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OBSERVATION: Back To The Land As We Celebrate World Food Day

By Ademola Yaya BEFORE its flag independence, Nigeria was remained for the production of cash crops like palm oil, cocoa, groundnuts, coffee and cotton, with subsistence farmers across the land producing most food crops for local consumption. As a matter of fact, agriculture was the indigenous occupation in Nigeria. In the 1950s and 1960s, it…”
October 26, 2020 3:19 pm

By Ademola Yaya

BEFORE its flag independence, Nigeria was remained for the production of cash crops like palm oil, cocoa, groundnuts, coffee and cotton, with subsistence farmers across the land producing most food crops for local consumption. As a matter of fact, agriculture was the indigenous occupation in Nigeria. In the 1950s and 1960s, it contributed 85% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings; 90% employment generation; and 80% Gross Domestic Product. Under the Regional Government, when Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the Premier of the South-West Region, revenue realised from Cocoa was used to build Liberty Stadium, University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, amongst others. His counterpart in the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, used agriculture proceeds to build the famous Groundnut Pyramids, Kaduna Textiles that employed over 30,000 people, build Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Ahmadu Bello Stadium, New Nigeria Development Company and construction of many roads.

With the discovery of crude oil at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta on Sunday, January 15, 1956 and the first commercial production in 1958, oil boom ensued. By 1960, subsistence farming was no longer profitable. This forced rural dwellers to leave their farms; thereby deserting working on farms where they had produced export crops while educated youth moved to cities for white-collar jobs. Consequently, prices of food items began to rise, which gave way to importation of foods.

With continuous exodus of people from the agricultural hinterland to the cities, prices of both locally produced and imported foods continued to rise. Hence, in May 1976, General Olusegun Obasanjo’s military government launched Operation Feed the Nation (OFN). OFN was a deliberate and calculated approach to solving Nigeria food problems via massive food production and introduction of modern technology and high-yielding seeds. The military government appealed to high schools, colleges and institutions to be self-reliant in food production by growing their own produce and selling the excess. Aircrafts were procured to spray pesticides; poultry chicks were distributed to farmers; agricultural estates were leased to farmers with extension support from the government. Massive publicity was given to raising interest in large-scale commercial farming with highly subsidised fertiliser.

In 1980, Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s civilian government replaced OFN with Green Revolution. The objective was the same – massive food production and introduction of modern technology with high-yielding seed varieties. After Shagari government, every successive administration has only paid lip-service to agriculture or economic diversification. We have abandoned either mechanised or subsistence farming to sole reliance on petrodollars.

In the 1960s till the 1990s, apart from government, textile mills were the second largest employer of labour. Where is textile today? Dead! How could our situation degenerate to the extent of borrowing 5,000 metric tonnes of assorted grains from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the peak of COVID-19 pandemic? We have so degenerated to the extent that we import handkerchiefs, toothpicks, cotton buds, etc. We even import the petroleum products, having exported the crude oil! Any country that finds itself in this pathetic situation should not expect its currency to be strong. It is not a curse; it will continually devalue.

Everything humanity requires to survive and make life a better place for man and animal comes from the land. The only ones that come from the sky are sun, moon and rain and they are still connected to the land.  Everything we install in outer space comes from the land. Apart from the air we breathe, the most important thing a man and animal need is food. Next to it is shelter, clothing, etc. It is an established fact that a reasonable nation will embark on mass production of goods and services and productivity optimisation in its areas of comparative economic advantage. We have fertile land, natural resource and clement atmosphere. What is required is federal, states and local governments’ deliberate programmes and policies on mechanised farming.

It is not a rocket science. We had done it under both military and civilian governments. To restart however, basic amenities that will make life comfortable in the rural areas must be guaranteed. There must be massive electrification and potable water, good road network, digital network for telecommunications, banks, recreation centres, schools, hospitals, playing grounds and standard fields for sporting activities, among others. Cocoa Research Institute, established in 1964 by the Federal Government, based in Ibadan with its six substations in six geo-political zones must be revitalised. Its mandates cover conduct of high quality research on cocoa, kolanuts, coffee, cashew and tea. We must have a working relationship and understanding with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan. It is a non-profit International Organisation founded in 1967 for agricultural innovations to meet Africa’s hunger, malnutrition and poverty challenge.

We are talking of mechanised farming with agro-allied processing industry, which will bring out real value of farming that can spark off chain of economic activities that will create millions of good jobs and generate billions of dollars as revenue to investors, employers and government. Apart from the fact that millions of job seekers are unemployable, the era of white-collar job is over.  Mechanised farming has capacity to absorb all unemployed.

To kick-start, students in all tertiary institutions, private and public, should be enlisted; corps members under the auspices of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and correctional centres should be enlisted; enlightenment programmes to co-opt the paramilitary and civil servants should be well publicised. It must be a deliberate government policy to revamp our pathetic situation. Petrodollar will not last forever. It is not even enough again. It is regularly being augmented with heavy borrowing internally and externally.

Movement back to the land must be so organised that rural dwellers will be reluctant to go to cities, except it is very compulsory, while city people will be attracted to going to the rural. We must open up all farm settlements across the nation. At a stage, there will be no fundamental difference, apart from the nomenclature, between the rural and the city.

In the last 20 years however, Nigeria has been consistently declining in its attitude to agriculture. In the 2021 budget proposal presented to the National Assembly, only 1.5% is allocated to agriculture, which includes N66billion, N3.1 billion and 110.2 billion for personnel, overhead and capital expenditure respectively. This is grossly less than 10% of the total annual budget specified for every nation in Africa by the 2003 Maputo Declaration, to which Nigeria is signatory, with a target to guarantee food sufficiency and security in Africa.

As we commemorate the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) World Food Day on 16th October, 2020, tagged “Grow, nourish, sustain. Together. Our actions are our future”, we should revisit agriculture. With appropriate funding to agriculture, millions of people can be lifted out of poverty with quicker economic growth. The ongoing EndSARS has revealed that we have army of youths who could be engaged in agriculture. Once hunger is resolved, tackling poverty is a slender matter. Once there is abundant food, which will be very cheap for local consumption and the surplus packaged for export, the value of naira will rise as it was in the good old days and the agitation for increase in workers’ salaries will be less. We should not wait for the sound of the final whistle. It is high time we started.

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