Recent economic developments have again, thrown up the debate on the diversification of the economy. It is in the light of this that it is important for Nigeria as a nation to look in the direction of Agriculture. Nigeria displays the characteristics of a dual economy- a modern sector heavily dependent on oil earnings overlaying a traditional agricultural and trading economy.
During the colonial era, cash crops were introduced, harbours, railways and road were developed and a market for consumer goods began to emerge. In 1960, agriculture accounted for well over half of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and economic policies such that more attention is being given agriculture through various was the main source of export earnings and public revenue, with agricultural marketing boards playing a leading role, but today this leading role in the economy has been taken over by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
In recent times however, certain realities have forced a rethink of government policies such as the cassava initiative, cocoa initiative, cotton initiative etc.
Despite this new re-direction of policy, it is important to now move to the next level by integrating agriculture into manufacturing or industrialisation i.e. government focus must extend to agric processing rather than stopping at exporting raw materials.
The recent drastic fall in the price of oil at the International market has led many oil producing countries to search for look for alternative and additional sources of revenue. With the oil boom in the early 1970s, Nigeria has neglected agriculture but now is the time to go back because aside mineral resources, agriculture is an area where the country has comparative advantage in global economy. It was estimated that 82 million hectares out of Nigeria’s total land area of about 91 million hectares are arable out of which only 42 percent of the cultivable area is being farmed. Unfortunately, much of this land is still farmed under the bush fallow system, whereby land is left idle for a period of time to allow natural regeneration of soil fertility. Also, 18 million hectares are classified as permanent pasture, but with the potential to support crops. Most of the 20 million hectares covered by forests and woodlands are believed to have agricultural potential. It is therefore apparent that this is a major and most certain path to economic growth and sustainability both in the creation of jobs, generation of prosperity and economic boom for the country.
Nigeria’s diverse climate from the tropical areas of the coast to the arid zone of the north makes it possible to produce virtually all agricultural product that can be grown in the tropical and semi tropical areas of the world. The country is blessed with a lot of raw materials, and one them is cocoa. Cocoa can be found in southwest states which are in abundance. Although cocoa is the leading non-oil foreign exchanges earner, growth in the sector has been since the abolition of the Nigerian cocoa Board. The dominance of smallholders in the cocoa sector and the lack of farm labour due to urbanisation holds back production. But this can change, we have the potential to produce well over 300,000 tonnes of cocoa beans per year.
It is also evident that there is an untapped opportunity for Nigeria to also become the world’s largest processor of cassava, providing more than enough for the local market and with the potential to become a major exporter. All this we have in abundance. Rubber is also another raw material we have, which is second largest non-oil exchange earner.
The goal of agriculture replacing oil in the economy will thus require stepping up production to meet and bridge the import gap, provide for strategic food reserves and generate surplus for exports to earn income and sustain farming enterprise.
The four pillars identified to achieve these goals to boost agriculture not just only in Nigeria but in the continent as well are better infrastructure to improve market access, income insurance for weather- related crop failure, a privately managed fertiliser subsidy scheme for poor farmers and an increase in import tariffs to promote self-reliance through substitution.
Minister of National Planning Alhaji Abubakar Suleiman said the country depends too much on oil, but oil is not the only means to sustain the economy. He disclosed that there are other avenues and sources of income that the national was not looking into but with the fall in oil price, it is high time those other avenues are explored.
There are hindrance for us to achieve this, such as “corruption”, there are however loopholes here and there. With many nations in the world working hard and reaping their harvest in this direction, Nigeria happens to belong among the few that greatly retarded from their past glorious heights in agriculture, down to a near zero scale of agricultural production. Surely the neglect is because of irresponsible and ill-purposeful leadership. Corruption can help disrupt any progress in this new found oil if political leaders are not sincere with it, meaning all hands must be on deck for the development of this sector.
Industrialisation is a process which increases the volume of production in industrial activities such as manufacturing. As industrialisation proceeds, the total output of the industrial sector as a percentage of national output increases.
Take cocoa for instance. According to Brad Churchill, owner of Calgary-based Choklat, which makes 400 pounds of chocolate per week from scratch “The price of cocoa beans is almost always hovering around US$3,000 per metric tonne.” A metric tonne of the bean can produce US$40,000 worth of end product, says Mr. Churchill. It is thus apparent that linking efficient agricultural production to industrialisation and export will so boost the economy that the target of emerging as one of the 20 leading global economies by 2020 will be taken for granted.
Industrialization would break the chain of importation of finished goods into the country whereby raw material can be changed into finished goods for export.
With the high rate of unemployment, agriculture is by far the most important sector of Nigeria’s economy, although there will be challenges with the population standing at 180 million and people under 40 making up 70percent.
To attain the goal, appropriate measures have to be put in place such that agriculture as a profession and vocation becomes attractive to youth’s including mechanised farming. The Minister of Agriculture Mr. Adesina said, “In a bid to revamp the agricultural sector, government has developed and implemented several agricultural policies and programmes”.