The agricultural industry is one of the most lucrative industries in the world, especially in the areas of employment and contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of any nation and its export revenue earnings. In the 1960’s, Nigeria played an important role in international markets through it’s agricultural sector. It controlled 27 percent of the world’s palm oil market, 42 percent in groundnut oil, 18 percent in cocoa, 38 percent of cassava and 1.4 percent of cotton. The sector contributed about 70 percent of our total exports in the 1960’s, which fell to 40 percent in the 1970’s and which fell to 2 percent in the late 1990’s. Right now, it’s influence is virtually non existent because of the governments neglect and shifting of focus to the oil and gas industry.
Nigeria is blessed with a huge land mass with an area covering 92.94 million hectares, which includes 91.1 million hectares of land and 1.3 million hectares of water bodies. Nigeria’s agricultural land area consists of 83.6 million hectares, of which 28.2 million hectares is arable land, 2 million hectares of irrigable land, 2.5 million hectares of permanent crops, 10.9 million hectares of forests and 40 million hectares of pastures. Yet, this huge potential still remains untapped. Unfortunately, we have become the world’s second largest importer of rice and a major importer of wheat, sugar and fish, products that can be produced in Nigeria. The country spends up to $11 billion a year importing food items.
The major problem with the industry is the lack of development in the industry to a level in which it can sustain the Nigerian economy. The sector is still informal, rain dependent and lacking mechanisation. Means of transportation by which the farmer could transport his farm produce, be it road, rail road or river transport is virtually non existent. Storage facilities for the storage of farm produce, especially during periods of bumper harvests, are not enough and these causes massive loss of agricultural produce nationwide, almost every year. Also there is an absence of an efficient pricing regime, where certain prices of processed crop items are not the same in other areas. The number of skilled manpower has decreased greatly and women make up to 70 percent of the labor force. Able bodied young men who stay in rural areas, often migrate to urban areas in search of the golden fleece. The sector also needs long term funding and the funds available, which are short term loans, can not meet the needs of the sector.
To tackle this recurrent challenges being experienced in the agricultural industry, the Ministry of Agriculture in Nigeria under the leadership of the Honorable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina and the Honorable Minister of State, Alhaji Bukar Tijani launched the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA-Nigeria), which was designed to restore Nigeria’s lost glory in the world’s agricultural market and which would also play a key role in promoting other sectors where Nigeria has comparative advantage over other countries that are major players in global agricultural business. As mentioned earlier, Nigeria used to dominate the rest of the world in cocoa, groundnut, palm oil, cassava and cotton, accounting for 42 percent of groundnut production, 27 percent of palm oil production, 18 percent of cocoa production, 38 percent of cassava production and 1.4 percent of cotton in the world. Due to the neglect of the sector, Nigeria now imports a whopping N635 billion of wheat, N356 billion on rice, N217 billion on sugar and N97 billion on fish, which is a total sum of N1.3 trillion each year, on food items we can grow locally.
With the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA-Nigeria), the Nigerian government’s focus on agriculture would be as a business and not as a developmental project. The Nigerian government would utilize the transformation of the agricultural sector, to create jobs, create wealth and to ensure food security. It would also focus on value chains where Nigeria has comparative advantage. It would also support youths and women to start and manage businesses in the agricultural industry.
The ATA-Nigeria seeks investment in the following areas;
– Crop production to achieve food security and to provide industrial raw materials in the following crops:
Cereals: maize, rice, sorghum, corn, millet, wheat.
Root crops: Cassava, yam, ginger, potato, cocoa yam.
Legumes: Soya beans, ground nuts, cow peas.
Fruits: Mango, banana, oranges, guava, paw paw, pineapples.
Vegetables: Cabbage, green pepper, carrots, lettuce, spice, onions, melons.
Tree crops: Oil palm, cocoa, rubber, cocoa nut, kolanut, coffee, she nuts, beniseed, cotton, cashew nut, sugar cane.
Investment is also required in the following areas;
– food processing and preservation involving industries that will use agricultural produce as raw materials,
– livestock and fisheries production which possess great potentials for development. Grazing lands are abundant, facilities for animal feed production are plentiful and in-land rivers, lakes and coastal creeks are sufficient to augment ocean fishery resources.
– agricultural inputs supplies and machinery, water resources development especially for flood control infrastructure and irrigation.
– commodity trading and transportation,
– development and fabrication of appropriate small-scale mechanized technologies for on-farm processing and secondary processing of agricultural produce.
– exploitation of timber and wood processing activities.
These areas listed for investment creates a great opportunity for unemployed youths and people living in Nigeria. Apart from the production of these agricultural items (planting, growth and harvesting of crops and animal husbandry), they also need to be processed and stored and it’s by products used for commercial purposes. The business aspect of the agricultural sector would also create job opportunities for not just graduates like biochemists, microbiologists and food technicians etc, it would also provide job opportunities for people living in the moral areas and increase the earning income for farmers.
The federal government has also made it easier for farmers and food processing companies to get access to loans with a one digit interest loan. The ATA-Nigeria, has also made it possible for farmers to get fertilizers they were not able to get in the past. This is an opportunity that every entrepreneurial minded nigerian must not hesitate to seize.