Agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy upon which the country’s nationalists founded their agitation for independence.
Prior to this, Nigeria was a leading agricultural economy in the 50s, being the largest producer of palm oil, groundnut, cotton and cocoa globally.
The sector employed over 70 per cent of the labour force, accounted for as much as 62.3 per cent of the nation’s foreign exchange earnings.
Data obtained from the World Bank show that the sector contributed over 60 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
However, the discovery of crude oil in the 1950s progressively led to the neglect of the sector, which has made Nigeria to fall in the global market rankings for which it was taking the lead.
To remedy this, agricultural policies have been dished out by different leaderships of the country in order to rejig the sector to support food security.
Unfortunately, the impacts of these policies are rarely felt, as they are mostly robbed of continuity and made negligible year-on-year as leaderships change.
Experts say that agriculture in Nigeria has gone through different stages of development. These have either improved or worsened the impact of the sector to national development.
In the bid to cushion the effect of the Nigerian civil war on the country’s food security, the then Nigerian Head of state, Yakubu Gowon, rolled out the National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP) in 1972.
It was an agricultural extension programme established to tackle a food crisis by increasing the country’s food production through proper education of farmers on farming and production.
It also sought the use of seminars and conferences and other tangible agricultural events in order to boost farmers’ knowledge.
The plan berthed in other states after the preliminary phase in Anambra, Imo, Ondo, Oyo, Ogun, Benue, Plateau and Kano States.
Mini–kit, production-kit and mass adoption phases were the three phases of the programme. The policy goal of NAFPP was to make Nigeria independent in food production.
Thus, land reform and mass literacy policies were suggested for farmers. But one of the major setbacks of this policy was the inability of farmers to form cooperatives which were meant to aid the disbursement of credit and farm inputs.
Also, in 1973, the military leader established the River Basin Development Authority (RBDA) policy with the aim of providing irrigation facilities through the construction of dams, provision of potable water and construction of feeder roads to ease agricultural activities.
There was a bilateral agreement between the Nigerian government and the World bank to boost food production and the standard of living of small-scale farmers. Sequel to this, the Agricultural Development Project (ADP) was established in nine local governments in 1975.
After five years of its establishment, success of this programme was recorded. This led to a nationwide creation of ADPs in newly created states across the country.
According to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) was introduced by the federal military government headed by Olusegun Obasanjo, in 1976.
It had the specific focus of increasing food production on the premise that availability of cheap food would ensure a higher nutrition level and invariably lead to national growth and development.
The OFN lasted until the civilian government of Shehu Shagari in 1979.
In April 1980, the Shagari administration introduced the Green Revolution Programme to ensure self-sufficiency in food production and to introduce modern technology into the Nigerian agricultural sector largely through the introduction of modern inputs such as high yielding varieties of seeds, fertilisers and tractors.
In 1986, Ibrahim Babangida established the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), with the aim to identify, involve and support viable local community organisations so as to ensure effective mobilisation of the rural populace for sustainable rural development.
According to a 2017 report titled Nigeria’s Agriculture in Facts and Figures by the Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), and Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), in order for Nigeria to attain food security and as well alleviate rural poverty in the country, Mr Obasanjo, the first democratic president who was re-elected in April 2003, established the National Special Programme for Food Security (NSPFS).
It was aimed at helping farmers to increase output and income, strengthen extension service delivery, promote simple farm technologies, utilise land , water and other resources for food production, the report stated.
However, some of its major setbacks were seen in the inability of most beneficiaries to repay their loans on time, complexity and incompatibility of innovation, coupled with difficulty in integrating technology into existing production systems.
In Mr Obasanjo’s eight years reign, agriculture had the highest average contribution to the nation’s GDP since the dawn of democracy.
An average of 27.36 per cent was contributed by the sector to GDP, data from the World Bank showed, including 36.97 per cent in 2002, 33.83 per cent in 2003 and 27.23 per cent in 2004 – the highest annual contribution in the last two decades.
Under Umaru Yar’Adua’s seven-point agenda, the National Food Sector Plan (NFSP) was launched to ensure food security.
The aim of the programme included the counterpart funding for FADAMA III; IFAD and ADB projects, as well as rehabilitation and construction of dams.
Others were rehabilitation and expansion of irrigation infrastructure, and the irrigation of 12,000 hectares of arable land and optimisation of 220,000 ha of irrigated land and more.
During this period, the contributory level of agriculture to GDP fell in the average, but remained among the highest since 1999. Mr Yar’Adua’s administration recorded an average agricultural contribution to GDP of 25.31 per cent in three years.
His first two years in office saw agricultural growth move from 25.28 per cent in 2008 to 26.75 per cent in 2009 and 23.89 per cent in 2010.
In 2011, the Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA) was launched by his successor, Goodluck Jonathan. It was created with the hope of boosting the income of smallholder farmers’ and rural entrepreneurs, who are engaged in the production, processing, storage and marketing of selected commodity value chains on a sustainable basis, according to the PTCIJ and NIRSAL’s report.
About 45,300 economically active smallholder farmers’ living in the rural areas, who were already partaking in commercial agriculture are said to have benefitted from this scheme.
At the end of his five years stint, the agricultural sector had contributed an average of 21.09 per cent to GDP, the lowest under any democratic president.
When incumbent Muhammadu Buhari came in 2015, he launched the Agricultural Promotion Policy (APP), which will expire by December, to consolidate on the already established ATA policy.
The new policy was geared towards the provision of a conducive legislative and agricultural framework, macro policies, security enhancing physical infrastructure and institutional mechanisms, so as to enhance access to essential inputs, finances, information on innovation, agricultural services and markets.
So far under him, agriculture has contributed an average of 22.94 per cent to the nation’s GDP – higher than only under his predecessor, Mr Jonathan.
In the first three quarters of 2020, the agricultural sector contributed an average of 29.77 per cent to Nigeria’s GDP – 21.96 per cent in the first quarter; 24.65 per cent in the second quarter; and 30.77 per cent in the third quarter.
Experts interviewed for the report say the policies established had the nation’s interest but were poorly implemented by either the proposing administration or the successor.
They said the policies were to serve as relief to the country and promote the agricultural sector but the plans have not had reasonable effects on the economy.
‘’When policies are made just like constitution, they will last longer than expected because they will be implemented by both state and the federal government,’’ Celestine Ayok, an agricultural scientist, said.
“These policies need to be reoriented to align with that of the state governments.’’
An expert in animal production, Rodger Tanko, said the ‘’various policies have failed to add a meaningful quota to the economy due to the selfish interest of successive administrations to implement them.’’
“Successive administrations failed to continue the implementation of policies made by their predecessors. We can say this is selfishness,” he said.