|Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu|
He said it was unfortunate that, over the years, successive administrations paid less attention to agriculture due to the discovery of oil, a situation, he said, caught Nigeria unawares, and, for that, the country is now grappling with economic problems.
“There is the need for our institutions to be less theoretical and become more practical especially now that the world is changing. The time has come for us to move this great country forward, and to do this, there has to be an end to the blame game.
“Today, I make bold to say that all over the country, what we enjoy in terms of infrastructure are basically projects that were initiated and executed by the founding fathers of this great country. Just imagine if the resources we have earned from oil over the years had been committed into developing this country, the same way the one earned from agriculture was deployed by past leaders. Today, Nigeria would have been in the mode of Dubai and Saudi Arabia, if not better.
“However, all hope is not lost as agriculture, which gave us pride of place in the past, is still available to be explored and exploited, and now is the time to do that, especially with the Federal Government’s preparedness to support it at any level, not just to ensure food sufficiency but, also, for national development.
“Before going further, it is very important for us to reflect briefly on an important story everybody knows too well. It is the success story of how agriculture built this country’s infrastructure, before crude oil was discovered. That success story was made possible through the determination, sincerity of purpose, support from the people and some elements of sustainability, not only by government, but, all stakeholders. From the South West, the South East, up to the North, the founding fathers of this country had one major source of income, which was agriculture.
“Through sheer commitment and determination, they did not only create jobs for their people from it, they also ensured their regions benefitted largely by providing the necessary social infrastructure as well as offered free education in some cases. The story of the groundnut pyramid in the North, cocoa in the West, palm oil, here, in the East and rubber in the Midwest is, today, relayed with relish. But, I wonder, if we so love the outcome of that endeavour, why, then, do we shy away from it?
“The global food security index rates Nigeria the 80th and among the top countries that produce protein food crops. It is also the third, in the production of groundnut, after India and China. Unfortunately, groundnut is not considered as a foreign exchange earner, in any way. That began to happen the moment the popular pyramids disappeared, on sighting crude oil. That success story is only reflective of the fact that agriculture is the way to go, especially with what is happening all over the world.
“Those who abandoned agriculture and migrated to cities for greener pastures and now coming back for the greenest pastures and God-given opportunity they failed to acknowledge in the past. For lack of vision, we relegated agriculture to the background. The most painful aspect of it was that while retired generals have been going back to land to cultivate, able-bodied men and women felt it was not their business to veer into food production.”
The former Abia governor also praised the federal government’s zeal in ensuring that the agriculture project becomes an overwhelming appeal to the entire country, as is evident in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Bank of Agriculture, Bank of Industry (BOI) and allied organizations’ approach, all in a bid to ensure food sufficiency and export.
“Apart from food sufficiency and export, the CBN governor disclosed, recently, that this government’s agriculture project will generate about 500,000 employment opportunities in, at least, 12 states. That is the one that has been recorded or projected because I know there are so many farmers in villages that are not or will never be in that list.
“The list does not also contain the growing number of youths who work in my own farm at Ugwueke, Bende Local Government Area of Abia State…”
I am sure some of you here don’t even know that I am also a farmer and I get most of what I eat from my farm. So get it clear that if I come here to tell you about the beauty and benefit of agriculture to nation’s development, I am doing so in my capacity as a farmer before any other thing.
“The Chinese approach in developing agriculture has been described as very pragmatic with methodology tacitly hinged on a policy of “giving more and taking less”. In 1978, the government gave considerable emphasis to land reforms and subsidies in an effort to assist farmers and give agriculture the priority it deserves.
“By 2002, it introduced subsidy policies for grain production, superior crop varieties, purchase of agro-machinery and tools, in addition to granting general subsidies for agricultural insurance premiums, among others. By 2013, significant outcomes and accomplishments had started to manifest, as China’s grain output grew for the tenth consecutive year and exceeded 600 million tons, while the outputs of cotton, oil plants, sugar plants, meat, eggs milk and fruit peaked at 6.31 million tons, 35.31 million tons, 137.59 million tons, 85.36 million tons, 28.76 million tons, 35.31 million tons and 61.72 million tons respectively.
“We have seen administrations campaign seriously about encouraging agriculture. But the question is…what followed this campaign, virtually nothing. Merely coming out on television and radio compelling youth, whose vision has become larger than rural life, to go back to land is not enough without incentive.
In my reckoning, I believe it is not enough to begin with this momentum and slow down or out rightly apply the brakes later. Government, individuals, corporate organizations and stakeholders should never give up in this campaign and subsequent implementation.
“Even if by 2017 and beyond, we have enough to feed ourselves and more than enough for export, I will still implore all to sustain the campaign and also ensure that those who have towed the path of humility by going back to the farm are encouraged financially, morally and otherwise. Moreover, our appetite for consuming foreign food items should be highly discouraged just as all tiers of the government should put policies in place to ensure farmers don’t work in vain.”