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Rebranding through agriculture

This was the Nigerian story before the discovery of oil. Having seen the awesome power the black gold conferred on Saudi Arabia, Nigeria jettisoned agriculture. …

This was the Nigerian story before the discovery of oil. Having seen the awesome power the black gold conferred on Saudi Arabia, Nigeria jettisoned agriculture.  Successive governments embarked on importation of grains, turning Nigeria into a granary of imported food crops. Countries like Malaysia which imported palm kernel from Nigeria in the 1960s suddenly overtook Nigeria. States like Benue, fondly called the ‘‘food basket’’, became an empty basket with analysts alluding to the state as a mystic food basket state.  

And food crisis became the issue and the rule in a country lavishly blessed with natural resources. Before we put ourselves in this mess, the old Benue Province, the old Anambra State, the old Mid-Western State and of course the old Rivers State could produce enough food to feed the nation and even export. Animal production was at its optimum.

The foundation stone for food crisis was laid by military incursion into politics. The military government both at the state and federal levels earmarked little funds for the agricultural sector. Defence and national security took over half of the national budget, even though Nigeria has never been in any conflict after the civil war. Their civilian counterpart failed to reverse the unhealthy policy. The implication of this deliberate decision was that successive governments were keen at what some scholars call ‘‘regime building’’ and not ‘‘people building’’ as against the norm in the 1960s when agriculture and education were given top priority in budgetary allocations.

The farmers no longer have access to farm inputs. Fertilizer distribution, for example, became politicised. Fertilizers found their ways to the homes of politicians who hardly need them. Accessing credit facilities by farmers was (and still is) difficult. Farmers abandoned their farms and plantations for townships in search of oil money.

Oil made everything possible, including brazen corruption and the civil war. The petro–dollars kept filtering in until the agricultural sector was destroyed. This also quickened the collapse of the agro-allied industries. The more the nation smiles to the bank with oil money, the more the agitations for resource control, militancy in the Niger Delta and profligacy in high places, making some commentators to describe oil as a curse rather than blessing.  

It is against this background that President Umaru Yar’adua’s administration is working very hard to turn the land into a green belt of food and cash crops for the attainment of food security, wealth creation and the diversification of the economy. Accordingly, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, under the leadership of Alhaji Abba Ruma, has evolved a coherent and holistic policies and programmes to address the myriad of problems inherent in the sector. The minister believes this step would improve animal production, provide portable water and turn every blade of grass in the land into green food crops with a view to ensuring food sufficiency for the citizenry and for export.

To effectively do this, the minister said government understudied previous efforts of its predecessors. Chief among them were Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, Back to the Farm, DFFRI, and National Food Security Programme. Government’s study shows that the programme could not yield the targeted result of food sufficiency and the strengthening of value chain.

There is no doubt that all countries in history which attained food sufficiency rolled out some of the programmes evolved by the present administration. If these policies must work then the federal government needs to increase the budget to the agricultural sector and consistently implement the policies put in place by the current minister of agriculture and water resources. This is against the background that the sector in the last two decades has been grossly underfunded. The citizens too have a role to play, especially in protecting agricultural projects.

Nigerians should be proud to veer into farming as a profession. This way, Nigeria will not just have enough to feed its fast growing population but regain its lost glory in agriculture! This to me will boost the National Rebranding Campaign initiated by the brand, Professor Dora Akunyili. It will be needless to import food to the country as witnessed during the so-called global food crisis. The Nigerian people will have enough to eat, and the complaint in some quarters that Minister Akunyili should first put food on the table of the masses before launching rebranding project will no longer be tenable.

Agbo, Media Assistant to the Minister of Information and Communications, wrote in from Abuja.

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