The United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP), has predicted that the number of people facing acute food insecurity could nearly double this year to about 300 million due to economic fallout effects of COVID-19.
The UNWFP Chief Economist and Director of Research, Assessment and Monitoring, Arif Husain, noted that COVID-19 is potentially disastrous for nations that are already facing acute hunger.
This alarm raised by the UN agency, indicates looming hunger that will hit most nations, especially in Africa, which commentators described as “Hunger Virus”
As the giant of Africa, the 2016 Price Water House Cooper (PWC) report projected that Nigeria’s population will be 400 million by 2050, making it the third most populous country in the world.
This is an issue that our policy makers should take serious. As a matter of fact, this situation calls for radical overhaul and introduction of modern technology to Nigerian’s agricultural sector to boost agribusinesses so as to increase food security, and create jobs to tackle the anticipated explosion in population in Nigeria.
Although the agricultural sector has had a lot of programmes targeted at addressing food security and sufficiency, there is less to justify the huge budgetary allocations to these programmes.
The intervention programmes of successive administration in Nigeria include the National Accelerated Food Production Programme in 1972, Operation Feed the Nation, and River Basin and Rural Development Authorities in 1976, Green Revolution in 1980, Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure, and the World Bank funded Agricultural Development Project.
Others are the Nigerian Agricultural Land Development Authority in 1992, the National Fadama Development Project, National Special Programme on Food Security in 2002, Root and Tuber Expansion Programme in 2003, and Agricultural Transformation Agenda that was introduced in 2012.
There is also the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan with a projection that the value of agricultural production in the country would become NGN 21 trillion in 2020.
Sadly, these laudable interventionist plans most times ended in the board rooms, or were poorly implemented. The result is the current spate of food insecurity, dependence on imported foodstuff, hunger, malnutrition, poverty, poor rural livelihood and unemployment.
As noted by Ken Henshaw, Executive Director, We the People Campaign, a non-governmental organization, linked it to the fact that farmers in Nigeria still engage in subsistent agriculture, as government continues to pay lip service to the sector.
He added that revitalizing the agricultural sector will improve food supply because it is vital for human existence and is also the largest employer of labour.
President Muhammadu Buhari
On his part, a Business Analyst, Bode Ososami, posited that the catastrophic effects of COVID-19 on the price of oil has become a cause for concern to countries that depend solely on it for revenue, and requires courageous and radical execution of economic policies without bias.
As expected, the coronavirus pandemic will cause global disruption in the supply chain. Thus, the prediction by the President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, that the agricultural sector will be producing the next generation of billionaires in Nigeria and the rest of Africa if properly managed, should speed up policy direction to agriculture as Nigeria’s alternative income earner to crude oil.
Adesina made this prophecy in a convocation lecture he delivered at Bowen University, Osogbo in 2019. He noted that the agricultural sector was ripe for entrepreneurship because the size of agribusiness in the continent will worth one trillion dollars by 2030,
prophesying further that the next billionaires and millionaires would not come from oil and gas, but from agriculture.
To be proactive about the assertion, Nigerians should start building capacities in local processing of agricultural produce in order to ensure food security and consequently create jobs.
Brazil is currently benefitting from the overhaul of its agricultural sector value chain as agribusinesses generated sixteen million new jobs in 2012.
Accordingly, there should be deliberate and conscious investment in agribusiness which encompasses a broad range of activities in farming, and farming related commercial activities.
In this direction the production, processing and distribution stages will be stimulating businesses in processing, packaging, marketing, demand research and new ways of connecting to the global market.
Besides, there is huge business potentials in bio-fuel energy production, also a product of agriculture. The synergy in all these will lead to the establishment of small scale industries that will employ people, as well as generate foreign income for the nation.
To achieve this, primarily agriculture has to be made attractive and lucrative so that it will attract the best workforce.
Thus, government should focus on creating awareness on the many available business potentials in the agricultural sector; organize skills development in product development, finance, and management, among others.
Again the very stringent processes of accessing loans from banks should be relaxed, while the NGN 50 billion CBN COVID-19 intervention fund for SMEs, especially firms involved in agricultural value chain activities should be managed without bias and sentiments. The loan should be given to verified farmers or those engaged in farming related businesses.
As rightly noted by Senator Adawari Pepple, Chairman of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Rivers and Bayelsa states, support to small businesses will boost local manufacturing and help the economy recover quickly after the pandemic.
Consequently, encouraging local processing of agricultural produce will increase demand for raw materials from smallholder farmers.
If this is implemented, it will not only create ready markets for agricultural produce, but will also create jobs for the growing number of unemployed in the country.
This will equally help Nigeria to recover faster from the aftershock of the economic fall-out of COVID-19 that has negatively impacted on the global demand for oil, which is Nigeria’s main source of revenue.
Added to the manifest parts of Agribusiness is the latent part that the agriculture curriculum in schools should be redesigned to make agribusiness compulsory at primary and secondary schools and in year one in all tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
Government should also encourage multinational companies to establish farms with modern facilities and pay good salaries and other incentives as practiced in advanced countries to stimulate interest and attract more investments to the sector.