Revitalising Nigeria’s Agricultural Sector

Published on 28th May 2019

A large number of African countries have a major crisis on their hands. It is the crisis of the youth. It is well known that over 60% of Africans are below the age of 40. Given the stunted pace of development across the continent over the last few decades, this means that a great deal of anxiety exists for both the youth themselves and the governments of Africa-especially Africa, South of the Sahara.

Ordinarily these challenges should not be the burden of Europe, as African nations should be expected to face these challenges squarely. After all, a youthful population should be an asset and not cause for anxiety. The tragedy however is that a combination of factors in the last three decades have rendered Africa totally incapable of dealing with these-as with many other problems. Among them are the following:

- Uncontrolled population growth

- Ill-digested economic theories such as the structural adjustment program-whose application made it impossible for sustainable growth over a period of three decades.

- Excessive borrowing for ill-advised projects which led to an incapacity to repay loans.

- Total lack of industrial capacity and inability to face social problems in education, healthcare and political management.

The result of all these is that an increasing number of young people have finished school and simply can’t find a job to do. Factories, the few that were, have closed. The textiles have shut down, as in the case of Nigeria.

Agricultural development generally declined, and Nigeria slowly, steadily became a nation incapable of rising to the industrial challenge which currently faces us. So, today, extreme violence as exemplified by Boko-Haram, restiveness in the Niger Delta (fortunately on the decline), hopelessness and criminality in Zamfara State – all of these have resulted in a crisis of migration. First, from the rural areas to the cities; and now from the cities across the desert heading for Europe.

This situation makes governments across Africa and especially the Federal Government of Nigeria extremely uncomfortable. We recognise it as extremely undesirable because we know it is neither sustainable nor acceptable. Large-scale migration across the desert through Libya to Europe cannot be seen to be a solution to our challenges. It is not fair to Europe that large numbers of young people should simply cross the desert heading North with no skills to offer, nor definitive purpose of positive contribution to the European economy. Many of them now arrive even without a passport, and therefore constitute a major problem to the nations of Europe. We do not as a people want it to continue and are therefore determined to take steps to bring it to a halt.

Solutions to the Problem

Fortunately for Africa, and for Nigeria in particular, Agriculture offers us huge opportunities for solving this problem, and our current agricultural agenda targets action to create wealth through crop, livestock, tree crop and fisheries production and, most importantly, value addition. We want to take steps to make sure that our children do not continue to live a life of hopelessness. Nor continue to dream that arriving in Europe means instant wealth and comfort. We want to teach our children to work, to earn a living and not continue to be a burden to our European friends and partners.

We envisage that by embarking on this program, we would begin to immediately reverse migration first from the cities to the villages, and even from the cities in Europe, back to Africa. Because it is not for lack of what to do, but lack of will to do what is right.

In today’s expose, there may not be enough time and space to spell out all the details of what we intend to do, but in the agricultural sector as we have shown in the last three and a half years.

We have proved that we can produce our own rice and achieve savings of $5million a day. The CBN Governor recently confirmed that $21Billion USD has been saved on our food importation bill alone in the last thirty-four months.

We are the world’s largest producer of cassava, but no local value addition to convert this product into ethanol, industrial starch, syrups, glues, and even shopping bags as is currently promoted in today’s sustainable agenda. There is a vast opportunity in cassava to convert the leaves and peel into livestock feed for large ruminants, especially. We intend, to achieve this and more, in the current Livestock Transformation Agenda, and have promoted significant investment in the upstream value chain of cassava in the last four years.

Highlights of a Few of our Important Agricultural Value Chains that represent huge market opportunities for development and represent a strong comparative advantage for Nigeria, albeit an untapped advantage, till now:

-Palm-Oil: A time was when Nigeria accounted for 43% of world’s total output of palm oil. We are now down to two (2) % of global production. The few major commercial producers of oil palm in-country have all confirmed a market gap and need to plant over ten (10) million trees, annually.

-Groundnuts: Africa once accounted for 77% of world’s total output of peanuts. The famous pyramids of Kano where groundnuts from North-Eastern Nigeria.

-Tomato: We are the fourth largest producer of tomato in the world, but we have almost zero capacity to add value to it or preserve it.

-Fruits: We have some of the finest mango, oranges, and avocado pears in the world, but we have zero capacity for fruit juice concentrate production.

-We have 20 million cows. One-third of cattle in West Africa are in Nigeria, but we have the lowest milk production capacity of all the cattle in the world, of less than 1 litre per cow.

-Fish: We still spend close to $650 million a year importing fish.

-Cotton: Nigeria had one of the biggest textile industries in the world in the 60’s and early 70’s. We had 145 Mills; Today, that industry has totally disappeared. Textiles mills are gone. Cotton production down to near zero.

-Sugar: We depend almost completely on brazil for sugar production. Although some local effort is being carried on now in Nigeria. It will require significant support to fully industrialise.

-Cashew nuts: We are among the world’s top 7 producers of cashew, but we depend on Vietnam and India for the processing of the cashews and export to Europe.

-Goats and sheep: We are among the largest producers of goat and sheep, although accurate figures don’t exist on these things. Yet the demand for goat meat in the middle-east is so huge it can hardly be met.

-We were among the top producers of cocoa, today we have declined to number seven, globally.

-Jute bags: Four decades ago, we had jute-bag factories for packaging our grains. Jute and Kenaf grow in Nigeria. Today we are totally dependent on polypropylene bags for packaging agro-produce. This is thoroughly unhealthy and unsuitable according to FAO.

-Hides and skins: Hides and skins constituted our major export items three decades ago. Today they’ve disappeared from our export list. Though we are aware they are still exported, in certain cases illegally to other countries.

-Sorghum: we are the second largest producers of sorghum today in the world, but we are challenged by problems of aflatoxin and the yield per hectare is pathetically low.

-Pineapples: whoever has tasted Nigerian pineapples will know that it is indeed a delicacy. We made efforts in the past to produce and export. We failed to sustain it. We have some of the finest avocado pears in the world. We have not been able to register in the world as a major shea butter exporter. We could do the same in pawpaw and passion fruit.

-Bananas- banana production thrives well in the Cameroons, right next door to us here. We have very good Cavendish bananas but not produced to international standards.

These and many more are the things which lend themselves to easy exploitation. And these are the things we want to seek, of you our European partners to do because the migration must and can stop. What is needed therefore is the following: Mobilisation of young people in different parts of the country, Creation of awareness of the potential within Agriculture, Organising the youth into geo-cooperatives in the various states of the federations and Acquisition of land for them.  Sourcing of capital is our biggest setback. Agriculture still receives less than 5% in credit from the financial institutions, forcing Government to unwillingly participate in direct credit support through the Central Bank’s Anchor Borrower Program. There is also need for improvement in research and organic agro-practices.

We seek help as we search for cheaper credit for agricultural practices, machinery, which can help young people apply themselves to these activities because the hoe and cutlass belong to a bygone age. Training of these same young people within Nigeria on agricultural best practices and standardisation-so the things we produce can meet European and world standards without the deficit of chemical and unnecessary fertiliser infestations is necessary.

Our request therefor is this-that we join hands with the European Union to set up a joint operation here in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture to plot out details of when and where these activities can happen, and to source for whatever support you can offer.

We believe that in doing this, we shall find longer term solutions far cheaper and more humanly acceptable than the burden of having to patrol the Mediterranean in a desperate effort to prevent this armada of young people invading European shores.

In implementing this, we would like to set up a technical team to break down our areas of need, areas of operation and to tabulate the gains which will follow very swiftly. A Cost-Benefit Analysis would show estimates of this. This embarrassment is something we want to end.

What we want to do

Having enumerated these items and these issues, our contention is that by returning our attention to agro-industry, with strong support from the European Union member states, and our development partners, we can within a few years, see the desirable results even in reverse migration from the diaspora to Nigerian cities, and from the cities to the rural areas. The strength and unity of our country depends on these rural areas’ development and growth as a country with strong roots with an economic backbone steeped in agro-industrialisation.

By Chief Audu I. Ogbeh,

Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nigeria

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