Monday, 10 September 2012

Agriculture: Panacea for unemployment

Written by Raheem Mayowa

SOME decades ago, specifically before the discovery of oil in Nigeria, the coun try prided itself on being an agrarian nation. Then, agriculture was the main stay of the economy. Apart from leading in the production of some cash crops for export, Nigeria was also reputed for the production of food crops in large quantities, such that many countries in the African sub-region, to a large extent, depended on the country for supply of crops. Each region was known for a particular farm produce. For instance, the West was known for cocoa production, the East for palm oil, while the North was known for groundnut.

In addition to individuals’ efforts in farming, the government also channelled its scarce resources to agriculture in order to, among other things, boost its productivity. There were farm settlements everywhere, and farmers’ cooperative societies were established, where loans could be sourced. Not stopping there, government went as far as institutionalising agricultural subsidy, wherein all agricultural inputs were substantially subsidised. Produce marketing board was also put in place to regulate all agricultural produce markets, with the sole aim of encouraging more people in the farm and ensuring their development and sustainability.

Agriculture alone then accounted for 90-95 per cent employment rate in the country. Up till that moment, there abound evidences of various infrastructural amenities provided with proceeds generated from agricultural earnings. For example, the popular Cocoa House in Ibadan, the Groundnut pyramids in the North, and sundry other developmental projects scattered all over the country.

However, with the discovery of petroleum in commercial quantities and its exploitation in the 60s, our story began to change. Many people, especially the young ones, deserted farming for white collar jobs. To worsen matters, government’s attention was completely shifted from agriculture to the oil sector. More exploration meant increased revenue, and government officials began to live extravagantly.

Same was extended to the public servants, as the government of the day, led by General Yakubu Gowon, doled out what was then known as the Udoji awards. What this simply meant was influx of people in their thousands from rural areas to urban centres, in search of civil service jobs. The oil sector was so much attractively packaged, that every Tom, Dick and Harry wanted his share of oil money and this had a very big blow on agricultural activities in the country.

Apart from the fact that the sector seriously caused digression from agriculture business, it also led to acute decline in employment, as the sector alone, in all its arms (onshore and offshore), failed to cater for the employment need of the population. Another atrocity of the oil boom was exposure of many Nigerians to ‘overnight’, affluence with little or no effort.

This explains why till now, many graduates will prefer waiting endlessly for plum but scarce oil companies’ jobs to other available, but menial ones.

In order to correct these anomalies, therefore, government must, as a matter of urgency, declare state of emergency in the agricultural sector. We must go back to the drawing board and see our existence as attached to farming. Given our vast expansion of fertile land, we do not require the service of soothsayers to be convinced that Nigeria has comparative advantage in agriculture. Here, our over-incresing population should also serve as a blessing, rather than a curse. To this end, government at all levels should be prevailed upon, to heavily, but prudently invest in extensive agriculture. Farming should be packaged in such manner that it will be attractive to the youth.

Besides, incentives should be provided to serious-minded farmers who are keenly interested in producing food for the teeming population of Nigeria, in order to earn their confidence. And government needs to strategise and harness all its resources towards attracting people in rural areas. All poverty alleviation programmes should be substantially directed at encouraging farming activities. The tradition of giving out Keke NAPEPS, okadas, clippers, which only make the youth to end up struggling for space in the already crowded urban centres should be stopped. Agricultural settlements should be revived in all states of the federation, while subtle legislations for land acquisition should be enacted, and inputs made available for extensive farming. Loans should also be made accessible to farmers without stringent conditions.

Conclusively, I am sure by the time all these necessary ingredients (pull factors) are concentrated in rural areas across the country, not only will the unemployment problems be solved, the overcrowding of our cities and its consequential problems would be automatically resolved as well.
Original Article Here

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