Agriculture: Key to a Self-Sustaining Nigerian Economy

Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy. Since the late 1960s, it has been based primarily on the petroleum industry; relying heavily on oil as its main source of foreign exchange earnings and government revenues. The capital-intensive oil sector provides 95 percent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings and about 65 percent of its budgetary revenues.

The basis of the Nigerian economy is the oil industry. The country is the 1st in Africa and the world’s 11th oil producer. At present, the oil industry is the foundation of the economy.

Nigeria’s economy is a middle-income, mixed economy and emerging market, with expanding manufacturing, agricultural financial, mining, communications, technology and entertainment sectors. However, disappointedly, the country’s over reliance on the oil sector has led to the neglect of the other sectors, especially the agricultural sector.

Before the country was colonized by Britain, during the second half of the 19th century, the various nationality groups that currently make up Nigeria were largely agrarian. They were food self-sufficient and produced a variety of commodities that were exported overseas. This explains why agricultural goods predominated Nigeria’s exports before the civil war of 1967-70.

Unfortunately, since the mid-1980s there has been a decline in agricultural production. Nigeria’s neglect of the agricultural sector aggravated problematic food shortages. The country had raised enough food to meet domestic needs during its colonial period and in the decade following independence. However, it experienced food shortages in the 1970s and 1980s, which necessitated the importation of food from foreign countries. Among the imports were palm oil (from Malaysia), of which Nigeria had been the world’s largest producer and exporter, and rice (from the United States) which was considered less nutritious than Nigerian brown rice. Once Africa’s largest poultry producer, Nigeria lost that status because of inefficient corn production and a ban on the importation of corn. Furthermore, it is no longer a major exporter of cocoa, peanuts, and rubber. Production of other industrial crops has also declined, owing to the general stagnation in agriculture.

In Nigeria today, agriculture employs 65% of the population. Roughly between one-fifth to one-half of all Nigerians obtain a living from agricultural production. However, most are small-scale subsistence farmers who produce only a little surplus for sale and who derive additional income from one or more cash crops.
Despite the country’s arable lands, the agrarian sector is not capable of providing the entire country’s population with food products. Because the soil is not totally amenable to mechanized equipment, the hoe and machete continue to be the dominant farm implements. The shortage of farmland in some localities and limited access to land in others are among the factors that restrict the size of farmland cultivated per family. Environmental deterioration, inferior storage facilities, a poor transport system, and a lack of investment capital contribute to low productivity and general stagnation in agriculture.

Consequently, with the population growing rapidly and urbanization accelerating, the food deficit continues to worsen despite government’s efforts to rectify the situation.

Several forces continue to compound the problems of the agricultural sector despite government’s efforts to ameliorate the situation. Among these are: the migration of labor from the rural areas to the urban areas which reduces the traditional agricultural labor force. Ecological constraints such as poor soil, erosion, drought, and the absence of agricultural research added to the problem.
Other constraints on agricultural production include the use of antiquated technology due to a lack of capital, the low status given to agriculture in the education of the youth, inefficient marketing, an inadequate transportation infrastructure, trade restrictions, under-investment due to unavailability of credit, low prices and unstable pricing policies which resulted in farmers literally subsidizing urban dwellers and other sectors of the economy.

In addition to these handicaps, land tenure discourages long-term investment in technology and modern production techniques, and import constraints limit the availability of many agricultural and food-processing plants.

Despite its vast natural resources, 62% of Nigeria’s over 180 million people still live in extreme poverty. To remedy this defect and to build a self-sustaining Nigerian economy, there is need to diversify the economy away from oil, and focus on improving other sectors, most especially the agricultural sector.

Ezinwanne Onwuka, Cross River State.


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