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19September2017

Transformation in Agriculture would booster the economic importance of North Central

Pre-independent Nigeria depended largely on Agriculture. At this time, while high populated countries like China and India were forced to import food, Nigeria’s fertile land produced enough to feed its growing population and export. The boom in agricultural activities in the 1950s led to strong accumulation in foreign reserves which partly funded the developmental projects of the independent Nigeria. The result of the developmental programmes of the 1960s saw the country’s economic base being diversified; Agriculture declining from 66% of GDP in late 1950s to 56% of GDP in 1966 while manufacturing sector doubled to 6.2% of GDP and mining revenues grew to 5% of GDP.

Nigeria’s economic growth shows a steady performance in the immediate post-independence period, with a healthy balance of payments position through exports of cash cops. Marketing boards were used to extract surpluses from the agricultural sector and the revenues used to provide basic infrastructure. There was the Western Nigeria Marketing Board for Cocoa marketing, Northern Nigeria Marketing Board for Groundnut and Cotton and the Eastern Nigeria Marketing Board for Palm Oil.

However the oil boom of the early 1970s relaxed the financial constraints to development leading the economy to grow at an average rate of 5% in the mid-1970s (using 1977/78 factor cost) ranging between a low of -1.3% in 1975/76 to 9.5% in 1979/80. Services recorded a growth rate of 17.7%, manufacturing grew 13.3% while Agriculture grew -2.3%; the beginning of its descent from national prominence.

 

Agriculture is still important

Despite its dependence on the oil industry for its budgetary revenues, Nigeria can still be classified as an agricultural society. Over 60% of the population engages in agricultural production at a subsistence level. Agriculture contributed about 40% to the Nigeria's total gross domestic product (GDP) since 2007, a decrease of about 25% from its contribution of 65.7% to the GDP in 1957. Efforts since the late 1970s to revitalize agriculture in order to make Nigeria food self-sufficient again and to increase the export of agricultural products have produced only modest results.

After a decline in agriculture growth from over 6% to 4.14% in the first quarter of 2013, the agricultural sector outperformed its growth in the last seven quarters by growing 4.52% in the second quarter on 2013, on the back of reforms and transformation in the sector. With the focus on backward integration and the outright ban on the importation of certain agricultural items into Nigeria, the sector is expected to grow very impressively and also probably increased its contribution to national output.

 

The North Central is Nigeria’s agricultural base

While all the regions in the country are agrarian and have always contributed to the growth of the sector, the dynamics have changed. The South-West is now focused more on services and commerce while the South-East focused on trade and to some extent technology. The South-South is the oil producer and has lost a significant portion of its arable lands to oil spillage while the insurgencies in the core northern regions (North West and North East) would affect agricultural production. The North Central, hitherto referred to as the middle-belt appears to be the main beneficiary of the developments in the agricultural sector. With supportive policies for local food production and exports, the region could drive a strong alternative foreign exchange earnings and increase in national revenue.

 

Local support needed

As good as the transformation agenda in agriculture might be, its success will require the support of state and local governments in the regions. The federal government should co-opt the lower tier governments into the programme and rely on their closeness to and knowledge of the grassroots for impact. The programme should be research-based and coordinated centrally while monitoring should be left for the state and local governments, supported by federally funded agricultural extension workers. Agriculture, if properly managed could grow by up to 10% with implications for the nation's economic growth.

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