Buhari’s call to return to farm
On two occasions, President Muhammadu Buhari has appealed to Nigerians to cultivate farmlands for the nation to achieve self-sufficiency in food production and generate increased revenue from agricultural products.
The president’s call is particularly expedient following the twin evils of dwindling oil revenue and economic recession, which have beset the nation with high inflation and increased unemployment, malnutrition and poverty.
In an oil-dependent economy such Nigeria’s, agriculture and solid mineral exploration remain the most viable alternatives for quick economic recovery and stability in the event of plummeting outputs.
When agriculture was the mainstay of the nation’s economy in the 60s, it accounted for over 70 per cent of employment and 63 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, GDP.
Today, however, it is an irony that Nigeria with substantial arable land and weather for all year farming, imports over 3 million metric tons of rice valued at over N517 billion annually. Cumulatively, the country expends over $11 billion annually on food imports such as rice, beans, wheat, eggs, fish, meat, vegetable, milk, tomato paste and fresh tomatoes.
For Nigeria, the high import of food items has given away its job opportunities to exporting nations in Asia, Europe and some parts of Africa. This underscores the imperative of returning to the farms to produce these high-import foods locally.
Consequently, government’s programme on youth employment, food security and eradication of malnutrition among children must include an effective policy on economic diversification with farming in focus.
Regrettably, previous administrations also showed similar interest on the sector as the president but had little results because of the myriads of challenges confronting the sector were not frontally tackled and the farmers properly motivated.
For any meaningful result, the government must think of motivating the country’s large population of young people to take up farming as an occupation.
To do things differently, budgetary allocations to the sector needs to be improved upon. In 2016, the N76.75 billion budgetary allocation to agriculture, representing about 1.26 per cent of the annual budget was viewed by stakeholders as inadequate given the onerous task it has to revamp the nation’s economy through multi-pool interventions and provision of fertilizer subsidies.
According to critics, the amount fell short of the 2003 African Union declaration in Maputo, Zambia, which requires countries to allocate at least 10 per cent of their annual budgets to agriculture.
It is also imperative for government to review its schedule of repayment for agricultural loans issued to farmers by financial institutions and make available facilities devoid of cumbersome bureaucracies for easy accessibility by small scale farmers.
Government should also ensure timely availability of fertilisers at affordable rates and eliminate activities of middlemen in fertiliser procurement and distribution to make sure the product gets to the end users. There’s also need for the promotion of mechanized rather than peasant farming.
Authorities must also address the controversy surrounding a recent policy announced by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, suggesting that farmers would pay for government to provide them with security against kidnappers and other intruders who may want to invade their farms.
In addition, a National Assembly review of the 1978 Land Use Act is necessary to pave way for a land tenure system that allows for private ownership of farmland as the current document confuses many people with the terms “holder” and “occupier,” among other shortcomings.