Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
On Agriculture, and Culture of Laziness
Oluwagbemi Michael II
December 10, 2004
As if the god of agriculture suddenly descended on the government of Uncle Sege the spate of pro-agricultural statements from baba have drawn this writer to the all important sector that is still the bedrock of our nascent economy till date. From downright crass suggestion of committing unemployed poor people to prison if they don’t take to agriculture to brilliant articulation of his government policy on agriculture and its importance as a money generating sector, Uncle Sege must be musing loud to himself on how much he can do with his thirty million naira monthly accruement from Otta- he might as well donate his Presidential salary and bonuses to those poor people he seems to enjoy deriding!
Leaving the often bombarding comments of Mr. President let us focus sharply on the state of agriculture in our country today. Once upon a time, all we had was farming – in the North we grew groundnut, in the East and South-South we grew oil palm and rubber, in the West we grew Cocoa and Yam. That was the good old days, at the advent of the oil boom, we looked away! Our youths deserted the villages and our farms; we desecrated the sacred profession of farming and took on white and blue collar jobs instead. In due time, we imported till our borders busted, and our FOREX account was in the red, then we realized we can’t just get away with this and then the renewed focus from this administration , but are we doing enough?
But before I sound like the ever weeping writer, we should recount the gains of the past five years. For the first time, the agricultural sector have experienced real growth consistently above 5% , new farms are being established, government credit is available, irrigation projects are ongoing in the Northern parts of the country, and we had excess in stock and sold our excess grains to the United Nations. For the first time in many years, the importation of poultry was banned and our local poultry industry is better for it – new investments in the area of poultry and cassava production are very encouraging. Government allocation to the real agriculture sector in form of water, irrigation, credit, fertilizer and machinery purchases have also been stepped up on all levels. May be the rickety form of federalism we practice is also very good for this sector, some state governments like Ogun, Ondo, Cross River, Ebonyi and Adamawa have taken up the challenge and made agriculture a lot more attractive.
But on the downside, the allocation to this sector is still grossly inadequate. Accounting for less than ten billion naira in this year’s budget; quite a paltry sum considering the huge size of the federal budget. Aside from this, even while our harvest is up – the inflationary effect of petroleum pricing have driven up the cost of farming – hence, the price of food in our markets. Untold suffering and hardship has been the fate of urban dwellers, and it is important that we do not neglect this crucial convergence between the governed and the governors. However, the greatest impediments to the advancement of agriculture are Nigerians themselves, we prefer to work and live in the city than farming with our peers in the rural areas. Also, the government has failed to be creative in real policies that would encourage farming especially among our educated class.
On the strength of these assessments, it is important that the government focus on the educated class of Nigerians to produce a legion of farmers that would feed our ever ballooning population. Along the line of our renewed agricultural vigor, we should develop a strong agro-allied sector that would reposition us industrially and would provide succor to our much battered industrial sector.
To focus on the educated class, government would need to harness existing resources. For one we graduate nothing less than 5000 to 10000 students annually from Agricultural universities and agricultural programs in our nation’s tertiary institution. Therefore, there is a need to mobilize these graduates using a special orientation program to be directly involved in farming rather than pursing unrelated careers or seeking civil service positions or teaching jobs on graduation.
First and foremost, government should establish farming villages by putting good roads, good clinics, modern schools and electricity in hitherto barren areas. Plots of land specifically for farming should be set up in these areas as well. Furthermore, in concert with university authorities and specially appointed consultancy firms, graduating students should be allowed to form voluntary partnership with diverse expertise among themselves, incorporate and establish agricultural enterprises that would be able to take up the newly portioned land on completion of the orientation program for free.
As part of the orientation programs, students should be exposed to modern techniques in farming and government should provide central modern equipment leasing centers for each farming community to allow these students enterprise to source for farming purposes. Additionally, a consortium of banks should be put together to provide government guaranteed credit, in form of equity financing to these student enterprise. On completion of the orientation, the newly formed student enterprise would be required to produce a project plan and from this plan, the banks investment managers would chose the projects that meet their standards and provide equity financing (taking up part of the newly established business in return for little or no interest loans guaranteed by the government). In addition, with the banks appointing equity managers to provide advice to the students and keep up with their investments the chances of the projects succeeding would also be boosted.
In addition to this, government should provide credit to private home developers to build low cost housing and sell to these student farmers on credit close to the farm communities, paying off their mortgage over a period of fifteen years. Government can also provide a regulated means of public transport or even provide financing for students that wish to buy vehicles to commute within and outside their new farming communities on graduation. Students participating in the 6-9 months orientation should be granted the NYSC exemption, but should rather sign a binding contract for the lifetime of these projects. Newly created farming enterprise should be able to benefit from existing government program that provide credit for crop improvement, project expansion as well as facility development. Training seminars and free extension services as well use of government approved crop boards as buyers of last resort, should also be offered to these enterprises.
A periodic review of the program should be carried out to ensure effectiveness, and a target of 1000 new farms and half a million hectares of land per academic session should be set to measure efficiency. In one fell swoop by this program, about ten thousand new jobs are created, security would improve, food would become readily available and cheaper, and new communities would be developed to ease the pressure on our urban areas. It is also instructive to mention that it would also achieve the much vaunted policy, of making new mega banks invest in the real sector of the economy while creating new potent customers for them.
It is important that our government begin to take steps to rectify the situation we are in today, if Nigerians are interested in keeping up with their baby making capacity into the next century, then we must develop the capacity to feed these new generation of Nigerians, so that they do not curse us. Nigeria we Hail Thee!
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