President Goodluck Jonathan recently said that the on-going agricultural transformation in Nigeria is a centerpiece of his economic agenda that will boost the sector in providing food for all. Despite government effort at achieving this objective, there are still noticeable challenges faced by the agric sector. BANKE ELUWOLE looks at the scenario that created this ugly situation.
Efforts at bringing down prices of major food items in the country by government have not yielded fruits as shown by increasing cost of purchasing food items in the market by members of the lower classes in the society as prices of foodstuff are still very high. The largely subsistence agricultural sector has not kept pace with rapid population growth, and Nigeria, once a large net exporter of food, now imports a large quantity of its food products to complement shortage in local production of foods.
In terms of employment opportunities and generation, the agricultural sector is by far the largest employer of mostly unskilled labour in the rural and semi urban areas as it engages about 70 percent of the labour force in the country. But the appropriate wealth creation and its annual contribution to Gross Domestic Product is still low in comparison with other sectors of the economy.
The high cost of foodstuff can be linked to the state of infrastructures in the country. For instance, the poor road network in the country especially link roads between rural and urban centres destroys some of the food products before they get to their final market destination and the consumers. The survived food products get their monetary value increased to cover the losses through the poor road infrastructure. Another instance is lack of adequate storage facilities by which the perishable food items can be preserved. This is linked directly to the poor state of power supply in the country. Another major causative factor is lack of adequate subsidies or insurance facilities from the federal and state governments to the farmers to cover their seasonal losses in agricultural production.
Mr. Kunle Ajakaye, an economist, said oil has dominated the economy since the 1970′s now making up 95 percent of export earnings and 80 percent of government revenue. Agriculture which used to be the mainstay of the economy before the mass exportation of crude oil has however shrunk because it was abandoned thus making the nation of about 160 million people vulnerable to the volatility of global oil price stocks.
He explained that government that plans to boost food supplies by 20 million metric tons by 2015 is now the world’s largest importer of rice and sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest importer of wheat and sugar.
“The golden era of Nigeria was when agriculture was its mainstay; it is a pity that the sector has being neglected in years back which has led to the growing poverty, unemployment and backwardness to the nation,” he said.
Ajakaye urged people to take agriculture seriously to provide food security for all. He implore Nigerians to take farming from the current subsistence level to mechanized firming so that there can be mass production of agricultural products. This will help to bring down the prices of food items in the market.
He stated that the recent revelation that the country imports over 70 metric tons of tomatoes at an estimated cost of 11 billion annually should jolt managers of the Nigerian economy into action to providing storage infrastructure that will help to alleviate the suffering of large numbers of farmers after transporting their products to the urban centres for sales in the market.
“This revelation made a ridicule of the government this year budget which allocated 81.41 billion naira to agriculture and rural development. Nigerians believed that more focus should be given to the agricultural sector and even with this the sector is still experiencing difficulties,” he said.
Mrs. Abike Ajileye, a petty trader said “we are in the season of the new yam but it is expensive to buy judging from the high budget of money the government has claimed to invest into agriculture”.
Commenting on the prices of other food stuffs, she further said the prices are high regardless of the on-going Muslim fasting which is usually associated with high prices of foods.
She said “the beans, however, is now like gold and only the rich can afford it. It is now very expensive because the wise ones had stock it at home before the fast begun”
Alhaji Raimi Mustapha, a fruit seller, said the recent survey shows that over 60 per cent of the Nigerian population are engaged in either minor or major farming, yet the importation of goods and their costs remains high.
He said that it is unfortunate “the country which is also the second largest grower of citrus fruit in the world after China spends 20 million dollars a year on imported fruit juice while its own produce rots away”, he said.
“Nigeria should be eyeing revival of large-scale farming to break oil curse,” he said, noting that agricultural sector makes substantive contribution to non-oil growth.
He further noted that most factories set up across the country have being left unattended to due to harsh operating environment, lack of political commitment to agro-industrialisation and lack of supportive infrastructures.
Mr. Godspower, a seller of farm products said the prices of food sold in the market are alarming, saying despite government’s effort to improve the sector, they are still lacking in the policy implementation that will improve the agricultural sector.
He then implore governments at all levels to invest more into the agricultural sector because it is believed that it is the major sector that can improve the Nigerian economy.
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