Agriculture was Nigeria’s pride and significantly impacted the nation’s economy in 1960s. Nigeria was, within that period, remarkably food sufficient. Discovery of oil changed the stride in agriculture. The leaders moved to solely dependent on oil. Agriculture pyramid in the country and Nigeria’s known position in major agricultural commodities diminished.
To salvage the situation, Olusegun Obasanjo as military head of state in 1978 launched “Operation Feed the Nation, OFN”. President Shehu Shagari followed with the launch of “Green Revolution” in 1980. Both “Operation Feed the Nation, OFN” and “Green Revolution” sought to increase local food production, reduce huge cost of importing food and other items that bled the country’s economy, and return it to self-sufficiency in food production. They were also to expand and diversify the economy and earn foreign exchange for Nigeria.
President Obasajo’s second coming and eight years tenure as president, significantly, did not focus on agriculture. Same as President Musa Yar’dua’s short-lived presidency. In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan’s government launched what it named “Agricultural Transformation Agency, ATA. The target was to add 20 million metric tons of food to the domestic food supply by 2015, create 3.5 million jobs along agriculture value chains through small, medium and large scale farming.
Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Minister of Agriculture, now President African Development Bank, AfDB drove the process of actualizing Jonathan’s government “Agricultural Transformation Agenda”. At different events, Adesina stated that Nigeria had become a major consumer and importer of rice, and spent over one billion Naira daily or N356 billion annually on rice importation of about 2.1 million metric tons. In addition, Nigeria spent billions of dollars importing wheat, sugar, fish, among others.
Nigeria’s Ministry of Agriculture, in 2012 stated that 1.5 small scale farmers received subsidized seeds and fertilizers through mobile phones. Over 3.5 million farmers received farm inputs through Electronic Wallet System, in 2013. Within this same period  over 10 million farmers got registered. It was reported that Brazil, China and India indicated adopting the Electronic Wallet System to enhance their farming scheme.
Local and foreign investors were said to be on queue to invest in agriculture in Nigeria. Dangote Group and Dominion Farms were cases in point. Dangote Group signed MoU with Jonathan’s government to establish state-of-the-art large scale rice mills in the country. In what seemed progress been made in agriculture sector in the country, Jonathan’s government targeted 2015 for food self-sufficiency and ban rice importation the same year. Was this realized, would be another editorial subject.
Dangote Group’s interests and focus on agriculture seem undaunting. During President Buhari’s government , Dangote Group plans to invest about $4.6 billion in agriculture — $3.8 billion in sugar and rice and $800 million in dairy product in the next three years.
It was understandable when Aliko Dangote, President of Dangote Group, Nigeria and Africa’s business giant, Wednesday, September 20, in New York, USA, called for “prayer” that oil prices should remain low to “wean Nigeria away from returning to over-dependent on oil as its main income earner”.
Dangote said agriculture should be the focus of Nigerian government, same as gas and minerals, to achieve the goal of diversifying the economy. His words: “Agriculture, agriculture, agriculture. Africa will become the food basket of the world”. In addition to agriculture, Dangote cited vast mineral and gas resources in Nigeria, and emphasized the need for more goods to be manufactured locally.
Aliko Dangote and Rwandan President Paul Kagame were in Headquarters of Global Law Firm Shearman and Sterling LLC, United State, with other high level business leaders and international diplomats, invited by Corporate Council for Africa. Both leaders expressed optimism on business fortunes in Nigeria and Africa. If explored, would make the continent progress and become the food basket of the world.
Dangote and Kagame made strong calls for African governments to take full advantage of diversification as catalyst for growth and development in the continent. For Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa, Dangote said: “We should pray that oil prices remain low. This helps wean us off the dependency in revenues from petroleum. We must take oil to be the icing on the cake. We already have the cake”.
Both Dangote and Kagame cited continued investments in education as connected with training young people for future jobs. Dangote’s insight on job creation for young people was that “five of the twelve million jobs needed in Africa soon must be created in Nigeria”.
Dangote’s words for young American entrepreneurs who may want to invest in Africa, but were held back due to wrong perceptions about the continent were: “Don’t be lazy. Go there and find the real story for yourself. Things have changed”.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has been assertive on the administration’s resolve in rebuilding Nigeria’s Agriculture sector. In August 2016, government launched four-year agriculture blueprint which is named “Green Alternative: The Agriculture Promotion Policy 2016—2020”. At the launch, performed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, government said the programme would provide jobs for 100,000 agricultural extension workers, who would provide liaison services to farmers.
Buhari’s government did not inherit from Jonathan’s government a barren Ministry of Agriculture. Dr. Akinwumi Adesina was a pragmatic agriculture minister. His performance, indeed, earned him international reputation that, eventually, earned him the coveted job of President of African Development Bank, AfDB. Government should elevate the standard Jonathan’s government set in Agriculture and ensure consistency in agriculture policy implementation.
Previous agriculture programmes “Operation Feed the Nation” and “Green Revolution”, among others, may not have been well articulated, and did not impact on Nigerian’s economy and Nigerians. The “Agricultural Transformation Agenda”, significant made some impact.
Strategically fine-tuning the previous administration’s agriculture policy, President Buhari’s government would be elevating the stake in ensuring Nigerian is self-sufficiency in food production and by extension food security in the country, and actualizing diversification of the economy to be agriculture-based.