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Footprints in Nigeria’s journey to agricultural development


Femi Ibirogba details the history of agricultural economy in Nigeria, its challenges and prospects.
The Royal Dutch Shell laid the first crude oil pipeline in the country from the Oloibiri field to Port Harcourt on Bonny River to access export facilities. Nigeria exported its first crude oil in February 1958 from the Oloibiri oil field, signaling the death of proactive and sincere pursuit of agricultural development.

Professor Johnston Mellor divides agriculture into three stages: Traditional Agriculture; Technologically Dynamics Agriculture -Low Capital Technology and Technologically Dynamic Agriculture – High Capital Technology.

He postulates that traditional agriculture is a technologically stagnant stage in which production is increased largely through slowly increased application of traditional forms of land, labour and capital.” Declining income and productivity per unit of an input is a common feature of this phase.

The second stage, he said, is characterised by technological changes that substantially increase the efficiency of agricultural processes and raise the rate of increase of agricultural production. The critical characteristics of stage II, as compared with stage I, are the constant generation and application of technology which is facilitated by a complex institutional framework, including imported and locally developed technologies. Nigeria appears to be stranded at this stage.

Mellor said the third stage is when agriculture has much of its relative importance in the generation of the National Income. Agriculture of various developed countries is included in this stage. If the process of development continues from stage II, a time will come when both the agricultural and the industrial sector are highly developed through interdependence.

The theory argues that the most crucial hurdle is transforming the agriculture of a state from the intermediate to the third stage of development.

Based on the foregoing, Nigeria has found itself stuck in the Mellor’s second stage not because of scarcity of resources, but for negligence and unwillingness to think beyond petro-economy.

Agric history in Nigeria
The country has a large expanse of land estimated at 91 million hectares, out of which 81 million hectares are said to be arable. Most parts of the country experience rich soil, well distributed rainfall, not to mention the warm year-round temperatures.

Before Nigeria’s colonisation, ancestors were sustained primarily on farming as the major occupation with the use of crude implements. Nevertheless, they produced enough food crops to feed themselves like most other Africans and also produced cash crops used for trade by barter system.

The colonial era in Nigeria (1861 to 1960) placed emphasis on research and extension services. One of the prominent steps of the era was the establishment of the Department of Botanical Research in 1893 in the former Western Nigeria. The department was saddled with the responsibility of conducting research in agriculture. In 1905, the British Cotton Growers Association acquired 10.35 square kilometers of land at the site now called Moor Plantation, Ibadan, now housing The Federal College of agriculture; the federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology and Institute Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), for growing cotton to feed the British Textile Mills. In 1910, Moor Plantation, Ibadan became the headquarters of the Department of Agriculture in Southern Nigeria, and a Department of Agriculture was established in the North in 1912.

A federal central Department of Agriculture was formed in Nigeria in 1921, after the amalgamation of the North and the South. The major policy of the department was to increase production of export crops for the British market.

The post-colonial period policies were formulated to actualise more equitable growth in agriculture. The earlier surplus extraction policies were quickly translated into the pursuit of an export-led growth. This led to the demarcation of the country into the Western Region (cocoa), Northern Region (groundnut) and Eastern Region (oil palm), and sequel to this, there was cocoa production revolution in the western region which successes were well renown as the sources of revenue for the first television in Africa; University of Ife, the Cocoa House edifice in Ibadan, among other achievements associated with cocoa economy.

The groundnut pyramid also emanated from a focus on the northern Nigeria’s strength in groundnut production, while the eastern Nigeria became famous in the production of palm produce.

Some of the specialised development schemes initiated or implemented during this period included Farm Settlement Schemes, Operation Feed the Nation, launched in 1976; River Basin and Rural Development Authorities, established in 1976; Green Revolution Programme, inaugurated in 1980; The World Bank-funded Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs).

National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP) was an agricultural extension programme initiated in 1972 by the Federal Department of Agriculture during General Yakubu Gowon’s regime. It aimed at bringing about a significant increase in the production of maize, cassava, rice and wheat in the northern states through subsistent production within a short period of time. The programme was designed to spread to other states in the country after the pilot stage that was established in Anambra, Imo, Ondo, Oyo, Ogun, Benue, Plateau and Kano states.

Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) evolved on May 21, 1976 under the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. It was launched in order to bring about increased food production in the country through the active involvement and participation of everybody in every discipline, thereby making every person capable of partly or wholly feeding himself or herself. Under this programme every available piece of land in urban, sub-urban and rural areas was meant to be planted while government provided inputs and subsidies.

The River Basin Development Authority (RBDA): Decree 25 of 1976 established 11 River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs). The initial aim of the authorities was to boost economic potentialities of the existing water bodies, particularly irrigation and fishery, with hydroelectric power generation and domestic water supply as secondary objectives. The objective of the programme was later extended to other areas, covering production and rural infrastructural development.

The Green Revolution was a programme launched by former civilian President Shehu Shagari in April 1980, aimed at increasing production of food and raw materials in order to ensure food security and self-sufficiency in basic staples. Secondly, it aspired to boost production of livestock and fish in order to meet home and export demands and to diversify the nation’s foreign exchange earnings through production and processing of export crops. This was never achieved.

National Fadama Development Project (NFDP): The first National Fadama Development Project (NFDP-1) was designed in the early 1990s to promote simple low-cost improved irrigation technology under World Bank financing. The main objective was to sustainably increase the incomes of the Fadama users through expansion of farm and non-farm activities with high value-added output. The programme covered 12 states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Kebbi, Lagos, Niger, Ogun Oyo, Taraba, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). It adopted community driven development approach with extensive participation of the stakeholders at early stage of the project.

Roots and Tuber Expansion Programme (RTEP) was launched on 16th April 2003 under Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. It covers 26 states and was designed to address the problem of food production and rural poverty. At the local farmer’s level, the programme hopes to achieve economic growth, improve access of the poor to social services and carry out intervention measures to protect poor and vulnerable groups. At the national level, the programme is designed to achieve food security and stimulate demand for more affordable staple food. Small holder farmers with less than two hectares of land per household were the targets of the programme while special attention was paid to women who played a significant role in rural food production, processing and marketing. RTEP also targeted at multiplying and introducing improved root and tuber varieties to about 350,000 farmers in order to increase productivity and income.

Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) was launched in 2011 by the Dr Goodluck Jonathan- led government with the aim of changing the perception about agriculture as a development issue instead of pure business.The vision in the transformation strategy is to achieve a hunger-free Nigeria through an agricultural sector that drives income growth, accelerates achievement of food and nutritional security, generates employment and transforms Nigeria into a leading player in global food markets to grow wealth for millions of farmers. To achieve this vision, the value chain approach was emphasised. Fertilizer procurement and distribution, marketing institutions, financial value chains and agricultural investment frameworks were proactively emplaced.

Problems of agriculture in Nigeria
Oil discovery in commercial quantity together with the subsequent over-reliance on the revenue accruable from the oil-based economy constituted and still is a great distraction to the development of agriculture in Nigeria. Though official programmes were designed, commitment to non-oil industry development has been very poor both at the federal and state levels. However, some of the other challenges include land tenure system; poor farming infrastructure; inadequate financing; paralysed extension services; inadequate financing and too much emphasis on production of raw materials without value chain development.

While tracing the root of the rut in agriculture in the country, Professor Femi Mimiko, past Vice Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, said there was no questions about the undermining of Nigeria’s agricultural sector by the wholesale focus on crude oil extraction.

He added that with the increasing focus on crude oil, agriculture was relegated and became a metaphor for the sustained neglect of other sectors of the economy, saying what the crude oil engendered was an enclave of economy that has no bearing with the larger sector either in productive capability or job creation potential.

Arable land is needed for agriculture, but land ownership in Nigeria is via land tenure. Many Nigerians who would go into agriculture get disappointed, no thanks to the rather unfavorable and discouraging land utilization laws embedded in the land tenure systems in Nigeria.

Basic infrastructure for mass crop production such as dams and irrigation facilities; mechanical means of land preparation; storage and processing facilities are still in short supply.

Poor financing is a strong factor against agricultural development in Nigeria. Thousands of smallholder farmers are find it difficult going into commercial agriculture, and restriction to subsistence agriculture can neither help farmers to get adequate income nor help the country to achieve food security and industrial development. Mechanised and large scale farming requires not only a stable source of funding but also a reliable market to mop up farm produce at reasonable prices.

Reasonable prices for agricultural produce or raw material are heavily dependent on a developing or well developed industrial sector. Nigeria has a serious challenge developing local industries for reasons hovering over power failure, heavy multiple taxation system, very difficult business registration and documentation procedures and alarming rate of corruption.

Mr Samuel Ajileye, a chartered accountant and audit expert, said his experience auditing firms’ accounts revealed a startling fact: that a diesel-powered industrial sector is not sustainable, hence giving room for corner-cutting activities of firms defying common business regulations and laws.

Prospects in the sector
Former National Coordinator of the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP Nigeria), Professor Damian Chickwendu, said the agricultural sector of the country has great potentialities in term of job creation, revenue generation to the government, corporate entities and individual players in the sector if the tempo of investment in the sector is aggressively sustained.

He, however, said the government had, in the last seven years, demonstrated commitment to agricultural productivity and food security, contrary to views of some experts on the 2018 allocation to the sector.

Professor Mimiko, on the other hand, said though the agricultural sector has great potential, the Nigerian situation calls for critical thinking on how investments could be channeled into the sector to expand the scope mechanization, explosion of production, and ultimately, backward integration.

The political scientist recalled that up till about the end of the civil war, agriculture was the mainstay of the economy, employing more than half of the population, saying the age of science and technology in agriculture should explode the job-creating potential of the sector.

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