Nigeria as Africa’s largest oil producing country and largest economy is officially in recession due to dwindling global crude oil prices. Our country like other major oil producing countries such as Venezuela, Iraq, Algeria, Libya are experiencing dwindling oil revenues due to nose-diving oil prices. In the face of dwindling oil revenues, it is high time we explored alternative sources for our foreign exchange earnings.
Agriculture remains Nigeria’s largest employer of labour and its potential to be the major source of our foreign exchange earnings should be harnessed especially now. The agricultural sector had suffered neglect as other sectors for too long that successive governments’ agricultural reforms only achieved little improvement.
It is on record that agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy accounting for two-third of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) before the discovery of oil. And right before the oil boom of the 1970s, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the Premier of Old Western Region pioneered free universal primary education, free health care, erected the first skyscraper in Africa – the famous Cocoa House, established the first television station, amongst other giant achievements from agricultural revenues without a single kobo from oil revenue. The groundnut pyramid in the north was a site to behold in the good old days, but all these economic backbones were neglected after the oil boom leaving agriculture’s contribution to GDP decline to 25 percent by 1980 and Nigeria moved from being a large exporter to a major importer of agricultural products.
Where have we got it all wrong that agriculture that was our main stay now contributes less than 10 percent to our GDP and the remains top sector depleting our foreign reserves? It is still worrisome to note that Nigeria spends $22billion (N7trillion) annually to import various food items like wheat, rice, fish, and poultry products among others as reeled out by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, in August this year.
Nigerian economy has consistently incurred high import bills on rice and poultry businesses and to reduce this, rice and poultry farmers must be able to meet the domestic market demands when the government extends a stimulus package to farmers to boost their production capacity.
The onus lies on the government not only to capitalise on the current economic challenges Nigeria faces to take a detour from over-reliance on oil revenues but improve capacity in the agricultural sector by providing incentives such as access to more capital, electricity, good roads, better storage facilities, latest irrigation and harvesting technology for farmers and agribusinesses to meet domestic and international consumption.
As one of the steps towards economic recovery, it is important for President Muhammadu Buhari and his economic team to draw up programmes to revamp industries and non-oil ventures that kept the old regions afloat before oil was discovered.