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Back to the future with agriculture

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The official calls for boosting the employment prospect of the nation’s teeming youths through economic diversification have been persistent in recent times.

Since the advent of President Muhammadu Buhari administration, the government has kept the airwaves lively from its optimistic forecast that millions of Nigerians will leave the unemployment market as modalities are being made to create an unlimited number of jobs.

Of course, that has continued to raise hopes and made many job seekers across the country in recent times to be pleasant over the federal government’s job opportunities especially in the area of agriculture. Indeed, the catalogue of the ruling government job creation programmes is infinite. Regrettably, rather than bring unemployment cases to a lower rate, government and its officials, due to their own negligence in handling such programmes have caused unemployment to rise astronomically.

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However, the recent reassurance by the federal government of targeting about five million jobs for farmers through the 995 million pounds agricultural mechanisation programme is highly commendable. Nevertheless, the point must be noted first of all that this is not the first time that rosy pictures have been painted for millions of Nigerians to get employed by diversifying the economy through agriculture.

In the past, the ruling government had presented varying optimistic figures under several programmes that it targets to capture citizens in the labour market and make them gainfully employed. But, the frustrating aspect is that the energetic human capital, young people seem not to be carried along. Under the current laudable initiative, the ruling government’s aim is to boost food security for the country, create jobs and diversify the economy from oil.

According to Andrew Kwasari, a senior special assistant: “When the programme takes off fully, it would create at least five million jobs and thirty-five million nutritional effects and economic impact on Nigerians”. The most depressing issue about agriculture initiatives aimed at diversifying the economy is that the programme on several occasions ends up with rhetoric without achieving the desired result. Once upon a time, there was “operation feed the nation” and “green revolution” among others.

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Arguably, agriculture has the most extraordinary story of our dear nation. Anyone who has followed events in agriculture since independence will be disheartened that the sector is neglected at a time the nation’s population is growing faster than it can feed itself. No doubt, oil money is said to be cheap because it does not involve planting, cultivating and waiting for what seems like an eternity before harvest time. Therefore, government past and present chose to explore and exploit oil wealth to the detriment of agriculture.

Indeed, these are perilous times for Nigerian farmers as desertification, global warming and other climate change-associated issues are making farming difficult for smallholder farmers. In spite of these difficulties, farm produce hardly get to the market on time thereby incurring huge waste as they perish due to poor road network or unavailability of storage facilities.

Undoubtedly, no one would applaud the government, past or present, for the mess they have made of the country’s agricultural progress with the discovery of oil. The crude oil discovery and indiscriminate importation of most of the nation’s consumables from other countries saw a decline in the number of farmers across the country. Regrettably, the percentage of farmers in the country today is between a single and double-digit. The above trajectory, notwithstanding, has seen the nation poorer in agriculture performance and the obvious consequences of the coronavirus pandemic have left the nation poorer.

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The decision by the ruling government to embrace agriculture should be made to gain fast attention for several reasons. First, like President Buhari rightly noted in his Salah message to Nigerians and farmers, in particular, we must grow our own food sufficiently because we do not even have money to import.

Second, oil as a mono-economic drive is dangerous and despite its drastic global fall in price, it is gradually falling out of fashion as industrial energy-consuming nations across the world are going for a cleaner and climate-friendly energy by way of using solar or wind energy. Of course, the growing curiosity among government and its officials about how long it would take before the crude beneath the earth in Nigeria dries up is another kettle of fish.

No doubt, turning back the clock by embracing agriculture is one of the best solutions that will help reposition fragile Nigeria’s economy. The government should know that nowadays, farming is highly based on technology with the introduction of modern seeds, big machines and computer hence farm yields in developed countries are usually doubled. Therefore, to chart a way forward, the ruling government needs to be clear about what it is trying to achieve.

In this regard, the government should be seen to honestly seek improved seeds, mechanised skills and educate farmers about new farming techniques so that the nation can produce enough food to feed itself as well as compete favourably better in the international market space.

To buttress the above postulations, Kwasari noted: “…services ranging from land preparations to harvest and storage will be provided timely and on-demand to all farmers …over 142 agro-processing factories will be situated across all senatorial districts to create aggregation, intermediary and final processing of increased farm outputs on the back of the 632 primary production supporting service centre in the respective local government.” It is important for the ruling government to holistically adhere to its pledge because it might be very hard to find young farmers to embrace agriculture if all government does is to talk about benefits without giving its support.

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