“What makes a nation great is knowing what she wants, how to get it and become the best at it”. For long, Nigeria has been a jack of all trade, master of none. In history, Nigeria’s economy traditionally was based on agriculture and trade, which thrived profoundly under colonial rule, beginning in the late 19th century. The need to pay taxes to the colonial government forced Nigerian farmers to replace food producing crops with cash-producing crops, which the government bought at low prices and resold at a profit. When Nigeria found itself importing a lot of food, various agricultural plans and policies were put in place to try producing cheaper food in sufficient quantities. Examples of these were the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), and Green Revolution (GR), and the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP). Some of the techniques involved in these different programs included large irrigation schemes, expansion of credit, using high-yielding seeds, dismantling the Commodity Boards, liberalizing trade, introducing incentives to boost farmer’s outputs, and assisting wheat-producing states. In addition, other aspects of agriculture (besides just farming crops) were started, including forestry and fisheries.
Although, agriculture is still part of the domestic economy today, but by the late 1960s, oil had replaced cocoa, peanuts, and palm products as the country’s largest foreign exchange earner. With oil money, Nigeria started importing raw materials from other countries, and as a result, manufacturing became established. Industry in Nigeria grew to include a full range of industries, including but not limited to food-processing, vehicles, textiles, pharmaceuticals, paper and cement. Before the discovery of oil in 1959 in a village called Oloibiri, there had been very few industries. Part of the effects of the oil boom was that there was a significant rural-to-urban migration caused in part by the lure of high wages and consumer oriented lifestyles of the city. This took a lot of the labor force away from the more rural farms, leaving the very young, the old, and the infirm to cultivate the land. Not surprising, agricultural production declined, and so did the export of cash crops. Eventually, the import of crops had to increase.
The relics of Nigeria involvement in agriculture are still seen till today. For instance, the famous cocoa house in Ibadan, in the southwestern part of Nigeria was built with the dividends of agricultural products in that region; many business ventures sprang up due to the boom in the agriculture in Nigeria. While oil wealth has financed major investments in the country’s infrastructure, Nigeria remains among the world’s poorest countries in terms of per capita income. Oil revenues led the government to ignore agriculture, and Nigeria must now import farm products to feed its people while it is possible to cultivate in order to feed her citizens and even export to the outside world. Due to Nigeria’s involvement in agriculture as at that time, different agricultural institutes were established. Nigerian Exporting Council has the record of different agricultural products that we use to export then. Considering this, different agricultural classes, courses were introduced even right from elementary schools to the tertiary institutions since we knew the importance of agriculture. Furthermore, Nigeria entered into bilateral agreements with other countries for economic purpose such as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Organization of African Union (OAU), Commonwealth of Nations, United Nations Organization (UNO) and many others. According to the Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2007, the rural economy that supports most Nigerians is based on the productivity of the land, 33 percent of which is cultivated. Poor management of soil fertility brings about varieties in soil fertility. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) that was created in 1988 by the Federal government to address problems of desertification, oil pollution, and land degradation has had only a minor impact. The ministry of agriculture has in no way visible help the sector except the cases of fertilizer they claim to give the farmers. Despite the government negligence on the issue of agriculture in the country, farmers still practice subsistent farming by planting and maintaining farmland trees and hedgerows to reduce erosion; applying manure to farmland to maintain soil fertility, ensure environmental protection and increase in food supply.
In the 1960s and 1970s the petroleum industry developed, prompting greatly increased export earnings and allowing massive investments in industry, agriculture, infrastructure, and social services. Many of these large investments, often joint ventures with private corporations, failed. Agricultural holdings are generally small and scattered. Agriculture provided 41 percent of Nigeria’s total gross domestic product (GDP) in 1999. This percentage represented a normal decrease of 24.7 percent from its contribution of 65.7 percent to the GDP in 1957. The decrease will continue unless something is done because as economic development occurs, the relative size of the agricultural sector usually decreases. The leading cash crops such as cocoa, citrus, beans, sweet potatoes, millet, plantains, bananas, rice amidst others formed the major exports in the 1960s and early 1970s. chiefs among the export destinations for Nigerian agricultural exports are Britain, the United States, Canada, France and Germany.
A significant portion of the agricultural sector in Nigeria involves cattle herding, fishing, poultry and lumbering which contributed more than 2 percent to the GDP in the 1980s. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization 1987 estimate, that there were “12.2 million cattle, 13.2 million sheep, 26.0 million goats, 1.3 million pigs, 700,000 donkeys, 250,000 horses, and 18,000 camels, mostly in the northern part of Nigeria, which were mostly owned by rural dwellers rather than by commercial companies. Fisheries output ranged from 600,000 to 700,000 tons annually in the 1970s”. Although these estimate may not be accurate but it is definite that the estimate indicate that the output had fallen to 120,000 tons of fish per year by 1990. This was partly due to environmental degradation and water pollution in Ogoniland and the Delta region in general by the oil companies. Decline in agricultural production in Nigeria began with the advent of the petroleum boom in the early 1970s. Thus, agriculture including farming and herding accrue to 17 percent in the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) though agriculture contributed more than 75 percent of export earning before 1970. Since government negligence, poor investment and other ecological problems such as erosion, infertility etc crippled into the system, the export earning of agriculture has reduced to 5 percent. Numerous farm products such as cocoa, kola nut, woods, cassava and the rest were pointers to the fact that we had multiple sources of income as a nation; surplus food supply thus avoiding unnecessary expenses on food supply. A hungry man is an angry man they say which is true of the larger population of Nigeria. Going round the streets in Nigeria, one will realize that people are hungry for daily bread (food) to feed their empty stomachs. Consequently, societal and health malaises like unequal distribution of allocation; agitations by the Niger Deltans, increase in arm robbery; looting of nation’s treasury, gross corruption, unemployment, decline economy, and social inequality, which are abetted by government negligence, health diseases such as malnutrition; obesity, kwashiorkor to mention a few, insufficient provision of basic amenities of which food is the first and corrupt police and customs forces, and others can be curbed if government can venture and focus into this area of agriculture.
Countries like Japan, Russia, China for instance have national products that they export and sell to the world same as other parts of the countries in the world. Before now, the records show how underdeveloped these countries were before they decided to concentrate on something rather than everything. Now, china can stand tall in the world and even shoulder high with the United State of America though we use to see records of bicycles roaming round their streets alone then. Many examples abound to make us understand that these countries focused and championed the course of just a single technology, skill, knowledge and even product before going into others. Sacrificial commitment was given to this single course and today we can see the results. Many of their children were sent to go study abroad in order to learn how to make these things work. After they got it, they came back to their countries to establish theirs.
Governments had paid farmers low prices over the years on food for the domestic market in order to satisfy urban demands for cheap basic food products. This policy, in turn, progressively made agricultural work unattractive and enhanced the lure of the cities for farm workers. Collectively, these developments worsened the low productivity, both per unit of land and per worker, due to several factors which are: inadequate technology, acts of nature such as drought, poor transportation and infrastructure, and trade restrictions. As food production could not keep pace with oil, and groundnuts. According to U.S Department of State FY2001 Country Commercial Guide, Nigeria’s total food and agriculture imports are valued at approximately US$1.6 billion per year. Among the major imports from the United States are wheat, sugar, milk powder, and consumer-ready food products.
Efforts since the late 1970s to revitalize agriculture in order to make Nigeria food self-sufficient again and to increase the export of agricultural products have produced only modest results. The Obasanjo administration for instance made agriculture the highest priority for its economic policy. Yet, Nigeria still has a lpong way to go in this aspect. Therefore, with all these, if the Nigerian government can be dedicated and devoted to the course of agricultural, many problems like inadequate supply of food, high expenses on food supply will become outdated. The level of unemployment among Nigerian graduates will reduce because many graduates will be gainfully employed. In this vein, agricultural produce will increase because mechanized farming will be used and Nigerian exporting earnings will increase because many countries will start relying for supply of agricultural produce.
Furthermore, the quest for power, gross looting of the national treasury by the greedy politicians will reduce to a certain extent because many people will realize that it is only oil the that can give a nation money but that agriculture too is important in that aspect. Therefore, the wicked struggle, killing and wanton destruction of lives and property in order to get to the position of authority in Nigeria will reduce. In a very short time, Nigeria will become a citadel in which other countries will have to come and learn from. Knowledge on agriculture education will be supported with practical experiences rather than just teaching its theory. Bilateral agreements will exist between the country and other countries because those countries that have what we don’t have will to come into agreement with us since we have what they need which is provision of agricultural products. These products will bring achievement to Nigeria because many of them are raw materials for some things. For instance, rubber, coffee, tobacco, palm oil, cocoa and many others are raw materials to many products. An increase in land cultivation, giving of loan for farmers and government involvement in agriculture should be encouraged so that Nigeria can shift from subsistent farming to a mass/national production. Provision of aiding tools, fertilizers, machines that can enhance agriculture on a mass production such as tractors, plow and others will go a long way in helping our agriculture sector.
I strongly believe that if Nigeria focuses on agriculture which is part of both the Nigerian ten point agenda and the Millennium goals, Nigerian will become skillful, knowledgeable in this field and by the year 2020, we will be capable enough to teach the rest of the world as a leading nation in this field of specialty. Thus, the Nigerian government, international bodies, Non Governmental Organizations in Nigeria should put hands together and make this goal achievable and Nigeria will be able to teach, know and produce and reproduce what we are in agriculture.