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Entrepreneurs, scientists identify agric as way out of penury


Cocoa pods

FEMI IBIROGBA writes on how the rising poverty level in Nigeria could be combated using agriculture as a supporting weapon.

With estimated 87 million Nigerians in abject poverty, Nigeria is currently ranked the country with the highest number of extremely poor people, officially overtaking India, which has 73 million of its citizens living in penury.  
India’s poverty figure appears more insignificant than Nigeria’s due to its estimated population of 1.3 billion people. 73 million represents 5.26% of Indians who live in extreme poverty.


Juxtaposed with Nigeria, 87 million of the estimated 180 million represents 45% of Nigerians living in extreme poverty.  
The weak growth in the formal economy (0.8% in 2017) suggests that employment in this space will be relatively inadequate to reduce poverty and unstructured nature of the informal sector of the economy, coupled with harsh conditions, poor power supply and inadequate government interventions make the whole outlook bleak.
According to Nigeria poverty statistics, the poverty rate in Nigeria’s south-west of the country is 19.3 per cent; south-south, 25.2 per cent; south-east is about 27.4 per cent; north-central, 42.6 per cent; north-east, 76.8 percent while the poverty level in the north-west of Nigeria is 81.1 per cent.

Locating Nigeria in the demographic transition theory

The demographic transition theory is one of the most important population theories as put forward by W.S. Thompson (1929) and Frank W. Notestein (1945).
It was based on the trends in fertility and mortality being experienced in Europe, North America and Australia, postulating that a particular pattern of demographic movement from a high fertility and high mortality to a low fertility and low mortality when a society progresses from a largely rural agrarian and illiterate society to a dominantly urban, industrial, literate and modern society, bringing a shift of economic prosperity.

In the first stage, the fertility is over 35 per thousand and the mortality is also high, being more than 35 per thousand.

The behaviour of mortality is, however, erratic due to epidemics and variable food supply.

This stage postulates a stable and slowly growing population where the people are engaged in wasteful process of production.
This stage mainly occurs in agrarian societies with low or moderate population densities, low productivity level, high infant mortality, religious orthodoxy, lack of education and poor health care.

In these societies, large-sized families are considered as an asset.
Hence, life expectancy is very low, the development of agricultural sector is at its primitive stage, masses are illiterate, technological know-how is lacking and urban development is limited.

About 300 years ago, all the countries of the world were at this stage of demographic transition.
The second stage of the theory is characterized by a high and gradual declining fertility and a reduced mortality rate.

While the improvements in health and sanitation conditions result in sharp declines in the mortality rates, the fertility maintains a high level, at least in the early second stage.


As the second stage prolongs, the fertility also shows signs of gradual decline.
At this stage, population expands at a gradual increasing rate and afterwards at a gradual subsiding rate, and resource mobilisation becomes significant. The life expectancy starts improving.

Industrialisation, urbanisation and modernisation become prominent.

The large families are no longer an asset and the fertility undergoes a gradual decline leading to a gradual squeeze of rate of natural increase at the tail end of the second stage.

Most of the developing countries of the world are passing through this stage of demographic transition because of widespread penetration of modern medicines and sanitation measures have drastically reduced their mortality rates, whereas their fertility rates are still high and hence a tremendous growth in population.
Countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Iran, Yemen, Kenya and Indonesia belong to the late second stage.


Nigeria is still struggling to leave the first stage of the theory, with relatively high mortality rate, and high birth rate. Illiteracy is still very high some parts of the country and life expectancy abysmally low.

Agricultural potentiality in poverty alleviation

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Audu Ogbeh, while delivering a lecture at St Agnes’s Catholic Church in Maryland, Lagos, on August 26, admitted that the rate the population was growing was alarming compared to food production and employment indices.
Ogbeh said if Nigeria could supply over 40% of world palm oil demand before oil and if cocoa was highest foreign exchange earner for Nigeria before oil, agriculture has the potential to produce food for all Nigerians and raw materials for manufacturing factories, which have capacities to lead the way in the creation of more jobs for Nigerians.
He emphasized the usage of technologies and improved crop varieties that would help the country experience a leap in crop production and overcome poverty.
Director, Department of Biotechnology of the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR), Dr Adekunle Oresegun, while suggesting ways to make agriculture a poverty alleviation tool, said science and technology have made it possible to detect soil and crop compatibility, and every part of Nigeria should identify and plant crops that would give maximum return on investment.  

Animal husbandry, including livestock and aquaculture, he added, are means of sustainable income that could give Nigerians decent means of livelihood.
Dr Oresegun recommended agricultural mechanization at all levels of cultivation, genetic manipulation of varieties (rather than modification) that could translate to faster growth and higher productivity; and post-harvest technology development and application in the value chains to engage more workers and increase value as parts of the measures to make agriculture a sustainable employer of labour and a tool of poverty alleviation.
President, All Farmers Association (AFAN), Ibrahim Kabir, told The Guardian that one of the ways to turn the tide positively is that “The government needs to create an enabling environment for agriculture to thrive by making available to the farmers good seeds and other inputs, storage facilities, and limited protectionism.”


He added that capacity for processing, including mechanization and value addition as well as marketing should be developed, saying, on the part of individuals, agriculture should be done as businesses to get out of poverty.
Head, Agric and Micro Insurance Department, Leadway Insurance, Mr Ayoola Fatona, explained that agriculture could be used to combat poverty in Nigeria by ensuring that investments in agriculture generate high levels of profit rather than thin profit margins.  

High profit margins would make agriculture more attractive to investors, with the outcomes used to combat poverty.

To achieve this, Fatona added, it is advisable to adopt the value chain approach to agricultural investment.  
The value chain approach treats agriculture as a business and it acknowledges that agricultural production must be demand-driven.

“Improvements in the effectiveness and efficiency of the agricultural value chains will enhance benefits to all participants in the value chain, and contribute to food security and poverty reduction in Nigeria,” Fatona said, “and improvements in the value chains can be enhanced by ensuring that risks in these value chains are properly managed.” 
He added that agricultural insurance remained one of the most veritable tools in managing the risks in cultivation, aggregation and across these value chains.

Dr Kayode Ogunjobi, Forestry and Wildlife Department, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), said, when agricultural inputs were readily available and backed up with appropriate policies for production, conversion and storage, poverty would be alleviated.
Mrs Moji Karigidi, a biochemist and product developer at Moepelorse Bio Resources based in Ibadan, said to combat poverty, the government should invest more in agriculture by developing rural communities where major agric activities take place.
She said providing basic infrastructure at the rural areas would not only make lives of rural dwellers better, but also enable them to add value to their produce, adding that fixing power supply challenges would help to combat poverty.
Good road networks to farms, she argued, would make rural areas easily accessible to buyers and processors and farmers could cheaply move their produce to urban centres and markets.
Mrs Karigidi said agriculture is an effective tool to combat unemployment, and this could be achieved by making it attractive to young people.
“I also want to propose that the Federal Government and states should provide irrigated farmland modern machines, improved and high yielding seeds, fertilizer and other farm inputs. Skilled and unskilled labour can then be employed to provide manpower.”
She suggested that the investment could be deducted from the annual sales of the beneficiaries until the investment is recouped.

This, she insisted, could take thousands of Nigerians off the streets if the programme is implemented in each state of the federation.
Dr Francis Nwilene, Regional Coordinator, Africa Rice Centre, Ibadan, explained that to improve on the standard of living of Nigerians and take millions above poverty, the small holder farmers, who represent the bulk of the agricultural sector and 70% of them are responsible for what Nigerians eat, should be empowered to increase productivity.  
“The question is how can you help these people to keep them out of poverty?

We should change the perception of Nigerians to begin to see agriculture as a business,” Nwilene said, “and if that constitutes business, it means that farmers are in business, and this implies producing not only for themselves but they now see it as a source of income in order to provide for themselves and their families.”

On what would help the smallholder farmers and their dependant financially, the Africa Rice Centre boss suggested that the public sector should take the lead, because there is no way the private sector could produce enough quantity of food to satisfy Nigeria.  
“So, you still need smallholder farmers to produce and buy from them to put money in their pockets.

This way, you are empowering them because they know that there’s a ready market that will buy their produce,” Nwilene said.
Lip service to agriculture

CRITICS of the government have argued that claims and pronouncements have not translated to practical investments, budgetary commitment and political willpower to make agriculture a pillar of the economy.
The Maputo and Malabo declarations which Nigeria signed have not translated to improved budget allocation to the sector.

The declarations stipulated that African countries would devote at least a10 per cent of their annual budgetary allocations to agricultural development, consistently, Nigeria has failed to allocate such to the sector.  
Project Coordinator, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), David Ayodele, advocated more investments in certain crops, such as cassava, cocoa, and cashew, among others, for employment of more graduates and farm hands. He said the government should do the talk by investing in agricultural mechanization 
Provost of the Federal College of Agriculture (FCA), Dr Babajide Adelekan, Ibadan, expressed optimism that agriculture could be used for poverty alleviation if the government would do everything possible to increase and stabilise power generation, transmission and distribution, saying industrialisation could not be sustainable using diesel-power generators.

This, he argued, means serious investments and sincerity of purpose. 

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