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Nigeria is very blessed with agricultural resources, a large expanse of land estimated at 91 million hectares (1990) of which 81 million hectares are arable. Most parts of the country experience rich soil, well distributed rainfall, not to mention the warm year-round temperatures. And 18 million hectares of land classified as permanent pasture, for livestock production.
Agriculture has its place in the history of the nation, this is the reason for the 'green' in the flag, and the progressive roles it has played; serving as the major source of livelihood to over 75% of the population. The agricultural history of Nigeria is intertwined with its political history. This can be assessed from the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial periods.
THE PRE-COLONIAL AND COLONIAL PERIODS
Long before the advent of Nigeria's colonization, our ancestors were sustained primarily on farming as the major occupation with the use of crude implements compared to what is obtained today. Yet, they produced enough food crops to feed themselves like most other Africans and also produced cash crops which used for trade by barter system, across the Trans Saharan trade to the end of the Atlantic trade. They responded accordingly to the demands of their time, the limitations notwithstanding.
The period of the colonial administration in Nigeria, 1861-1960, was punctuated by rather ad hoc attention to agricultural development. During the era, considerable emphasis was placed on research and extension services. The first notable activity of the era was the establishment of the Department of Botanical Research in 1893 in the former Western Nigeria; saddled with the responsibility of conducting research in Agriculture. In 1905, the British Cotton Growers Association acquired 10.35 square kilometers of land at the site now called Moor Plantation, Ibadan for growing cotton to feed the British Textile Mills. In 1910, Moor Plantation, Ibadan became the headquarters of the Department of Agriculture in Southern Nigeria, and a Department of Agriculture was established in the North in 1912.
In 1921, a unified Department of Agriculture was formed in Nigeria, after the amalgamation of the North and the South. The major policy of the Central Department of Agriculture was to increase production of export crops for the British market which was ready to absorb it for its industrial growth. Extension activities were therefore directed towards increasing efficiency in crop production and marketing. Regulations were made to set and enforce standards in export crop production.
Under the colonial government, livestock which were predominantly nomadic got a fair share of development with interest directed at the health and hygiene of the domesticated cattle. Thus, the Nigerian Veterinary Department was established in 1914 with its headquarters at Zaria. In 1924, a small veterinary laboratory was established in Vom for the production of rinderpest serum.
Deliberate efforts at developing the country's fisheries can be said to date back to the Second World War when, because of the naval blockade of the high seas, the then Colonial Administration decided to develop the country's local resources, including fisheries. A fisheries organization was established in 1941 as a Fisheries Development Branch of the Agricultural Department of the Colonial Office and a Senior Agricultural Officer was appointed to conduct a survey of the industry and its possibilities. The headquarters was sited at Apese village and later at Onikan in Lagos, from where, assisted by a part-time voluntary officer, preliminary experiments in fish culture in brackish water ponds at Onikan were carried out and surveys were conducted on the canoe fisheries of Apese village and Kuramo waters around Victoria Island, Lagos.
The colonial period also witnessed the establishment of the Niger Agricultural Project in 1949 with the aims of producing groundnut for export and guinea-corn for local consumption. It was also meant to relieve world food shortage, demonstrate better farming techniques and increase productivity of Nigeria’s agriculture. The project was sited near Mokwa (Niger state) at an area which was suitable for mechanized food crop production.
THE POST-COLONIAL PERIOD
New policies were formulated in the post-independence era to actualize more equitable growth in agriculture. The earlier surplus extraction policies were quickly translated into the pursuit of an export-led growth. This led to the demarcation of the country into the Western Region (cocoa), Northern Region (groundnut) and Eastern Region (oil palm).
The 1962-1968 development plans was Nigeria’s first national plan. Among several objectives, it emphasized the introduction of more modern agricultural methods through farm settlements, co-operative (nucleus) plantations, supply of improved farm implements (e.g. hydraulic hand presses for oil palm processing) and a greatly expanded agricultural extension service.
Some of the specialized development schemes initiated or implemented during this period included:
· Farm Settlement Schemes
· National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), launched in 1972.
There were also a number of agricultural development intervention experiments, notably
· Operation Feed the Nation, launched in 1976;
· River Basin and Rural Development Authorities, established in 1976;
· Green Revolution Programme, inaugurated in 1980
· The World Bank-funded Agricultural Development Projects (ADP).
While each of the above programmes sought to improve food production, the ADPs represented the major practical demonstration of the integrated approach to agricultural development in Nigeria.
Owing to the oil boom in the 1970s, Agriculture assumed a downward trend. Available data show that at independence in 1960 the contribution of agriculture to the GDP was about 60%, which is typical for developing agrarian nations. However, this share declined over time to only about 25% between 1975 and 1979. Between 1970 and 1982, agricultural production stagnated at less than one percent annual growth rate, at a time when the population growth was between 2.5 to 3.0 per cent per annum. There was a sharp decline in export crop production, while food production increased only marginally. Thus, domestic food supply had to be augmented through large imports. The food import bill rose from a mere N112.88m annually during 1970 - 1974 to N1, 964.8m in 1991.
The years since the early 1960s have also witnessed the establishment of several agricultural research institutes and their extension research liaison services. Some of the major institutions are:
1. Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Service (AERLS) at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria established in 1963
2. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) established in 1967
3. International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA).
In an attempt to address the dwindling resources accrued from Agriculture, successive government implemented programs aimed at increasing food production and reviving Agriculture. These are:
National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP): was an agricultural extension programme initiated in 1972 by the Federal Department of Agriculture during General Yakubu Gowon’s regime. The programme focused on bringing about a significant increase in the production of maize, cassava, rice and wheat in the Northern states through subsistent production within a short period of time. The programme was designed to spread to other states in the country after the pilot stage that was established in Anambra, Imo, Ondo, Oyo, Ogun, Benue, Plateau and Kano states.
Operation Feed the Nation (OFN): This programme evolved on 21st May 1976 under the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. The programme was launched in order to bring about increased food production in the entire nation through the active involvement and participation of everybody in every discipline thereby making every person capable of partly or wholly feeding him or herself. Under this programme every available piece of land in urban, sub-urban and rural areas was meant to be planted while government provided inputs and subsidies (like agrochemicals, fertilizers, improved variety of seed/seedlings, day old chicks, machetes, sickles, hoes etc) freely to government establishments. Individuals received these inputs at a subsidized rate.
The River Basin Development Authority (RBDA): River Basin Development Decree was promulgated in 1976 to establish eleven River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs) (Decree 25 of 1976). The initial aim of the authorities was to boost economic potentials of the existing water bodies particularly irrigation and fishery with hydroelectric power generation and domestic water supply as secondary objectives. The objective of the programme was later extended to other areas most importantly to production and rural infrastructural development.
The Green Revolution: Green Revolution was a programme inaugurated by Shehu Shagari in April 1980. The programme was aimed at increasing production of food and raw materials in order to ensure food security and self-sufficiency in basic staples. Secondly, it aspired to boost production of livestock and fish in order to meet home and export needs and to expand and diversify the nation’s foreign exchange earnings through production and processing of export crops. The federal government provided agrochemicals, improved seeds/seedlings, irrigation system, machine (mechanization), credit facilities, improved marketing and favorable pricing policy for the agricultural products.
The Nigerian Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA): This was established in 1992. The authority aims at giving strategic public support for land development, assisting and promoting better uses of Nigeria’s rural land and their resources, boosting profitable employment opportunities for rural dwellers, raising the level/standard of living of rural people, targeting and assisting in achieving food security through self-reliance and sufficiency.
National Fadama Development Project (NFDP): The first National Fadama Development Project (NFDP-1) was designed in the early 1990s to promote simple low-cost improved irrigation technology under World Bank financing. The main objective was to sustainably increase the incomes of the Fadama users through expansion of farm and non-farm activities with high value-added output.The programme covered twelve states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Kebbi, Lagos, Niger, Ogun Oyo, Taraba including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The program adopted community driven development approach with extensive participation of the stakeholders at early stage of the project. This approach is in line with the policies and development strategies for Nigeria which emphasize poverty reduction, private sector leadership and beneficiary participation. Overall appraisal of the first and second phases of the project; show remarkable success, hence the invention of the current third phase.
National, Special Programme on Food Security (NSPFS): This Programme was launched in January 2002 in all the thirty six states of the federation during the Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime. The broad objective of the programme was to increase food production and eliminate rural poverty. Other specific objectives of the programme were: assisting farmers in increasing their output, productivity and income; strengthening the effectiveness of research and extension service training and educating farmers on farm management for effective utilization of resources; supporting governments efforts in the promotion of simple technologies for self-sufficiency; consolidating initial efforts of the programme on pilot areas for maximum output and ease of replication; consolidating gain from on-going for continuity of the programme and consequent termination of external assisted programmes and projects.
Root And Tuber Expansion Programme (RTEP): RTEP was launched on 16th April 2003 under Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. It covers 26 states and was designed to address the problem of food production and rural poverty. At the local farmer’s level, the programme hopes to achieve economic growth, improve access of the poor to social services and carry out intervention measures to protect poor and vulnerable groups. At the national level the programme is designed to achieve food security and stimulate demand for cheaper staple food such as cassava, garri, yam, potato etc as against more expensive carbohydrate such as rice. Small holder farmers with less than two hectares of land per household were the targets of the programme while special attention is being paid to women who play a significant role in rural food production, processing and marketing. RTEP also targets at multiplying and introducing improved root and tuber varieties to about 350,000 farmers in order to increase productivity and income.
Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA):
In 2011 the government of Nigeria, launched the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, with the aim of changing the perception about agriculture as a development issue instead of pure business.
The vision in the transformation strategy is to achieve a hunger-free Nigeria through an agricultural sector that drives income growth, accelerates achievement of food and nutritional security, generates employment and transforms Nigeria into a leading player in global food markets to grow wealth for millions of farmers. In order to achieve this vision, the value chain approach has been in use. Fertilizer procurement and distribution, marketing institutions, financial value chains and agricultural investment framework are poised for a change using this approach.
Ironically, the issues and challenges have not changed much since the dawn of agriculture in Nigeria. Majority of farmers (more than 65%) still use the crude method of farming; Storage ideas and facilities have not improved much and thus losses incurred from postharvest handling are still very high; Infrastructure development has not progressed to meet the current challenges, resulting in stagnation of processes and logistical nightmare; Access to markets has remained a recurring headache making the idea of Farming very unattractive to most people.
Beyond all of this the fact remains that, Nigeria’s Agriculture Sector has enormous potential, with an opportunity to grow output by 160% from USD 99 billion at present to USD 256 billion by 2030 (depending on who you ask).
This growth potential comes from the ability to;
1. Increase yield to 80% -100% of benchmark countries.
2. Shift 20% of production to higher value crops.
Opportunities highlighted at SENCE Agric’s Agriculture Fair of March 2012 showed that Nigeria faces a large and growing global agricultural market. The rising commodity prices, growing demand for food and opportunities in bio fuel as safe sources of alternative fuel all present significant opportunities for Nigeria. In summary Agriculture has had a long history in Nigeria albeit a not so successful one but the future is great and the right people need to be involved to move it away from rhetoric to a life giving, money making venture for the good of man and country.
 Williams, S.K.T. (1978). Rural Development in Nigeria. Ile-Ife University of Ife Press, Nigeria, 129pp.
 Ayoola, G.B. (2001), Essays on The Agricultural Economy 1: A Book of Readings on Agricultural Development Policy and Administration in Nigeria: Ibadan: TMA Publishers.
Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), (2004) The Ethics of Sustainable Agricultural Intensification.
 Source: Ayoola (2001) Essays on the Agricultural Economy: A Book of Readings on Agricultural Development Policy and Administration in Nigeria. TMA Publishers Ibadan P. 81.
 Source: http://www.fadama.org
 Source: Central Bank of Nigeria: Nigeria Incentive Based Risk Sharing for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), November 16, 2011, pg 2
 Paper presented by the Executive Director of NIHORT in March 2012 at the SENCE Agric Agricultural Fair.