43rd convocation of the Federal College of Agriculture, Ishiagu, Ebonyi State, Kalu said the country must stop paying lip service to the development of agriculture. He expressed regrets that successive governments in Nigeria have paid less attention to agriculture in preference to oil, saying that with the drop in oil price, the country was now grappling with economic problems, which should not have been if attention was paid to agriculture also. He called on institutions of higher learning to show the way by becoming more practical in their approach to teaching.
He said: “There is the need for our institutions to be less theoretical and become more practical, especially now that the world is changing. The time has come for us to move this great country forward, and to do this, there has to be an end to the blame game. “Today, I make bold to say that all over the country, what we enjoy in terms of infrastructure are basically projects that were initiated and executed by the founding fathers of this great country.
Just imagine if the resources we have earned from oil over the years had been committed into developing this country the same way the one earned from agriculture was deployed by past leaders, today, Nigeria would have been in the mode of Dubai and Saudi Arabia, if not better. “However, all hope is not lost as agriculture, which gave us the pride of place in the past, is still available to be explored and exploited, and now is the time to do that, especially with the Federal Government’s preparedness to support it at any level, not just to ensure food sufficiency but also for national development.”
Kalu said that the commitment to agriculture by the nation’s founding fathers led to the infrastructure development Nigeria still enjoys to this day. He however praised the federal government for its zeal to ensure that the agric project becomes an overwhelming appeal to the entire country, as is evident in the approach being deployed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Bank of Agriculture, Bank of Industry (BOI) and allied organizations, all in a bid to ensure food sufficiency and export. According to him, “Apart from food sufficiency and export, the Central Bank governor disclosed recently that this government’s agric project would generate about 500,000 employment opportunities in at least 12 states.
That is the one that has been recorded or projected because “I know there are so many farmers in villages that are not or will never be in that list. The list does not also contain the growing number of youths, who work in my own farm at Ugwueke, Bende LGA of Abia State. I am sure some of you here don’t even know that I am also a farmer and I get most of what I eat from my farm. So get it clear that if I come here to tell you about the beauty and benefit of agriculture to nation’s development, I am doing so in my capacity as a farmer before any other thing.
“The Chinese approach in developing agriculture has been described as very pragmatic with methodology tacitly hinged on a policy of “giving more and taking less”. In 1978, the government gave considerable emphasis to land reforms and subsidies in an effort to assist farmers and give agriculture the priority it deserves,” Kalu said. He added that by 2002, the same government introduced subsidy policies for grain production, superior crop varieties, purchase of agro-machinery and tools, in addition to granting general subsidies for agricultural insurance premiums, among others.
The result, he said, was that by 2013, significant outcomes and accomplishments had started to manifest, as China’s grain output grew for the tenth consecutive year and exceeded 600 million tons, while the outputs of cotton, oil plants, sugar plants, meat, eggs, milk and fruit peaked at 6.31 million tons, 35.31 million tons, 137.59 million tons, 85.36 million tons, 28.76 million tons, 35.31 million tons and 61.72 million tons respectively. Kalu who went on to remind that in Nigeria, many administrations have campaigned seriously about encouraging agriculture, said virtually nothing followed afterwards.
“Merely coming out on television and radio compelling youth, whose vision has become larger than rural life, to go back to land is not enough without incentive,” he argued, stressing, “In my reckoning, I believe it is not enough to begin with this momentum and slow down or out rightly apply the brakes later. Government, individuals, corporate organizations and stakeholders should never give up in this campaign and subsequent implementation.”
He said further: “Even if by 2017 and beyond, we have enough to feed ourselves and more than enough for export, I will still implore all to sustain the campaign and also ensure that those who have towed the path of humility by going back to the farm are encouraged, financially, morally and otherwise. Moreover, our appetite for consuming foreign food items should be highly discouraged just as all tiers of the government should put policies in place to ensure farmers don’t work in vain.”