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Calling on the unemployed to ‘go and farm’ is wrong

Calling on the unemployed to ‘go and farm’ is wrong

The Kingdom of Qin reached its peak in 221 BC when it ended the anarchic era of the Warring States that had plagued swathes of present-day China for 254 years. Yet, the Empire of Qin, from which China derives its name, lasted for only 15 years. Why?

Shang Yang, a legalist, was the central character in the rise of Qin. He crafted the systems of laws, punishments and rewards that fuelled the rise of the kingdom from backwater to superpower. So thorough were his reforms that there were no loopholes for their creator to abuse. When Shang Yang ran afoul of the law; he was caught and condemned by his system.

In contrast, the central villain in the fall of Qin was Zhao Gao, a eunuch. He seized control of the apparatuses of information within the court. By giving the Emperor only good news, he controlled the empire. How he took control is illustrative.

One day, Zhao Gao brought a deer to court. He told the Emperor that the deer was, in fact, a horse. The Emperor, amused, turned to his officials and asked them which one it was, a horse or a deer. Some stayed silent. Others told the truth. Yet some, hoping to ingratiate themselves with Zhao Gao, loudly proclaimed the deer a horse.

With that test, Zhao Gao knew his enemies. He executed those who told the truth. And so gained dominance. He ruined the empire with this power. Its destruction brought his death and the extermination of his entire clan.

Read Also: Nigeria’s November inflation rate jumps to 32-month high on rising food cost

Zhao Gao and the fate of the Qin Empire is a warning about the malign effects of power built on a foundation of lies.

No week passes without government officials urging us to ‘think Agric’. On 13 December 2020, the News Agency of Nigeria quoted a representative of the Agriculture Minister, Sabo Nanono. He said, ‘Crude Oil is failing the country, so we need to give agriculture its prime place in the country. Since 2011 till date the Federal Government has been doing its necessary best to boost agriculture.’

In a 2014, a World Bank report: Explaining Gender Differentials in Agricultural Production in Nigeria, said that agriculture takes up 91 per cent of the country’s 91.1 million hectares.

In the second quarter of 2020, agriculture’s share of the economy was 24.65 per cent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. More than manufacturing and more than oil. In the case of the latter, its contribution was nearly three times greater. In that same quarter, while manufacturing had shrunk by 12.05 per cent and Services 6.78 per cent, Agriculture grew by 1.58 per cent. And though the percentage of the agricultural workforce had reduced to 34.7 per cent in 2020, from 50 per cent in 1991, it remains the country’s largest employer.

Considering the above, agriculture is already in a ‘prime place’. To say otherwise is to call a deer a horse. As things stand, the problem is too much agriculture. The profession, though important, is intrinsically limited. Prime land is scarce, and scarcer still are skilled farmers. As many commentators have observed, not everybody should be farmers. The attitude evinced by some policymakers calling on the unemployed to ‘go and farm’ is wrong.

The watchword of modernity is efficient production, doing more with less, in other words. In the case of agriculture, that means we need fewer farmers to wring more production from a smaller area. Far from being just a watchword of modernity, efficient production is also common sense. The idea that the more valuable a task, the more it would benefit from having more people thrown at it is false. For one, I doubt that occupants of equally valuable positions like the Presidency or the Senate would be keen to try it out.

Rather than trying to brute-force our way through problems, we should try the imagination displayed by Zhao Gao in weeding out his opposition. Note that he did not deploy an army of enemy-finders or loudly proclaim his aspiration to crush his enemies. Instead, he posited a concept: find people who agree with my lies, then applied an appropriate tool. Those who disagreed were his enemies, QED.

An imaginative approach to policy would involve a concept like eliminating hunger within Nigeria. That would permit a broader vision without agriculture tunnel-vision. Therein, encouraging greater productivity in domestic agriculture through consolidation and specialisation would have a place. Equally important would be reducing transport costs through our internal and external transport corridors. Commodities trading companies maintaining the supply of food from abroad would be seen as every bit as important (and patriotic) as the hardy local farmer. Because of their importance to the process of eliminating hunger, securing lives and property would become a priority.

The current strategy is not working. Trying to return people to the days of 50 per cent employment in agriculture or even higher would be a disaster of unheralded proportions. Our future path lies in the opposite direction, but to get there, we need a new approach to the way we approach policy discussions. A witty Griqua once told a White missionary to tell his God to come himself, not send his son, because their challenges were not a task for children.

Nigeria, 60 years an independent country, and with an estimated 200 million people within her borders, is long past the stage for our policies to still be characterised by white lies and childlike single-mindedness. We either change, or we die.

Emmanuel-Francis Nwaolisa Ogomegbunam is a Nigerian by conviction.