TETFund: Revamping Agriculture Through Quality Education and Strategic Collaboration, by Rahma Oladosu
Before the discovery of crude oil and gas in commercial quantity, agriculture was the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. The sector was a resilient sustainer of the economy and the Nigerian people in terms of food supply, employment and national income generation. This was possible as a result of focused regional-based policy and commodity comparative and absolute advantage.
However, the sector has struggled to perform the above stated functions since the 1980s due to policy neglect, economic distraction and the indiscretion of successive Nigerian governments.
The “oil boom” experienced in Nigeria in the 1970s heralded an era of decay and decline in agricultural output and the overall contribution of the sector to the economy. The oil boom changed Nigeria’s perception of the place and role of agriculture in national development.
Strong, efficient and productive agricultural sector has the capacity to enable a country feed its growing population, export and earn foreign exchange, generate employment and provide raw materials for industries. The agricultural sector has the potential to be the industrial and economic platforms from which the speedy development of a country can take off. Through agriculture, environmental benefits such as sustainable management and renewal of natural resources, preservation of biodiversity, land conservation as well as contribution to the development and viability of rural areas can be derived . At micro and macro levels, the agricultural sector is strategically positioned to have a high multiplier effect on any nation’s quest for socio-economic and industrial development.
Looking back, the history of agriculture in Nigeria dates far back to the pre-colonial era. Subsistence agriculture was overwhelmingly dominant on the eve of British colonial rule in Nigeria. In this enterprise, food production featured prominently and there was self-sufficiency in food supply. With the country’s vast agricultural resources and large expanse of arable land and well distributed rainfall and a warm temperature all year round, agriculture played a progressive role in serving as the major source of livelihood to the country’s population.
As we mostly know, agriculture is broadly divided into four sectors in Nigeria–crop production, fishing, livestock and forestry. Crop production remains the largest segment and it accounts for about 87.6% of the sector’s total output. This is followed by livestock, fishing and forestry at 8.1%, 3.2% and 1.1% respectively. Agriculture remains the largest sector in Nigeria contributing an average of 24% to the nation’s GDP over seven years (2013 – 2019). In addition, the sector employs more than 36% of the country’s labour force, a feat which ranks the sector as the largest employer of labour in the country.
In recent times, the sector has been having a whole lot of challenges especially lack of access to finance. To mitigate that, the government has provided several facilities through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) such as the Anchor Borrower’s Programme which helps provide small scale farmers with adequate financing. This is however grossly inadequate.
Outdated methods of agriculture such as the use of hoes and cutlasses reduce efficiency as these methods are costly and time consuming. Nigeria’s failure to adopt advanced mechanised systems has reduced the quality of its agricultural products. Violent conflicts due to desertification and water depletion in the northern part of Nigeria is a big problem. Nomadic herdsmen are now shifting towards the southern part of the country in search of grazing fields and water for their animals and this has resulted in clashes with crop farmers in the south, thereby causing food producing states to decline in output. Resource shortages is another big challenge because over the past years, Nigeria has dealt with very low yields per hectare due to shortages in the supply of inputs such as seedlings and fertilisers as well as inadequate irrigation and harvesting systems, which hinders productivity and yield rates. And lastly, with a population of roughly 200 million people, Nigeria’s agricultural productivity is insufficient to meet the food demand of its growing population, thus increasing the demand and supply gap in Nigeria.
As part of efforts to reverse this trend and cause a transformation in the nation’s agricultural sector, the Federal Government, through the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), recently struck a partnership deal with Brazil and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA).
This deal was sealed at the First Agricultural Research and Innovation Fellowship for Africa (ARIFA) Symposium, held at Federal University of Viçosa, Brazil, with the theme “Pedagogic Retooling Strategy for Africa’s Agricultural Research and Innovation System: Lessons from Brazil.”
The essence of the deal is for Nigerian institutions like TETFund to be able to send young students to Brazil to study how it was able to use agriculture to drive it’s economy into the stage it is at the moment. Already TETFund is currently sponsoring about 120 scholars who are running their Masters and PhD programmes in Brazil with the sole objective of under-studying their Agricultural Revolution Policy and its impact on the national economy. This latest agreement would therefore empower TETFund to be able to do more of this.
Nigeria stands to benefit a lot from this collaboration, considering the advantage of similarities the two countries have in climate, ecology, and types of crops, which means that whatever grows in Brazil will also grow in Nigeria.