• Friday, June 14, 2024
businessday logo


Agropreneurship: A driver of economic development

Farm protection, agric funding only solution to food scarcity, unemployment in Nigeria – ActionAid

More than two-thirds of Africans depend on agriculture for their income and other basic food needs. Research has shown that countries with higher agricultural growth have lower poverty rates.

By improving agriculture and food markets, there is an opportunity to further lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty. In terms of food production, Nigeria has yet not seen the kinds of revolutions that have taken place in other developed countries. Rising food prices continue to push people further into poverty as nutrition worsens; use of health and education services has been on the decline while productive assets are being sold. The effects are often irreversible.

Between 2018 and 2020, more than 22% of Nigeria’s population was exposed to severe food insecurity, the World Bank said. While evidence from the Food and Agricultural Organisation shows Nigeria’s total food imports stood at N3.35 trillion as against its food export value of N803 billion between 2016 and 2019, as more than 70% of its total population are engaged in subsistence farming despite the huge potential that abounds in the sector.

The multiple crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and the incessant attacks by militants in the Northern part of Nigeria have further worsened the level of hunger in the country, with one of the highest number of people living in extreme poverty globally.

A report by the Borgen Project reveals, “Unemployment has skyrocketed as one-third of the population does not have a job while food inflation which has accounted for 70% of Nigeria’s inflation has also continued to compound its hunger and poverty crisis.”

A country that used to boast of agricultural pyramids has now become more of a consumer nation than a producer nation, and this has contributed immensely to food insecurity and poverty in the country.

The inability of Nigerian agriculturists to provide food in sufficient quantity and quality to feed the increasing population has further resulted in food shortages, undernourishment, malnutrition, starvation, hunger, and ill-health even as the number of people living below the poverty line in Nigeria has increased by over 20% over the last 15 years.

Agriculture has been recognized in many reports as one of the key sectors for achieving the poverty targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) therefore, it is paramount to ensure that the sector performs optimally as more work still needs to be done to restore its lost glory.

Agropreneur and poverty reduction: The prospects

It is evident that for young people, agriculture is often seen as outdated, unprofitable, and hard work. Yet, this is not the case. According to a report by the Malabo Montpellier Panel, a group of multinational agriculture experts, “Agriculture is a dynamic sector, offering a multitude of opportunities for entrepreneurship along the entire agribusiness value chain.”

However, one must consider the importance of reaching out to young people and making farming attractive to them, especially going by the rate at which demographic change and structural development draw young people to the cities. Despite the challenges facing agriculture, many prospects still abound for agropreneurs in Nigeria.

Nigeria is currently the most populous black nation in the world with a population of more than 180 million. This implies that demand for agricultural products is always high in Nigeria therefore irrespective of what an agropreneur produces there’s always somebody somewhere that is in need of the products.

Also, agriculture has gone beyond just the planting of crops and rearing animals. Thus, the agropreneur may also consider the full range of ‘agribusiness’ opportunities within the extended food system that can include activities as diverse as processing, packaging, logistics, services, cooking, and recycling wastes. In the midst of all these prospects, the bulk of these opportunities still largely remains untapped.

Challenges and ways forward

There are significant challenges to the development of an agropreneurial culture in developing economies, these include a lack of information, skills, rising insecurity, low level of research, inadequate funding, lack of storage facilities and infrastructure; without which it is difficult to establish a new, vibrant and successful agricultural sector. While the rationale for prioritizing agriculture is sound, many reforms will have to be enacted if the sector is to flourish. Also, there’s a need to critically address the issues identified below:

More resources, spent wisely: Nigeria will need to boost the agriculture budget at all three levels of the government system, matching the rhetoric on the importance of agriculture with a financial commitment to support it. This is easier said than done during a period of economic turmoil, but the recent oil price slump should focus minds on the importance of accelerating economic diversification, and the agriculture sector is the obvious place to start.

Read also: Agroecology: The smart way of combating climate change

Place more emphasis on research and development: Nigeria is home to many agricultural colleges and research centres, including 15 national agricultural research institutes and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, part of the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres (CGIAR) network. Spending on agricultural research, however, has been low over time. Furthermore, evidence suggests that investments in agricultural research are leading to poor outcomes. Better management systems would strengthen the research climate in Nigeria. Greater emphasis must be placed on developing research that provides practical solutions to the problems faced by farmers.

Don’t forget the smallholder farmer: Nigeria understandably wishes to boost commercial farming, but more than 90 percent of Nigerian farmers tend plots of land less than two hectares in size. Though there have been significant efforts to improve the distribution of quality inputs to farmers, they fall far short of what is required. Agriculture officials working at the federal, state, and local levels must place more emphasis on policy delivery.

Nurture young farmers: The issue of unemployment has continued to remain a major bone of contention as more than half of the total youth population cannot get employment after school and the ones that are employed can’t even live on the meagre amount they are being paid. Thus, more actions must be taken to make agriculture an attractive career option for young people and provide incentives for youth to take up farming.

All tiers of government should pull their weight: State and local government areas (LGAs) should be doing more to boost internally generated revenue and reduce their reliance on the federation account, which for most states has merely encouraged indebtedness. Even with increased funding, states and LGAs need to allocate budgets better and more efficiently and match expenditure to policy priorities. That means joint budget and project planning among the tiers of government, more transparent budgeting systems, and better public financial management.

Increased storage and processing facilities: In too many parts of Nigeria, farmers simply do not have access to a market for their goods due to underdeveloped value chains. For example, fields lie fallow in Katsina State not because nothing can be grown there, but because of the dearth of nearby processing facilities. The absence of adequate storage facilities for their goods means many farmers face the choice of selling immediately after harvest when prices are at their lowest or allowing their produce to rot.

Value Addition: When it comes to food, Nigeria doesn’t have a production problem, it has a processing problem. Export markets remain underdeveloped, partly because Nigerian agricultural goods are uncompetitive and do not meet international standards. A good example is a popular scenario where the yam produce exported by the country was returned back to the country because of the low quality of the yams being exported.