AGRICULTURE TRANSFORMATION AGENDA: All Motion, No Movement
AGRICULTURE TRANSFORMATION AGENDA: All Motion, No Movement
By Eko John Nicholas
Agriculture is one of the pillars of all economies that are seriously and genuinely committed to developing and harnessing capacities to guaranteeing employment opportunities, food security, industrialization and wealth creation. Achieving these goals demand that governments across the world must be committed to improving the agricultural sector, striving to allocate needed resources to maximize production.
In Nigeria the penchants of the ruling elites for greed and corrupt enrichments have meant that scarce resources allocated to the development of agriculture ends up in their private bank accounts. Essentially, this has given rise to a scenario where agricultural sector remains largely undeveloped, agrarian and subsistence. The culminating effects of this abysmal state of affairs in agriculture, is the huge lacuna resulting in food sufficiency for the teeming populace with attendant effects of malnutrition and insecurity.
This is a situation that has led to massive importation of basic food items to meet the needs of the citizenry, despite the richness of Nigeria’s agricultural potential. This has contributed to depletion of foreign reserves.
The federal government currently spends over N365bn for rice importation; N217bn to import sugar; N97bn for fish and N635bn on wheat importation on annual basis. Between 1980 and 2010, over 873bn ($5.4bn) was spent on fertilizer subsidy. Ironically, no more than 11% of farmers received these fertilizers! Over 776bn ($4.8bn) was estimated to have been lost to corruption (government contractors and profiteers) or an average of 26bn (162.5mn) annually. These scandalous sums of money were frittered away in a country where over 80% of its 170 million populations live on less than $1.5 per day according to UN survey.
Yet Nigeria as a country is endowed with large expanse of land area close to a million square kilometers, if not more, over 33% of which is arable; 13,000 square kilometers of water; 853 kilometers of coastline and one of best variety of climate and vegetation that can support wide range of food crops and cash crops. Less than 30.7 million hectares (76 million acres), or 33% of Nigeria’s land area, are under cultivation. Nigeria’s diverse climate, from the tropical areas of the coast to the arid zone of the north, makes it possible to produce virtually all agricultural products that can be grown in the tropical and semitropical areas of the world.
Agriculture in Nigeria has not always been this bad. The colonial rule saw government’s investments in agriculture and the sector grew rapidly. Nevertheless, it was skewed in favor of export crops (oil palm, rubber, cocoa groundnut etc), which were exported abroad to meet the industrial needs of Britain. This was against the aspirations of the indigenous people who needed food crops (maize, cassava, yam, millet and guinea corn) for their daily survival.
Towards the end of colonial rule, this one-sidedness in agricultural production was corrected, and the various regional governments devoted their time and resources to improving agriculture, and it became the main stay of the Nigerian economy. In fact, during this period, Nigeria became the highest world producer of palm oil and groundnut, and the second largest producer of cocoa and rubber. The need to discourage export of raw agricultural products, gave rise to the set-up of factories across the country, to process these produce, with the resulting economies of scope.
But this gradual march to full scale industrialization was halted by the oil boom and the subsequent dollar rain from the sales of crude oil in the international market. This drove agriculture to the back seat and the ensuing scarcity of basic food crops led to the massive importation of wheat for the production of bread by the Gowon regime. Attempt by the Muritala/Obasanjo military government in late 1970’s to shove up agricultural production through Operation Feed the Nation programs was a failure. Also under Sheu Shagari administration (1979-1983), the acute shortage of food crops led to large scale importation of rice and other basic food items. The government Green Revolution programs subsequently didn’t lead to improvement in the agricultural sector and the economy got worse.
This was afterwards compounded when the Babangida military government jettisoned government direct investment in the economy including agriculture, and adopted anti-poor IMF/World bank induced Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP), in 1986 and consequently scrapped agricultural marketing boards across the country.
Against this background, the so-called Agriculture Transformation Agenda of Goodluck Jonathan, and the appointment of Akinwunmi Adesina, a pro-big business advocate as the minister, though viewed with suspicion by poor farmers but were welcome by the big business world.
But three years after, one of the achievements that the government has so far shown to the world after expending billions of naira on the program is the claim of ending 40 years of corruption in fertilizer sector by purportedly giving 90% of farmers subsidized fertilizers as against 11% of farmers, who got the fertilizers between 1980-2010. Added to this is the building of national farmers’ database of 10.5million farmers. The government is also laying claim to distribution of 55,000 metric tons of improved seeds to farmers and Nigeria being the first country to deliver inputs to farmers through e-wallet!
The above stated achievements notwithstanding, the basic fundamental problems faced by poor rural farmers still remain. Farmers still lack credit facilities and there is increase in post- harvest destruction of farm products due to lack of basic storage facilities. High cost of transporting farm products remain a bane and the lack of access roads to farm sites is still a big problem. This is despite government touted achievements in curbing corruption in fertilizer distribution; the sector is still dominated by profiteers. Agricultural research institutes across the country remain largely underfunded. Basic farm inputs like herbicides are imported. All these challenges faced by farmers have led to poor harvest despite government promise to increase farm produce by 20,000 metric tons. This has led to scarcity of basic food crops and the attendant high cost of food for human consumption and basic feed ingredients like soy meal, groundnut cake fish meal among others for livestock consumption.
From the foregoing, it is evident that under this government or any other government committed to implementing neo-liberal capitalist pro-rich policies, there cannot be genuine investment of the needed funds to salvage agriculture in particular and the economy in general to meet the basic needs of the poor majority. Such government or party is only interested in the wellbeing of the few rich, who continues to get richer at the expense of the working class and poor farmers. To liberate resources for the development of agriculture, there is a need for a working class political party that will nationalize the commanding heights of the economy, with democratic management and control by working people including poor farmers. The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) is built on this program and therefore represents the aspiration of the farmers, workers, market women, youths and students and they are urged to support this party and build it in their various communities.