Back to the Land: What we should have done decades ago with our oil money!

Back to the Land: What we should have done decades ago with our oil money!

“With the downturn in the global prices of oil, we now have to prospect our solid minerals. We have to return to agriculture. Mining and agriculture are our hopes now. We will welcome investments in these areas. We will appreciate an in-flow of   more resources and expertise to help us achieve our objective of economic diversification.” President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria speaking to Council of Saudi Arabia’s Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT) via Flickr
Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT) via Flickr

Indeed, Nigeria has no other choice than to “massively” invest in agriculture and solid minerals so as to address the current oil downturns facing the nation. I emphasised “massively”, because that means a considerable amount of money, which we do not have now, considering that other economic areas have to be funded. However, a great proportion of our income from other sources, e.g. solid mineral and other non-oil income, including the little we currently get from agricultural export, customs tariffs, taxes, external trade, etc., could be utilised if we can plug the loopholes of corrupt practices that have been draining the country’s blood away for decades. And yes, indeed, we need foreign investment in these two areas, agriculture and solid minerals, for success to be achieved and recorded within the shortest possible time.

The agricultural sector in Nigeria is the segment most critical to the achievement of the elusive goal of a diversified economy. If a fully integrated approach is adopted across the value chain of various agricultural commodities for which the nation possesses comparative advantage, Nigeria would rapidly emerge from its current state of dependence on a single source of revenue -oil. It is therefore of the utmost importance to encourage all sections of governments, federal, state, local, executive and legislature to design strategies to accommodate small farmers who account for over 90 per cent of output and activities in the sector, and who have been ignored and neglected during decades of mismanagement and visionless and bad governance.

They (World Bank, IMF, FAO, European Union, etc.) have been advising successive Nigerian governments since we found oil in the 50’s that the oil money should be heavily invested in Agriculture. Our governments, military and civilian alike, never heeded these advices, from Gowon to Jonathan, including even General Buhari’s short military intervention. Now, the reality has sunk in, almost too late. If Nigeria had invested in agriculture in the 1960’s, we would have now been spending at 200 times less than what we will now be investing. And believe me, Nigeria would have been number one producer of cocoa, oil palm, rubber, cassava, mangoes, plantain, bananas, groundnut, sorghum, millet, maize, teak, animal skins etc., and self-reliant on food production.  Imagine the effect now. The country would by now be the most industrialized in the whole of Africa, mainly based on agricultural raw materials, and swell our exports to countries that need these products.

So when people start blaming foreign countries and IMF, World Bank, etc. for our woes, I can tell you these foreigners have been advising (even if we accuse them of selfish interests) our leaders for decades to reverse the reliance on oil and invest in other areas such as agriculture, solids minerals and medium scale industries. It is the raw materials from agriculture that will be used in small industries to eventually service larger industries. Look at how many agricultural research centres are located in the city of Ibadan alone; what have been their contributions, uses and benefit to Nigeria’s agricultural, economic and technological development? The professors and research scientists there are just servicing their pockets due to many reasons, including government’s ignorance and apathy, lack of funding, no motivation and the general corruption malaise that crept up on us.

Yet, remember that the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo remained a lone voice in the wilderness. His efforts in the South West of Nigeria, from Independence to  the late 1960’s, when it comes to agriculture and industrialisation, still remain a feat which no other leader, in any part of Nigeria, including the South West, can emulate or rival till today.

We are a visionless nation or a nation cursed with a bunch of clueless, greedy, selfish, brainless and corrupt leaders. Since the discovery of the black gold, rather than be a blessing, we’ve reversed it to be a curse, instead of investing and revolutionising our mainstay Agriculture, we abandoned it and became importers of virtually everything.

I remember the fraudulent “wheat revolution” during the Shagari era that continued far into the Babangida era. Billions of dollars and naira were fraudulent spent on non-existent wheat farms in the northern part of the country; and the same with the rice revolution in several parts of the country; the Operation Feed the Nation, (I was one of thousands of Nigerian undergraduates in those days who took part in it) which, as we would have it, suddenly metamorphosed into Obasanjo Farms Nigeria Limited (so they say) and of course, we know of the cassava bread of the immediate past administration. Many people, in and out of government today, became immediate billionaires, nourished on our money. Ex-leaders became great and very rich farmers, funded by ill-gotten wealth.

Ironically, with these farmer-turned ex-leaders, agriculture was never on their agenda, vision and priority during their tenure; during the height of their powers; during the time when they had billions of naira and dollars to play with; but the moment they left office, agriculture became a passion for them. There was a need to invest their loot in something, and agriculture became attractive to them. The only positive being that they created some employment!  There is something very wrong with their brains.

For having the present administration aiming high to resuscitate Agriculture, Nigerians should be optimistic that the Groundnut Pyramid of Kano, the Cocoa Heaps of the South-West, and the Palm Oil Rivers of the South-East will resurface AGAIN. We must go back to the land; it is the source of everything a human being exists on. Even the wealth they are looting is derived from the land/soil.

Agricultural diversification can take many forms, but the need to identify opportunities and an extra source of income has become increasingly apparent. What are the critical issues linking diversification into agriculture and international trade? Are they competitive, or even antagonistic, concepts in the broader context of food security and agricultural development? Are they complementary and synergistic and, if so, how? Or are they two ships passing in the night which have little if any linkage? There is no doubt that there is conventional wisdom regarding divergence from oil to agriculture as a desirable strategy for national and economic development.

What are the effects on production, consumption and trade as well as the implications for price and income variability and overall economic performance? There are two supposed advantages of a policy of diversification – expanded sources of income/revenue and employment. In a world of economy-wide reforms, including trade liberalization, deregulation and privatization, is diversification from oil to agriculture a relevant policy objective? I conclude that such diversification as a policy goal is very relevant and will eventually save Nigeria and Nigerians.

Nigeria’s unworkable and non-working agricultural policy must be revisited and overhauled. I will take the liberty of refering to the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN)’s summary of Nigeria’s agricultural policy, the first of which was in 1988, and was expected to remain valid for about fifteen years, that is, up to year 2000:

“The Agricultural Policy

Nigeria’s agricultural policy is the synthesis of the framework and action plans of Government designed to achieve overall agricultural growth and development. The policy aims at the attainment of self-sustaining growth in all the sub-sectors of agriculture and the structural transformation necessary for the overall socio-economic development of the country as well as the improvement in the quality of life of Nigerians.

The Broad Policy objectives Include:-

  • Attainment of self-sufficiency in basic food commodities With particular reference to those which consume considerable shares of Nigeria’s foreign exchange and for which the country has comparative advantage in local production;
  • Increase in production of agricultural raw materials to meet the growth of an expanding industrial sector;
  • Increase in production and processing of exportable Commodities with a view to increasing their foreign exchange earning capacity and further diversifying the country’s export base and sources of foreign exchange earnings;
  • Modernization of agricultural production, processing, Storage and distribution through the infusion of improved technologies and management so that agriculture can be more responsive to the demands of other sectors of that Nigerian economy;
  • Creation of more agricultural and rural employment Opportunities to increase the income of farmers and rural dwellers and to productively absorb an increasing labour force in the nation;
  • Protection and improvement of agricultural land resources and preservation of the environment for sustainable agricultural production;
  • Establishment of appropriate institutions and creation of administrative organs to facilitate the integrated development and realization of the country’s agricultural potentials.

Features of the Policy

The main features of the policy include the evolution of strategies that will ensure self-sufficiency and the improvement of the level of technical and economic efficiency in food production. This is to be achieved through the introduction and adoption of improved seeds and seed stock, husbandry and appropriate machinery and equipment. Efficient utilization of resources, encouragement of ecological specialization and recognition of the roles and potentials of small scale farmers as the major production of food in the country, Reduction, in risks and uncertainties were to be achieved through the introduction of the agricultural insurance scheme to reduce natural hazards factor militating against agricultural production and security of credit outlay through indemnity of sustained losses. A nationwide, unified and all-inclusive extension delivery system under the Agricultural development Programme (ADP) was put in place in a joint Federal and State Government collaborative effort. Agro -allied industries were actively promoted. Other incentives such as rural infrastructure, rural banking, primary he21th care, cottage industries etc. were provided, to encourage agricultural and rural development and attract youth, including school leavers, to go back to the land. The agricultural policy is supported by sub-policies that facilitate the growth of the sector”.

(http://www.arcnigeria.org/index.php/explore/the-council/our-vision/152-arcn/about/71-agricultural-policies )

A very well-articulated, focused and committed document, produced by the best brains in Nigeria at the time, but which remains just what it was – a strategy; implementable but unimplemented due to the “Nigerian factor” of materialistic, self-seeking, dishonest, indolent bunch of military rulers, politicians and civil servants.

Please go over the seven broad policy objectives above, and fathom out which of them have been, or are being put into practice now, full-heartedly or are working to the best interest of the nation. Where are the fertilisers, the mechanised farms, irrigation projects (the unproductive River Basin Authorities, where many staff have made their fortunes doing nothing), the tractors, the low interest agricultural loans, the improved seeds, the hybrid animals, the rural roads, the rural electricity, the agricultural extension workers, the research institutes results, etc.?

In their paper, “Economic Diversification in Nigeria: Any Role for Solid Mineral Development?”, Olumide .S. Ayodele, Sabastine Akongwale, Udefuna Patrick Nnadozie, (Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, Vol 4, No 6, 2013) posited that “the Nigerian economy has mostly depended on proceeds from the sale of crude oil, at the expense of other sectors such as solid minerals and agriculture that hitherto, contributed significantly to the economy of Nigeria and showed that the solid mineral sector in Nigeria has the potential to contribute immensely to the economy of Nigeria”. Specifically, the paper reveals that the development of the solid mineral sector could help to combat poverty in Nigeria via job creation; especially, given its forward linkage with other sectors of the economy. Most importantly, it could help alleviate some of the problems associated with “enclave” nature of the Nigerian economy that has for too long being vulnerable to fluctuations in global oil prices. To realize these potentials, the paper highlights the need for a strengthening of Nigeria’s existing solid mineral development policy. It also points out the need for the government to create an enabling environment for the private sector to take the lead in the sector.

“Nigeria is at a point in her history, when unless she becomes creative, the economy will collapse completely because it has depended too long on oil and we know what has happened to it at the international market. The other alternative for the country is agriculture and we have all it takes for agriculture to thrive: good soil, vast land and people, who are willing to take any available opportunity to put food on the table and also make money”. This was a speech delivered recently by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adeshina.

The rallying cry of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria must now be “BACK TO THE LAND”. In my town, it is completely normal to keep chickens in your backyard, and have a vegetable patch at the backyard. I frequently see a pair of goats wandering up the road even in cities as urbanised as Ibadan, Benin, Port Harcourt, Kano and Lagos. We have had Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) before, now let’s have the “Back to the Land Movement”, this time as a large scale, government-funded and motivated Agrarian Revolution, led by sincere, knowledgeable and skilled people from all sectors of Nigeria and the common thread for a call for people to take up smallholding and to grow food from the land on a small-scale basis, whether for themselves or for others.

BACK TO THE LAND!!!!

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Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT) via Flickr

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