Is agriculture a potential tool to combat poverty in Nigeria?
It has been trending recently that 87 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty.
That is definitely not a good position, but first and foremost, you cannot separate that kind of situation from the state of the economy of the nation.
When people have where to work, they will create wealth and it will improve their lives.
But when people don’t have anywhere to work or they are not working as they ought to be working, the problem of wealth creation will be decelerated.
So, that problem of having not many people employed in Nigeria definitely will result in poverty and we have been having so many problems with our economy. First and foremost, the first thing to tackle is the economy.
People must be put to work. It is only when people work and produce that poverty can reduce.
A major way to put people to work and create more wealth is through agriculture. We have natural competitive advantages in agriculture.
It has been often said that we have very favourable climate in this country; we have good soil in most parts of the country and we have very good rainfall patterns, very good sunshine and so on.
In short, we have all the productive elements that are needed to ensure that we have higher productivity in agriculture.
Again, we have people who are very knowledgeable in agriculture, who are very well trained in modern farming.
But there is still this problem of insufficient investment in agriculture. We don’t have much capital being directed into agriculture.
When you talk about raising the standard of living of people, there are three very crucial public goals that you must focus on.
The first of it is education. You have to give people education so that they have the capacity to create work.
You have to give people quality health services so that they even have the ability to work and stay at work and create wealth.
The last one is agriculture. You have to feed the populace very well so that they even have the strength to create wealth.
Much talk has been said about education, about health and all that, but in terms of investing in agriculture, we have not seen much in recent times and we need much more of it because we need continuous investments to move our agriculture from the subsistence to the commercial one.
Now, let me use an illustration.
If you have a farmer using a full range of inputs like tractors, machines, improved seeds, fertiliser and all that, that farmer will be able to produce food for between 80 and 100 people in a year, cultivating at least five hectares of land.
But if you have something like a subsistence farmer, hardly can the farmer produce enough food to feed his family.
Despite the increased knowledge and up-scaling of mechanisation in agriculture, the youth are not interested in the sector. How can they be attracted?
The reasons for that are multifarious. The number one is the capital that is needed to begin farming activities is not readily available.
If we have some school leavers that are interested in agriculture for example, they need money, they need capital, and they need tools and equipment.
Incidentally, they are not able to get all those things easily.
For instance, somebody can approach an agricultural bank that he wants money but has no collateral to tender. The bank will not give the loan.
Apart from this, what other factors prevent youths?
Agriculture is a vocation in which you have to invest and wait for your money to come. You don’t get returns instantly.
For instance, if you are talking about a mechanised farm of 20 hectares, you may be surprised to find out that it may take you something like five years of continuous investment before you begin to turn in profit.
That is five years of money consistently being invested in the farm before turning in profit.
READ MORE: How dangerous are GMO foods in Nigeria?
Many of our youths are not ready to wait for that, more especially when they see their friends that go to other sectors and seem to be earning very big income within a short time.
Can rural infrastructure development and upgrading help retain some of the school leavers or uneducated youths for farming?
Yes, it can. In fact, this is something the government should do.
We have this migration situation where most people want to leave the rural for the urban areas. It happens all the time in Nigeria.
If you go to the populated cities of Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Kano, Abuja and Enugu, you will see so many of our young ones going there, even doing nothing.
These are the people we could have retained in the rural areas to be producing wealth through agriculture.
But you can’t really blame them because in the rural areas, the basic things needed to keep them are not available.
You said capital is the major factor, and school leavers or graduates don’t have that. Would you suggest that the Federal Government should take their certificates as loan collaterals? Do you subscribe to this?
There was a time they tried that about 20 years ago, but I will not subscribe to it, the reason being that you are kind of limiting and tying the person and also binding him for the future.
Agriculture is a very risky business too, that is, large scale agriculture.
So, whether you like it or not, somebody going into agriculture will also face challenges.
Some will succeed and some will fail.
Now assume that somebody goes to agriculture and fails and then decides to look in another direction, at least, to improve and make an attempt at other vocations.
But you have collected the person’s certificate. So, where will he now go to?
He tried agriculture quite alright but due to no fault of his, it failed.
So what do you suggest as the way forward?
The way forward is still for the government to work towards removing the impediments that are preventing the youth from having direct access to capital.
Armed robbers may come to a bank and rob, for instance. And then take money away.
The bank is in no real distress as such because the National Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) will give back the money to the bank. Do you get it?
Likewise, the government should find a way of protecting that kind of capital that is released to farmers by guaranteeing it for youths.
Nigeria was a major producer of cashew nuts, cocoa beans, groundnuts and oil palm in the past, how can we increase utilisation of the produce and produce more of them?
The government has to intensify the production of these traditional crops by special programmes.
There was a time we had a cassava initiative under the then former President Olusegun Obasanjo and that cassava initiative propelled Nigeria into the position of being the largest producer in the world till today.
There should be special programmes targeted at the crops.
If there is a special programme for cocoa, another special programme for oil palm, and for cashew, and if the government would invest resources into them to raise their production, it is possible.
Cash crops are plantation crops. That is, they bring money over a long period of time, but they also need investments over a long period of time and it is that investment that the government should make provision for.
Then, the respective companies that need such crops can also come into their production in terms of having contract growers for them.
These companies also do lament poor power supply and other factors?
Yes, that is a very crucial problem. It is only the government that can solve that because the amount of money that is needed in the power sector is huge.
It is only the government that can come up with that kind of money and it is rather unfortunate that at this stage in our development, we are still having problems with power.
We should have solved the power problem a very long time ago because solving the power problem is taking an industrial leap.
Generating power through diesel is the most inefficient and expensive way of production.