Of foreigners taking over agriculture

Once again, that another outcry by the Federal Government over the nation’s pitiable agricultural sector and the failure to exploit it for economic development has rent the air is understandable. This recent outcry, coming from the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Heineken Lokpobiri, is a lamentation that foreigners are currently taking over Nigeria’s agricultural sector. Speaking at a seminar organised in Abuja by the Danish Embassy in Nigeria, Lokpobiri stated that poor access to finance, apparently induced by the excessively high interest rates demanded of indigenous entrepreneurs by banks, is posing a major challenge to indigenous participation in agriculture in the country.

He also decried the poor investment in the agricultural sector, stating that: “Nigerians shouldn’t think that we have oil and that oil is going to salvage this country.” He argued further that, “countries that are investing in agriculture are getting much more profits than what we get from oil.”

Much as these remarks make sense, however, lamentations from this government over its inaction or half-hearted action, especially on agricultural and financial matters, have become too frequent not to be criticised. It has become a fashion for government officials to pontificate on agricultural matters and explain why the all-important sector is the way it is. As has been stated before, it is not the business of government to lament on behalf of the people and that a minister laments the state of affairs of his sphere of duty amounts to nothing. The government should identify the problematic area, tell the people what needs to be done and use its organs of service to facilitate this.

In appreciation of Lokpobiri’s remarks though, Nigerians may seem to have become indolent because of the country’s reliance on petroleum. After all, the fact that Nigeria’s perceived economic progress and commentaries about it are largely tied to revenue accruable from petroleum has encouraged an undue focus on that product. However, to lay the blame of Nigeria’s reliance on petroleum on the people, who struggle to eke out a living in an inclement economy, is a cheap escapist device not to own responsibility for failure.  Nigerians are an energetic and industrious people who, when well guided, are able to achieve results with remarkable success.

Since the government alone has the power to direct policies that would facilitate growth, it should create the enabling environment for indigenous agricultural entrepreneurs to thrive. After all, in consonance with the nation’s drive for foreign investments, waivers are being granted to foreign investors. Little wonder, these foreign investors are able to bring in robust technology to boost the agricultural value-chain in the country, to their own advantage.

Rather than lament over this situation, the Federal Government, just as it has done for these foreign investors, should promote urgent agricultural revolution schemes across the federation, by providing legal and fiscal support to genuine entrepreneurs. In this regard, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, was right the other day when he stated that the Senate should amend the relevant laws to facilitate the setting up of intervention funds for the revival of agriculture.

At the lower administrative level, each state should have at least one agricultural industrial complex that should accommodate intensive research and simple tutorials on the principles and practice of agriculture and its value-chain. Such a complex should be a high-impact alliance of stakeholders and interested citizens, and should be devoid of the bureaucracy and insensitivity that once condemned laudable projects into white elephants.

With an agricultural hub of that nature, people would be enlightened about the fact that agriculture is more than farming. They would be taught about the intrinsic connection between agricultural value-chain and national development and that engagement in agriculture is better appreciated in the expansive industries effected by the value chain, because that is where employment comes in. Here, financial experts would open them up to the legal and commercial aspects of accessing finance.

This is being done on a very micro scale by the private sector. In Lagos and Ogun, especially, private initiatives are springing up one-stop agric centres and bringing together stakeholders to train, educate and facilitate wide-ranging agricultural projects for individuals and small groups.

What this means is that government may not be able to encourage indigenous participation in large-scale agriculture if it does not support the innovation and vibrancy of the private sector. Oftentimes, it has been observed that some state governments are cogs in the wheel of progress. They are known to hamper progress by creating strictures that are injurious to private sector initiatives. Any government that understands the role of agriculture in national development should encourage value-creation by expanding this kind of private sector initiative.

In all, the point is that the government must do everything within its powers and authority to ensure that Nigeria and Nigerians prosper from agriculture.



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