Nigeria: How Not To Revamp Agriculture


Abdulrahman Muhammad Dan-Asabe, Ph.D.


Ningbo, P. R. China

January 02, 2006



When delegates to the 2005 National Political Reforms Conference blamed the nation’s economic woes on the “flagrant neglect of agriculture by successive administrations,” and “tasked the federal government to evolve a deliberate policy to revamp agriculture in all ramifications,” not even the delegates, I believe, would have thought that the federal government would react to their call in the on-going fashion it has; the holistic importation of foreign farmers - to come and settle in Nigeria and do farming – instead of encouraging and empowering its local farmers, as a solution.


The first such importation of foreign farmers was the invitation of Zimbabwe’s white-farmers to Nigeria to do farming.  This followed the loss of their (white-farmer’s) farmlands in Zimbabwe, following President Mugabe’s now notorious land redistribution program. Despite public opposition to this move, Nigerian government went ahead with the plan, arguing that the foreign farmers were to be engaged in export oriented cash-crops which, the government argued, require the use of expensive high-tech machineries and know-how that are beyond the reach (or grasp) of the nation’s local farmers.


This government’s argument that the production of export oriented cash-crops is capital intensive and, therefore, beyond the local farmers, simply betray its lack of interest in empowering its own citizens; it betrays its lack of faith and confidence in the nation’s agricultural institutions; it also betrays the government preference to impress the outside world and to engage in projects that would provide its cronies with the opportunity to skim off the top. Above all, it betrays the government lack of full understanding of the importance of food sovereignty/security and the consequences of leaving such an important sector in the hands of foreigners. 


In the latest development of inviting foreign farmers into the country, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mallam Adamu Bello, disclosed in his 2005 ministerial press briefing in Abuja that “The Federal Government had in 2003, signed a tripartite agreement with China and the Food and Agricultural Organisation for the deployment of the Chinese experts in the 36 states of the federation and Abuja.” (The PUNCH, Friday, December 30, 2005).


The newspaper quoted the Minister as saying, “More than 375 Chinese technicians including seven experts and a coordinator have arrived in the country and deployed to all the states based on needs.”

“These Chinese,” said the Minister according to the paper, “have started activities on various projects including small scale earth based dam construction and rehabilitation, fisheries, irrigation, agro-processing, agricultural mechanism and livestock production.” And a total $11.2million (about N1.5billion) out of $22.4million has been paid by the Federal Government to finance the Chinese experts and technicians currently in the country to boost agricultural production.


Before I state my grouse with the above government action, if it is not already clear, let me quickly state here that I am not against the Chinese, or any foreigners for that matter, being engaged in projects for which Nigeria simply does not have the expertise.  That we can learn a thing or two from the Chinese in agriculture and related fields need not to be overemphasised.  Suffice to say that China is not only able to feed its 1.3billion population, the largest in the world; the country is also a net exporter of huge varieties of food items. 


Furthermore, the Chinese are capable of delivering incredibly fantastic results with very minimal inputs.  These, coupled with their very practical approach to life, using very simple, inexpensive and locally available materials or implements, make the Chinese a very attractive (unavoidable?) option for poor countries in Africa to watch and learn from.


However, there is a world of difference between sending out our own agricultural experts - which we have in abundance - to other nations to learn from them and the invitation of experts from outside to come and completely do the job for us. While the former would show us as normal humans that recognise and appreciate others’ achievements and, therefore, are willing to learn from them, the latter projects us as incapable beings - not in terms of finance since we are paying - who cannot survive without outside help.  This, as far as agriculture is concerned, cannot be true and our leaders must not project such an image.


While other nations are paying their farmers to take a rest from farming due to over production, and are pursuing serious complex programs like space exploration and building nuclear power plants by themselves, Nigeria, on the other hand, is busy damaging African image and pride by telling the world we cannot even till the land.  What then exactly are we capable of doing? Don’t our leaders have any kind of national pride?


Even more annoying are the so-called “solutions” the Chinese experts are said to have brought to Nigeria. “The Chinese” said the Minister according to PUNCH, “brought solutions to some of the major constraints in the rural communities such as lack of feeder roads, lack of drinking water, lack of access to markets, unreliable or non-existing power supply, limited availability of fuel, fertilizer and other agro-inputs.”  


These achievements or “solutions” as the Minister prefers to call them, are not only questionable but also unimpressive. And it demonstrates the government’s lack of seriousness towards food security in particular, and nation building, in general.  These “solutions” are questionable. For example, what exactly is the solution to: agro-inputs other than making the inputs available locally for the farmers or growing those crops that do not need the inputs; fertilizer scarcity other than using an alternative such as organic manure; limited availability of fuel other than using transport means that consume less fuel or use none at all?   We know that no Chinese is a “Pascal Lamy” to guarantee any nation access to the world markets. Indeed, China itself is struggling to increase her window of access to the world market. And it would be even a greater shame on us if we have waited until the arrival of the Chinese before our local farmers can take their produce to our local markets.


The “solutions” are also unimpressive as they highlight our lack of seriousness at tapping our own resources.  We need no foreign experts to arrive at any of the above solutions. 


What we need to do to even surpass the above solutions is to engage, encourage and empower our local experts to take on such challenges to solve the agricultural problem.  We need to give our local experts and agricultural institutions the same pampering given to these foreign experts in terms of security, accommodation, four wheel-drives and payment, followed by training and retraining in and out of the country.  This is the way forward to food sovereignty and food security in Nigeria. 


Happy New Year!