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Poverty Eradication in Nigeria Through Agriculture and Enterprise Revolution

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Circumstances changed radically with the oil boom of the 1970s, as the discovery of vast oil and gas reserves in the strategically significant sub-Saharan nation turned its fortunes overnight. The windfall transformed Nigeria’s agricultural landscape into a gigantic oil field crisscrossed by more than 7,000 km of pipelines connecting 6,000 oil wells, two refineries, innumerable flow stations and export terminals. The colossal investments in the sector paid off, with unofficial estimates suggesting Abuja raked in more than $600 billion in petrodollars in the last decade alone.

Unfortunately, the obsession with non-renewables over all other sectors of the economy eventually turned Nigeria’s boon into a bane. Newfound wealth spawned political instability and massive corruption in government circles, and the country was rent asunder by decades of violent civil war and successive military coups. Agriculture was one of the first casualties of the oil regime, and by the 1990s, cultivation accounted for just 5% of GDP. Farming modernisation and support continued to remain low on the list of national priorities as vast stretches of rural Nigeria gradually plunged into poverty and food scarcity. Deforestation, soil erosion and industrial pollution further hastened the down-spiral of agriculture to the point where it ended up as a subsistence activity.

The fall of Nigerian agriculture coincided with the collapse of its macroeconomic and human development indicators. With income distribution concentrated on a few urban pockets, the majority of rural Nigeria was left reeling under massive poverty, unemployment and food shortages. A widening urban-rural divide sparked social unrest and mass migration into towns and cities. Organised urban crime became as real a security threat as militancy in the Niger Delta region. Nigeria plummeted to the bottom in world economic rankings and Africa’s most populous nation acquired the unhappy distinction of having more than half (54%) of its 148 million people living in abject poverty. The World Bank coined the term “Nigerian Paradox” specifically to describe the unique condition of extreme underdevelopment and poverty in a country brimming with resources and potential. The country was ranked 80th in a 2007 UNDP poverty survey covering 108 countries.

The transition to democratic civilian rule at the end of the last century paved the way for an enthusiastic programme of economic reform and restructuring. Abuja’s urgency for inclusive growth was much in evidence in the adoption of an ambitious blueprint designed to reverse trends and jumpstart a stagnating economy. The Vision 2020 document adopted under former president O Obsanjo lays out broad parameters for sustainable development with the specific goal of instating Nigeria as a global economic superpower in a time-bound manner. The 2020 goals are in addition to Nigeria’s commitment to the UN Millennial Declaration of 2000 that proposes universal basic human rights by 2015.

The realisation of these allied and intertwined objectives depends entirely on Abuja’s ability to bring about inclusive growth by means of an entrepreneurial revolution, while simultaneously correcting massive infrastructural shortages and administrative anomalies. Economies usually begin expanding with an initial agricultural revolution: The case of Nigeria however calls for agriculture to be part of a larger enterprise revolution that efficiently leverages the nation’s extensive resources and human capital.

The intricacy of issues involved here is reflected in the fact that the National Poverty Eradication Programme of 2001 identifies agriculture and rural development as its primary area of interest. The fact that all development has to begin from the bottom-up cannot be overemphasised in the context of Nigeria, where a farming boom can ensure not just food supply and exports but also provide industrial raw materials and a market for products.

Agricultural expansion is critical to economic prosperity across Western Africa, considering the region’s crippling poverty levels. A 2003 conference organised by NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) in South Africa strongly urged the promotion of cassava cultivation as a poverty eradication tool across the continent. The recommendation is based on a strategy that focuses on markets, private sector participation and research to drive a pan-African cassava initiative. What was once a rural staple and famine-reserve food has become a lucrative cash crop!

The NEPAD initiative has strong relevance for Nigeria, the world’s largest cassava producer. With its large rural population and extensive farmlands, the country boasts unrivalled opportunities of transforming the humble cassava to an industrial raw material for both domestic and international markets. There is a growing and well-justified belief that the crop can transform rural economies, spur rapid economic and industrial growth and assist disadvantaged communities. While production grew steadily between 1980 and 2002 from 10,000 MT to over 35,000 MT, there is scope for significant further increase by bringing more land under cassava cultivation. Nigeria must take the lead not only in developing better production, harvesting and processing technologies, but also in finding new uses and markets for what is undoubtedly a wonder crop. Nigeria stands to make giant strides towards inclusive and sustainable development simply through the intelligent and judicious promotion of cassava farming.

The following are some of the most urgent requirements for a successful revolution in Nigerian agriculture:

o Active promotion and establishment of agro-based industries that generate employment, sustain local food requirements and encourage exports.

o Effective steps to modernise and diversify the agricultural economy as a means of buttressing entrepreneurial growth in ancillary sectors.

o Institution of a tariff system that promotes local produce against cheaper imports, together with the removal of institutional barriers against agricultural profitability.

o Subsidies on technologically advanced farm equipment and practices that help boost productivity without any adverse ecological side effects.

o An umbrella poverty alleviation programme designed specifically to promote agrarian reforms while simultaneously improving the quality of life in rural communities.

o Enhanced access to agricultural enterprise loans through a network of regulated lending institutions sympathetic to farming realities.

o Adult education programmes designed to help Nigerian farmers upgrade to locally relevant but modern methods of cultivation, marketing and distribution.

o Encouragement of both public and private sector agricultural research aimed at correcting technological constraints faced by local farming communities.

If Nigeria’s agricultural potential is enormous, it is partly because more than 90% of its 91 million hectares of total land area is arable. While soil fertility is generally estimated on the lower side, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts medium to high yields across the country with optimal utilisation of resources. Combined with Nigeria’s substantial rural population traditionally involved in agriculture, this projection translates to gigantic prospects in terms of agricultural productivity and, by extension, economic resurgence. For a nation emerging out of a troubled past and struggling to attain social, political and economic stability, the ideals of agricultural and entrepreneurial revolution hold vitally important. Because they are also inextricably linked in the Nigerian context, the country’s future position on the world economic stage depends literally on the bounty of its harvest.

Source by Peter O Osalor

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