The agricultural sector is a profitable sector of the economy, but ironically, the farmers are not the ones reaping the profits. Traders, companies and other large interest groups are earning a profit while the farmers are bearing the losses continuously.
This sums up the irony of agriculture in Nigeria today. In a study collectively collected and analyze farmers experiences of the impacts of climate change on their lives and livelihoods, the study identified that farmers see themselves as farmers who were marginalized because of their economic level, gender, and relationship to land among other things.
The reasons that agriculture is so important are well-known:
- it provides sustenance to many,
- provides food to all,
- Gives employment to many.
Also, in addition to these intrinsic positive reasons to invest in agriculture, there are other negative reasons like poor agricultural performance can lead to inflation, political and social instability, and restiveness; all of which can slow the growth of the economy. There are the reasons why agriculture in any economy should be prioritized.
In many countries of the world, the reason why agriculture cannot be the dominant source of livelihood is that levels of productivity and hence living standards can never approach those in manufacturing and services.
That means that we must get our industrialization and growth right for the alternatives to agriculture to become meaningful, prosperous alternatives.
Several studies on the socio-economic status of rural farmers over the years have revealed their importance, and many other reports have documented the involvement of rural farmers in agricultural production, yet many unsteadiness works against their efforts to produce more food and live a better life.
In Nigeria as a case study, the rural farmers who constitute the largest percentage of the farming population are seriously threatened by problems such as rural poverty and neglect.
These problems seem to have defied various solutions from the past to the present day Nigeria, mostly because, solutions were probably inappropriate, inadequate or wrongly applied.
Poverty is an enemy of man that humiliates and dehumanizes its victims. Nigeria is rich but the people that sustain lives therein (farmers) are poor.
The role of policies at the state and national level reflect apathy for agrarian communities. We have seen the government encouraged the use of fertilizers by giving subsidies and promising increased yield. However, the result has been the continuing need to increase the dose of fertilizers and water, which will ultimately lead to the depletion of soil fertility.
Even the Sustainable Development Goals related to sustainable agriculture places focus on high yield to eradicate hunger. It is a good policy that can boost food security in the long term; however, I wonder how much of the security of farmers it has.
Farmers, especially small farmers, and agricultural laborers are continually forced to make way for economic development. We are supposed to be a country that prioritizes farming and farmers, but we are nowhere at the center of policies or discussions. Instead, farmers are continually pushed to the margins.
We must care deeply about farmers and agriculture today because we want more productive and prosperous farms and farmers tomorrow. All good and successful development is about facilitating this transition in the context of prosperous agriculture and of rising productivity in agriculture; doing that will facilitate good urbanization and rising productivity in other sectors of the country’s economy.
Experts are of the opinion that to boost productivity in the agricultural sector and root out hunger, special attention must be paid on rural smallholder farmers.
This is particularly the case for developing countries where agriculture is still, to a large extent, a subsistence enterprise that only sustains the rural economy.
Subsistence agriculture has been identified by many experts as one of the contributory factors to poverty, especially in rural areas. Smallholder farmer does not often see farming as an enterprise but is only contented with an output that is enough for his family and other dependents. Agricultural enhancement can bring about a significant decrease in hunger and poverty.
- States need to focus on crops/livestock where they have a comparative advantage, and they should give priority to such products.
- Attention should be given to small and medium agro-industries which normally serve as a linkage between smallholder farmers and large industries.
- Both National and State Government should invest in the cassava value chain, as cassava has been identified as a poverty fighter that could help the State create jobs for youth and women.
It is worth noting the efforts of the Nigerian Government through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Bank of Industry to address financial constraints faced by farmers and making equipment more accessible. However, there is still the need to improve the training of operators and mechanics.
Efforts on the manufacturing of drip irrigation equipment should be marketed to other states in Nigeria generally.
The role of International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in engaging with states through technical backstopping on various projects such as weed management in cassava, yam aeroponics, and the donation of seeds, is commendable.
The World Food Program (WFP) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) works are all commendable, but it still remains an irony that: the farmers, who produce food and sustain the country’s populace, remain poor and hungry.