FOLLOWING the recent global crash of the price of oil per barrel in the International market, the Federal Government of Nigeria introduced austerity measures inorder to mitigate the crushing effect on the economy which is largely run on proceeds from oil exports, as its mainstay.
THE NIGERIAN OBSERVER strongly believes that no other time presents itself than now for the government to diversify its economy through appropriate financing of agriculture, which for now, holds the greatest future for the country, outside oil.
CONCERNED citizens of Nigeria have continued to warn on the dangers of continued dependence by the nation on crude oil which is today the main stay and sustaining source of the Nigerian economy.
THE traditional focus of the Nigerian economy before the discovering of crude oil in commercial quantity was agriculture and it played a fundamental role in shaping the economy of the nation and regions as Nigeria was then constituted in its immediate post independence era.
IN the 1960s, each region of the country was noted for producing some cash crops such at cocoa, groundnut and palm oil as well as rubber in commercial quantities. Basically, the Western region, now the political South West except Lagos which was the Federal Capital, was noted for producing cocoa in large commercial quantities for export The revenue from cocoa helped in shaping the infrastructure and economic environment of then Western Nigeria and its legacies and landmarks were very very visible, as they affected virtually all aspects of life of the people.
IN the Northern region, groundnut was the mainstay of the economy, to the extent that the volume produced in the region was typified by the “groundnut pyramid”. It symbolized the success of the crop as a veritable earner of revenue which impacted economically on the life of the people.
IN the Eastern region, palm oil was its predominant feature and similarly it was a success in boosting the economic atmosphere of the country and the region. Interestingly, it is now an irony that Nigeria has been relegated to the background in palm oil production and has been overtaken by Malaysia, a country which took the Nigerian specimen of the plant, palm kernel, and adapted it to its own climatic condition and is today a leading producer of palm oil, which is a major derivative of palm kernel,
SIGNIFICANTLY, the Midwest region was noted for its rubber plantation and was quite a huge success as the crop played its role as a major economic transformation agent to shore up principally the economy of the region.
WE are concerned that there is slow progress in returning to the traditional focus of reviving these cash crops as major sources of revenue for the Federal Government.
HOWEVER, we are aware that not too long ago, the Federal Government launched the Cocoa Rebirth Initiative, as launch pad to regenerate interest in the crop and encourage farmers who have abandoned the plant to come back on the scene to make cocoa play its rote in the national economy.
THE NIGERIAN OBSERVER implores the Federal Government to similarly create avenues for other cash crops as well and sensitise farmers to take proactive action towards their cultivation.
WHILE the Federal Government has shown the interest to refocus attention on agriculture, there appears to be some disinterest in the way it has pursued the goal. For instance only about N20 billion or 2.0 per cent of the 2006 budget was allocated to agriculture. There was however another N8.7 billion allocated to the sector from the gains of the debt relief granted Nigeria in order to meet the Millennium Development Goats (MDGs).
THERE is no conscious effort to empower small scale farmers to undertake mechanized farming for greater yields, as this is still the exclusive preserve of the elite tanners. Thus farmers who are interested in expansion have no way of coping with the financial demands to undertake mechanized farming. Access to bank loans is uncertain with high interest rate, serving as enough scare to discourage the desire for any expansion.
NOTWITHSTANDING the shortcomings. The NIGERIAN OBSERVER commends the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo for taking paramount interest in agriculture to see that it really plays a crucial role in the economy. It is noteworthy that the Presidential Committee on Agriculture Financing has been able to mobilize N50 billion in the financing of the sector.
ACCORDING to the Committee, N30 billion and N20 billion of the fund would be made available to large scale farmers respectively. Also state governments have agreed to contribute N200 million each white the local governments are soon to come up with their contributions.
BESIDES, a minimum of 10 per cent of the fund had been set aside for women farmers in rural areas. This is also commendable and inspiring to women farmers. Remarkably, President Obasanjo pointed out that deploying N50 billion into agriculture this year could surpass the entire budgetary allocation to agriculture in the last five years. He noted the role of the commercial banks which raised N30 billion of the fund and for the non stringent conditions that wilt be attached to loans from the funds.
WHILE these step are positive measures which should he commended, the initiative of bringing in the banks in partnership with the Federal Government is a major achievement.
WHILE the banks may have played significant roles in the past in assisting farmers, they did to purely on the initiative of the individual farmers and therefore we expect in the new arrangement  as already envisaged, a friendly lending terms that will encourage investment in the agricultural sector.
THE NIGERIAN OBSERVER also calls on the Federal government to consider upward review of allocation to the agricultural sector in the 2007 budget, as the N20 billion allocated to it this year’s budget was indeed paltry. Amounts always allocated in the budget have been a pointer of the genuineness of government’s commitment to the agricultural sector.
WE are further elated by President Obasanjo’s position when he solicited for massive publicity by the implementation committee to enable farmers, especially small scale ones know shout the availability and accessibility of the fund.
WE assert that improving the national agricultural output should be devoid of any prohibition that will limit access to the fund by small scale farmers whose contributions to agricultural development term pare of the concerted effort of the production chain that will lift the nation out of the continued dependence on oil.