The problem of food insecurity is one of the major issues of our times that commands global attention. The recent “World Food Summit’ held in Rome, Italy on November 1996, bears testimony to this worrisome fact. More than 1 billion people in the developing countries lives below poverty line and do not have enough food to meet energy and protein requirements for a healthy and productive life.
A noticeable feature of countries where poverty and hunger is severe is a characteristic high popubation growth rate. To relate specifically with the Nigerian situation we are experiencing a rapid population growth of about 3.2% per annum, with 45% of the population under 15 years of age, the demand on agriculture has undoubtedly doubled, many folds. That is to say, the growth rate of agriculture in Nigeria does not match the proportionate growth in population and industrial requirements.
This ugly situation is attributed to several itching factors. Nigeria has been experiencing a monocultural economy characterized by the dominance of oil on the export scene, since the early 70’s up to the present tinme. (Revenue from oil accounted for over 90% of our total earnings); another factor is the high rate of rural urban migration due to lack of incentives and rural infrastructures for young people to stay in the rural areas.
The unpleas ant situation has also been blamed on the colonial paradigm of Nigerian agriculture which fosters production of raw materials at subsistent level for export to foreign countries, (this culminates in low productivity,
meager income and low savings.) other factors are unpredictable agro-ecological suitation characterized by bi-modal pattern of rainfall which could not sustain an all year round farming in Nigeria, inconsistent and inappropriate policies plagued with unrealistic expectation, failure of government policy to set clear, long term and specific, short time objectives.
In view of the deteriorated state of food production in Nigeria, successive government in the country since 1970 embarked on different strategies aimed at developing the agricultural base of the country, by introducing different agricultural policies and programmes at different times, with a view to ensuring self-sufficiency in food and surplus for export market. The scene was characterised by prosperity budgets, high priorities for the agricultural sector and friendly policies, some of which received international support from IFAD, ECOWAS, UNDP and World Bank assistance.
Precisely, the period of 1970 1996 can be described as a period of major changes in the nation’s agriculture sector. Ranging from 1976 Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) and the River Basin Deyelopment Scheme aimed at boosting domestic food production in Nigeria, this was established by Gen. Obusegun Obasanjo’s Regime. The Green Revolution and Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) located at strategic locations in the country, were introduced by Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s regime, as a way of increas- ing agricultural products to attain self-suffriciency in food production, and to educate farmers through extension services on the new farming technique respectively. In 1984 Gen. Muhammed Buhari’s
administration introduced the school-to-land programme, aimed at co-opting unemployed school leavers into farming, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s regime in 1986, established the Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFFRI), aimed at boosting food supplies and developing the rural areas.
And also in 1991, National Land Development Authority (NALDA) was established, it was aimed at assisting the small scale and large scale farmers in agricultural land development, and preparation in order to mobilize the abundant farmiand and labour resources in the country for productive agriculture.
The National Fertilizer Commission (NAFCON) was also put in place in 1993 for production of fertilizer for farmers use. Today, Nigeria has about 41 agricultural parastatals, charged with diferent task. About 15 agricultural research institute, 13 Federal Colleges of Agriculture, there is also in existence Food Security Programme (Strategic Grain Reserve).
The Federal Government has not just created policies and programmes to favour the agricultural sector but has also embedded in it suit
able institutional arrangement for measuring, monitoring and evaluating the capital projects in the sector. Thirty-one (31) Food Project Monitoring Unit (FPMUS) in the thirty six states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), have been established, and there are other specialized agencies such as Agricultural Monitoring and Evaluation Unit (APMEU), Livestock Monitoring and Evaluation Unit (LIMECU), Forestry Monitoring Evaluation and Coordinating Unit (FORMECU), and Federal Agricultural Co-ordinating Unit (FACU) which undertake regular assessment of the performance of the subsectors.
Also arrangement are at advance stage to initiate the use of remote sensing and satelite imageries to validate agricultural data in the country, there is also an unmbrella Ministerial Monitoring Team, that monitors projects of Departments in the Ministry as well as those of its parastatals and reports directly to the Minister through the Director-General.
With the wide varieties of opinions and approaches to the issues bothering on agriculture, which obviously is, the only vehicle for development that can generate sustenance of other professions, it was noticed that the problem of food crisis continues to prevail, which indicates that the real solution has not been provided.
Can Nigeria still become as she once was, a major exporter of agricultural produce? Days when there were groundnut pyramids in the North supported by cotton, cocoa in the West and oil palm in the East.
THE WAY OUT
Although, experience has shown that sustainable agricultural practice as in Israel, United State and the other re spectable countries of the world, is usually an outcome of a long struggle, against harsh condition and making optimal use of scarce water and arable land. However, the solution in Nigeria is what the government has not be able to unravel, that is a strategy continually elusive in our developmental effort amidst all the numerous policies and programmes set up to bring an end too poverty and hunger in Nigeria.
Two basic things have to be considered for a meaningful commitment. Firstly, bearing n mind the structure of Nige pian Agricattural Industry which is char acterized by the dominance of illiterate, old generation/peasant farmers which dwindle day in day out. These people alone could not sustain the march to medium scale farming of abaut 12 hectares of land, not to talk of the large scale of about 100-1,000 hectares. Their efforts need to be complemented by the new generation farmers, who will be literate farmers ranging from secondary school certificate holders University graduates.
Scientific able bodied fatmer must be develóped, to complement productive increase in farming activities. In_this wise, the school-to-land programme aimed at coopting unemployed school leavers into farming should be resuscitated alongside, reasonable encouragement to graduates of Agricultural Colleges and Universities to ensure that majority of agriculture graduates who are originally programmed to be self-employed farmer fully take partin the programme.
Only about 25 percent of agricultural graduates have taken up agriculture as a profession while the greater proportion kept on looking for job where they are not needed. It is also note worthy that graduates of other disciplne apart from agriculture should be developed with basic skill and knowledge to support the agricultural industry. This set of people should be encouraged to go back to their local government to practice 1arming there Secondly, sciençe based agriculture has formed a pivot for overall economic
development in countries where sustainable agriculture is practised.
Agricultural research may seem remote to the life of peasant farmers in Nigeria, for maximum benefits of research, dynamic farmers are needed to allow research result have concrete effect on farmers standards of living. There should also be an increase in collaborative projects, government should fund and intensify research networks, fesearch liaison scientists and training to enhance their capability, generate, adapt and use technologies to satisfy indigenous needs.
Research should be sustained with optimal level of resources by the Nigerian government so that a viable, sustainable and environmentally friendly solution could be provided. Government should also encourage funding of research by the private sector. Inconclusion, the challenges facing fartsers are enormous. They can not withstand further unnecessary delay after several months of planning.
Government should set up a task force to monitor and ensure that all assistance. provided, reached the people which they are meant for and also the purpose desired. Agriculture is time bound, timely availability of fund and subsimdized agricultural inputs must be encouraged.
specialised mass media for a developmental reporting is desirable and should also be highly encouraged to provide effective coverage to activities of the Agricultural Ministries and Parastatals, Research Institutes, Agro-based and Agro-allied Industries, cooperative associanons and so on, to create the much needed awareness, and ensure minimum delay of infomation to farmers and all particıpants in the industry on the benetits derivable from government parastatals, or information on the general state of the agricultural industry, thereby enhancing maximum use of opportunities and potentials abounding in the agricultural sector promoting the social status of the Nigerian Farmer and as well promoting Nigerian agricultural industry within and beyond the Nigerian border.