Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Future of Nigeria is a Wholesome Agriculture - (Theodora Obianime)

The Future of Nigeria is a Wholesome Agriculture - (Theodora Obianime)

Maslow once said that “You either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety”. Nigeria has reached the juncture whereby we have to make the crucial choice of either stepping forward or staying in our destructive safe zone.
‘The Giant of Africa’, our undisputed title largely due to the fact that we host the largest population in Africa and blessed with many natural resources in Africa as well, in the good old days when we had the matching political and economic sprout to back that up. This is not to allude in any way that we do not anymore.  Agriculture was the economic mainstay of the country during the 1960s marked by a booming economy which can be compared amicably with the oil boom of the 1970s and thereafter. Before the shift to oil, Agriculture was the backbone of the country’s economy accounting for about 57% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) as well as 64.5% of its export earnings. It was regarded as one of the most promising agricultural producers with history marking that we were the number one globally in the exportation of palm oil and exported 47% of all groundnuts. To put it simply, we were a ‘self-sufficient’ country who held their own. 

However, this power wheel was soon replaced by oil which saw a shift in the country’s major focus from agriculture to oil. A mono-economic dependency which failed to translate this economic boom to the agricultural sector in order to further boost sustainable growth and dependency. This caused a downward spiral from being the country which provided 18% of cocoa production to now 8%. While this shift made the country even more economically buoyant contributing to the biggest chunk of its GDP and also makes up for the bulk of the federal government revenue and foreign exchange reserves since the 1970s, it had negative impacts to agriculture. This shift in focus neglected everything else including agriculture keeping us largely dependent on the importation of goods causing a pivotal shift from being major exporters to major importers. Shocking to note is that while we produce 65% of tomatoes in West Africa, we are the largest importers of tomato paste. We thus produce solely to export in order to re-import after going through the process of processing and packaging. A mentality that has cost and is still costing us gravely. Nigeria spends approximately 501 million dollars on the importation of rice and palm oil. Same products that are homegrown and can be produced, processed and packaged properly for sales and distribution if we put our mind and resources to developing ourselves to be manufacturers. This has changed a structure of demand for food and agricultural products by replacing it with the importation of major agricultural products.

Reviving the agricultural economy becomes an enormous and vital task to the country. However, this change starts with exploring the options that we have long neglected and pushed to the back. The business of agriculture is a large and enormous multi-billion dollar market waiting to be tapped into. Economic diversification thereby becomes a necessity to ensure sustainable growth and development, especially with a rapidly growing population. It becomes important to turn to a sector that was designed to ensure national food security of its population as well as going further to investing in agricultural production and food-processing industries to rejuvenate an existing sector that has been neglected for so long. Lastly, bridging the gap created by importation and focusing more on exportation should lay in the major purview of the country. Imperatively, we ensure a modernized, productive and competitive agricultural system which will create wealth, job opportunities as well as a market for these producing farmers. It will further prevent the rural-urban migration problem of move in search of non-existing job opportunities. Furthermore, ensure that this teeming population is guaranteed national food security. Right now, there is an imbalance in the increase of demand without a matching correspondence in production increase. The population keeps on increasing while the food supply does not match this rapid growth. The National Bureau of Statistics states that 60.9% of Nigerians in 2010 were living in absolute poverty.

With this rapid increase and the rising poverty situation, continued reliance on Oil as the major focus of the country’s revenue stream becomes detrimental for the country especially when this robust growth is not directly linked to the agricultural sector. It is not enough that the country makes money but that it is being utilized to ensure sustainable growth and development. In comprehending the boundless opportunities and an enormous revenue stream of this sector, China made the bold move which is the deed of tapping into this market making it dominate on a global scale. Agriculture has become a major part of its country and economy as a whole.

The willpower and capacity to drive this successfully abounds in the country, wherein lies the largest population with a greater percentage of its citizens 35 years and below who are more than fit to work as well as be consumers of such products. Our youth with untapped capabilities and genius ideas for driving the future of our nation remain pushed to the side and left to redundancy. Youths willing to undertake such businesses but lack the financial assistance or opportunities, lands left fallow and infrastructures left to dilapidate. Thus, we are talking capacity, resources and partnership, and a local, regional and global market to drive this sector. Nowhere in the world has it been said or seen that the people do not live and thrive on food hence this is a continuous demand of a lifetime. This is a local, regional and global demand. It has and will continue be a dumb and unfounded decision to not tap into this opportunity from agriculture to agro-allied businesses such as food processing to everything that lies from there down the food value chain lying right in front of us. What excuse do we then have? There is no excuse why we cannot supersede the agricultural glory of the 1960s. No excuse for continued food scarcity and the rising poverty level. Why continue focusing on just one revenue stream when you can have multiple revenue streams? 

Laozi, a Chinese philosopher quoted ‘A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving’. This is just to say that our goals should not be our destination rather there are limitless continuous opportunities even after such achievement to pursue. Many times we get comfortable when things begin to fall in place and forces align. We wallow and bask too long in our achievements and forget that the sky has no limit and that there are other horizons to explore and surpass. It’s not about getting to the top but staying at the top and that we can only achieve by constantly working and thinking two steps ahead of others. The opportunities with agriculture are boundless and we may have fallen along the way but we need to rise up, make the necessary changes and do what has to be done. We may not be able to control the past but we can control where we go next. The future is agriculture. A wholesome agriculture that is modernized, productive and competitive.

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