FEMI IBIROGBA writes that 58 years after Nigeria became politically independent, the country is still constrained by food insecurity, as evidenced by the annual invoices for food imports.
Nigerians from all walks of life complained about the country's inability to sustainably feed, which led to a massive importation of products, in addition to smuggled goods, across land borders.
In 1901, Nigeria officially became part of the vast British Empire.
In May 1906, the colony of Lagos and the southern protectorate were combined together and had a different name, the colony and protectorate of Southern Nigeria.
In the same atmosphere, in 1914, Lord Fredrik Lugar joined the colony of Lagos and Southern Nigeria with the Northern Protectorate to form a single colony called the Protectorate of Nigeria.
It was reported that Lugard’s wife formed the name Nigeria from the Niger River, which flowed through the country.
Nigeria, isolating ethnicity and religion, united to fight for the independence of the country.
Each region was given self-government, and then on October 1, 1960, they all got freedom.
The irony of food independence in the colonial era
Strangely enough, despite the fact that he was ruled by a repressive colonial master, the country was self-sufficient in food production, exporting not only food but also raw materials to England.
Establishment of the Department of Botanical Research in 1893; the purchase of more than 10 square kilometers on the plantation of the Moors in Ibadan for the production of cotton in 1905; the creation of the Department of Agriculture in the North in 1912 and the creation of the Central Department of Agriculture after the merger of 1914 put Nigeria on a sustainable path of agricultural development.
Although the main goal of the UK was to increase the production of raw materials for its agro-industrial sectors, the creation and effective management of these departments increased the production of food crops such as rice, peanuts, corn, beans and tomato.
Nigeria had no reason for mass imports of food, as now, but rather because of exports.
Jennifer Cook, Senior Assistant to the Office of the President of the United States of America (USA), conducting research and analysis of the dynamics of politics, economics and security in Africa, has the right to say about food production in Nigeria before independence.
"During its first decade of independence, Nigeria was one of the most promising agricultural producers in the world.
A regionally oriented policy based on the economic principle of commodity comparative advantage ensured that the agricultural sector served as the main source of food and livelihood for the nation.
Nigeria was not only self-sufficient and safe for agriculture, but also flourished in world markets as the world's largest producer of peanuts and palm oil and as a significant producer of cotton and cocoa. ”
She lamented that agriculture was the main source of employment and income for the country, adding: “In 1965, more than 70 percent of the workforce was employed in the agricultural sector.
Export of cash crops was responsible for 62.2 percent of the foreign currency of the young country and 66.4 percent of its GDP. "
Tragedy of food addiction after political freedom
Many Nigerians, including the former Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Adesina Akinwumi and his successor, Chief Audu Ogbe, complained about the rising bills for food imports in the country, the depletion of foreign reserves and the export of jobs destined for Nigerians in the process.
The conservative estimate puts bills for the import of food products from 2008 to more than 110 billion dollars. The United States, with the exception of uncollected rice, poultry products, vegetable oil, canned food, fruits and other food products that are smuggled across porous borders.
Dr. Adesina told Nigerians that $ 11 billion was spent on food imports each year, and that the Agricultural Transformation Program (ATA) was designed to reverse the situation.
However, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Green Sugar Revolution, Suleiman Dikva, said that at the moment the bill for the import of products is more than $ 22 billion.
“Agriculture is eight times the cost of oil, so we have an internship and mentoring program that allows young people to find out that the import account in Nigeria is $ 22 billion.”
Professor Kolavole Adebayo, Cassava Regional Coordinator: Adding Value to Africa (C: AVA) and Lecturer at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), said that Nigeria's land area is 923,768 km2 with agro-ecological spread from the Atlantic and mangroves in the south , through the belt of tropical forests and wide expanses of savannah on the outskirts of the Sahara desert in the north.
He added that very few countries in the world can boast such a diversity of agroecologies, and many of these countries have used diversity to create a solid food base for their people, which is a key environment for start-up industries, which is the main export base for obtaining foreign currency needed for its trade with other countries and a strong employment center for the population.
On the way forward, Adebayo said that food security and the changing trend of food imports are a technically simple matter, suggesting that the resources needed for this can be obtained with relative ease and that knowledge to achieve it is readily available.
The national president of the Som and Allied Fisheries Association of Nigeria (CAFFAN), Rotimi Ola, also said, also said that the only difference between the then and the present is leadership.
To return back, Olaia suggested that “we need a big reorientation and self-discipline.
Give value to our agricultural products and make agriculture attractive in all forms. ”
He suggested that the creation of agriculture in schools and colleges should be a good strategy for changing the orientation of Nigerians towards agriculture.
“We must create settlements in agriculture and create incentives for farmers.
The government should position itself with the possibility of buying out agricultural products, ”said the president of the som association.
The chief executive officer / country manager of Dizengoff Nigeria, Mr. Antti Ritvonen, putting forward his views with Adebayo, said that there is great potential in Nigerian agriculture, “but we have a lot of work to do.
“I very much believe that Nigeria can return to its fame as the leading country in Africa during the period of food production before independence.
And I do not understand why this can not happen again.
Although there is a lot of work to get there, it is very possible, but there is a huge potential in Nigerian agriculture, ”said Dizengoff boss.
To improve performance, Ritvonen suggested: “We need to use more modern methods and end the old ones.
We need to start with mechanization, and the education of farmers is very important so that they can know how to use modern methods. ”