In the beginning
Before the discovery of oil in commercial quantity in 1956, the Nigerian economy had thrived on proceeds from agriculture.
The Western Nigeria then particularly achieved a lot from her earnings from agriculture which development included the building of the famous cocoa house in Ibadan which was built as the tallest building in the defunct western region.
The University of Ife, now called Obafemi Awolowo University was built as one of the most beautiful campuses in Africa and the first television station in Africa (Western Nigerian Television) was also a non-oil achievement. All were achieved before the advent of oil in commercial quantity.
While the Western Nigerian Government achieved its several feats when agriculture was the main stay of the economy, cocoa which was the cash cow enjoyed so much attention as cocoa farmers were the equivalence of today’s oil workers.
The Northern Nigeria also achieved a lot from proceeds of groundnut. You must have heard about the famous groundnut pyramids of the northern Nigeria which are today history.
Also, the Eastern Nigerian Government then achieved so many projects from the proceeds from palm oil and other agricultural products.
You may ask ‘why the long story?’
It is no way of boring you but to let us know for sure or to remind us there was a Nigerian before oil.
A Yoruba proverb says ‘The fowl has its food before the discovery of corn.’ This is the story of Nigeria. Great infrastructural developments have taken place before oil which has relegated every other business to the background but to a great disadvantage as the world may soon realise.
Then you may ask, what went wrong? Why did we leave the various farm settlements and plantations to rot away? Last year there was the debate about RUGA that generated so much controversy. It would be recalled that the Western Nigerian government under the leadership of the then Premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had established a cattle ranch somewhere around Oyo North which has almost same atmospheric condition with the cattle belt of South America. If the regional government had continued, the West would have matched other serious cattle-breeding countries with tremendous income.
Just this morning I was studying along cattle rearing and its value chain. I found that there are over 1.4billion cattle on earth! The earnings from cattle business can not be overemphasised. In fact with proper management, a country can survive on cattle; beef, hides and skin, dairy, blood meal, hair, bones and even dung which can be processed into organic manure and energy. Nothing is wasted in the animal.
At the end of this session, I ll make the link available where you may see the distribution of cattle per country. Brazil according to the data leads with 211million cattles, India with 189million, China with 113million, the USA with 89million, Ethiopia with 54million, Argentina with 51million, Sudan with 41million, Pakistan with 38million, Mexico with 32million and Australia in 10th position with 29million. Nigeria is in 12th position with just 20million cattle which is enough to support the economy if well managed.
The way forward
After 60 years of earnings from crude oil, Nigeria can not be said to have been better off. Though several projects were achieved but they are not commensurate with the earnings when compared with other countries so endowed.
Today, Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, thanks to the earnings from oil and gas over the years which makes up about 90% of her earnings and more than 60% of the Federal Government’s revenue.
The fact that the country has not been able to better the lot of each of her 200million citizens is another discussion for another day but the reality is here with us in COVID-19.
Barely two years the country returned from a recession, the economy was rebuilding and there have been talks on the need to diversify the economy from depending largely on oil and gas. The balance had not been reached when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived putting the Nigerian economy in a tight corner.
Global oil price dropped below half of the price in January and Nigeria’s 2020 budget benchmarked on $50 per barrel was not achievable again. In April, a barrel of crude was sold for $30, which means there is a deficit of $20. Nigeria has a capacity of producing between 1.6million and 2million barrels per day and If the economy had been diversified earlier appreciably, the deficit could have been shocked.
A leading American consulting firm, McKinsey & Co. reported that “The subsequent economic fallout for Nigerians will be severe. GDP forecasts are suggesting that if oil prices stay low, GDP growth will be -34% in 2020.
It is obvious that over-dependence on the oil sector as the major source of income was the reason for the inadequate attention given to the non-oil sectors and the country must depend on foreign loans to fund the budget while agriculture is supposed to be a bailout for the economy.
Can agriculture sustain the Nigerian economy?
This is a question a young mind may ask and the answer is a simple yes. I started with a narration of how the economy was stable and flourished when agriculture was the mainstay of the economy though with a population below 70million people at the time.
Nigeria ought to have developed along with the existing agricultural infrastructure of the period but she failed to step up the game because of an easier source of income.
There is hope for the economy if agriculture is given its proper place.
According to the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Mr. Olusegun Awolowo, Nigeria earned N103bn from cocoa commodity export in 2018 which is just about 1.1 per cent of the year’s budget of 9.12tr. This means if the Agriculture sector is encouraged, it can power the budget because if cocoa alone can account for 1percent of the national budget, there are over 99 other products including animal products that can rescue the Nigerian economy in the face of dwindling price in the global oil market. But this can only be achievable if the agricultural infrastructure can enjoy a boost in terms of investment.
Who says cocoa as a commodity cannot rise to represent 10% of the budget? Who says with adequate investment and supervision there cannot be other nine agricultural products including food crops, cash products, poultry and dairy that could do ten per cent each annually and placing the national economy.
In 2018 Nigeria earned $32.63billion from oil and gas sector according to the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency (NEITI), this is above the year’s budget. Imagine what else this amount can be put into to boost development if agriculture is allowed to actually run the economy.
Finally, the country can invest more in agriculture to take over from oil. The products below among others can actually turn the tide positively.
Food and cash crops:
- Palm oil
- Grains(guinea corn, millet, corn, etc.)
- Vegetables and spices
- Fish and other sea foods
- Grass cutters
Where you come in
One of the advantages we have with this training program is the deluge of information we are being fed with.
While the Federal Government grapples with the idea of diversifying the economy via agriculture, it will only remain on paper if there are not enough trained hands. Our colleges of agriculture littering the country must be engaged. But most importantly, interested youths like we on this training can brace up to midwife this government’s annual attempt to diversify the economy.
We must rise up to the challenge and position ourselves to take the delivery when the opportunity comes to us.
Remember, opportunity comes with preparedness, the saying goes. If we don’t prepare for opportunity, when it comes around we may not recognise it.
So I congratulate all of us on this training and I know we will keep equipping ourselves and when the opportunity comes, we’ll be right on time.
Nigeria shall rise again and we shall live to eat the fruits of the land. The land is green and we are well able to till it and eat the fruits thereof.
Thank you and God bless us all.
God bless Krystal Greens
God bless Nigeria.
*Lecture delivered at Krystal Greens Academy on Monday 29th June 2020.