In Nigeria, agriculture has suffered from neglect over the years. Time was when agriculture was the mainstay of the economy and the bedrock of the nation’s development. With the discovery of oil, fortunes in agriculture nosedived and Nigeria became less sufficient in food production and livestock. Rural to urban migration also set in, thus reducing the manpower needed for agriculture. However, in recent times, the call for a return to agriculture in Nigeria has intensified.
Just as it obtains in other sectors of the nation, Nigeria is blessed in agriculture. Most of the land available in the country is arable. In 1990, it was speculated that about 82 million hectares out of Nigeria’s total land area of 91 million hectares were found to be arable, and merely 42 percent of this cultivatable area was farmed. Much of this land was farmed under the bush fallow system, a process whereby land is left idle for a period of time to allow natural regeneration of soil fertility and replacement of soil nutrient.
Both food and cash crops are produced in Nigeria. Major crops produced include beans, sesame, cashew nuts, vegetables, okra, potatoes, cassava, cocoa, groundnut, corn, melon, kolanut, yams, soyabeans, sorghum, rubber, rice, plantain, palm oil, palm kernel, and millet. Virtually all types of crops can be cultivated in Nigeria due to fertilite soil and favourable climatic conditions in Nigeria.Nigeria is the world number 1 producer of cassava. Cassava farming has taken the center stage in Nigeria and contributes over 45 percent of Nigerian agricultural GDP.
Agriculture in Nigeria also deals with livestock and fishery. In spite of the challenges, rearing of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, snails, horses, rabbits, and poultry are still prevalent. Farmers have also gone into rearing different kinds of fishes. Other sectors in agriculture include horticulture, agriculture extension, agricultural economics, and agricultural engineering.
Sadly, subsistence farming is still largely practiced in the country, such that farmers only provide food for their family while very little is made available in the market. But over the years, agriculture in Nigeria has greatly improved because of the advent of technology and other necessary infrastructures. Growth in agricultural output has no doubt been on the rise as farmer are stepping away from subsistence agriculture and embracing modern civilization – investing in large scale farming and ultimately increasing agricultural products.
Agriculture in Nigeria contributes merely about 20 percent to the GDP, trailing behind petroleum which is the major Nigerian domestic produce. Although Nigeria depends heavily on the oil industry for its budgetary revenue, it is believed that if properly managed and enhanced, the agricultural sector would greatly boost the country’s gross domestic product and even replace oil on the top of the list, considering the vast area of land that is unused in Nigeria.
SECTORAL HISTORY OF AGRICULTURE IN NIGERIA
Crop production: The agricultural history of Nigeria is intertwined with its political history. In pre-colonial times, the first notable activity in agriculture was the establishment of a botanical research station in Lagos by Sir Claude Mcdonald in 1893. This was followed by the acquisition of land, and the establishment of the Department of Agriculture in both Southern and Northern Nigeria.
From the early 1920s to the mid 1930s, a statistical design for experimental trials in green manuring, fertiliser projects, rotational cropping systems and livestock feeding was devised and later, there were significant intensification and expansion of research activities, and extension and training programmes of the Agricultural Departments. However, the intensification of hostilities during the Second World War (1939-45) led to the slowing down of activities.
On the research side, the WAIFOR (West African Institute for Oil Palm Research) in Benin was started and the research on cocoa was intensified at Moor Plantation, Owena near Ondo and at Onigambari near lbadan.
Achievements of the period include the development of cotton; rice and wheat cultivation and the expansion of production of such export crops as cocoa, oil palm and groundnut. The introduction of regionalism from the 1940s brought about competition amongst the federating units and investment multiplied in agriculture.
The period after independence was one of extensive planning and regional competition in agriculture. Concentration of attention on commodity exports, the utilisation of taxation policy by the Marketing Boards as an instrument of development finance, and the belief that food production activities could take care of themselves without any governmental intervention, became the official farm policy.
This period coincided with the golden years of Nigeria where agriculture was the mainstay of the economy. The pride of the regions was their farms. The North boasted of the groundnut pyramids and cotton plantain, the West had cocoa in abundance, while the East was known for oil palm produce and rubber.
With the oil boom of the 1970s, however, laxity became the rule. It was no longer fashionable to farm and raise livestock as easy money flowing from oil was more than enough for the government of the day. This situation was worsened by the fact that the regional autonomy that brought competition was abolished in the coup of 1966. Rural-urban migration increased and the number of people left to farm in the hinterlands reduced.
After this, various governments have come on board and have introduced agricultural policies that seem good on the surface but the key remains implementation. The penalty of over dependence on oil has hit Nigeria in the face and the campaign for a return to agriculture has gained more voice.
Livestock: Livestock production in Nigeria was dominated by nomadic pastoralism long before the advent of the British Colonial Administration. The immediate interest of the colonial government in livestock was with the health and hygiene of the domesticated cattle. Thus, the Nigerian Veterinary Department was established in 1914 with its headquarters at Zaria.
In October 1927, proposals for the establishment of a Stock Farm were made to the Government. It was proposed that three breeds, namely, the White Fulani, Gudali and Shuwa represented by a dairy herd of about 20 heads each be stocked at Shika.
Much later, the planners decided to introduce the “Mixed Farming Policy.” The policy was typified by the importation of six pullets and one cockerel of the Rhode Island Red breed from England in 1933 to Agege where crops like maize, cassava, yam, oil palm, kola, coffee, pineapple and citrus fruits were already cultivated.
The role of educational advancement in agricultural development in Nigeria was given prominence at an earlier stage. By 1938, the need for more co-operation between the livestock farmers and the traditional agriculturists became obvious and this led to the establishment of range management for livestock improvement in Nigeria. In 1940, milk-buying units were established and butter was produced on commercial scale alongside the production of cheese and bacon.
Regionalism also had an impact on livestock production. The Western Nigeria Development Corporation (WNDC) established the Upper Ogun Ranch for the commercial production and distribution of cattle. In the Eastern Region, South Devon cattle were intro duced at the Obudu Ranch. Friesian bulls were imported to the farm at Agege in Lagos; the Teaching and Research Farm at the University of lbadan obtained foundation stock of cattle from Shika. Extensive facilities were also established for research in piggery and poultry. The administrative machinery for agricultural development and co-ordination was also modified.
Fisheries: The history of fisheries development in Nigeria is a comparatively recent one, although reports have shown that a fishing company operated from the coastal waters of Lagos long before 1915.
A fisheries organisation was established in 1941 as a Fisheries Development Branch of the Agricultural Department of the Colonial Office. In the late 40s, small motor fishing crafts were acquired for exploratory fishing in the estuaries, lagoons and creeks. It was considered “that these fisheries should receive priority treatment at this stage in Nigeria over sea fisheries”.
Between 1948 and 1950, major efforts were made at extending the artisanal fisheries programme to other coastal areas of Nigeria. In addition, trawling surveys were undertaken in the vicinity of Lagos and Cameroons and a sub-station was maintained at Between 1952 and 1957, the bulk of the marine biological research was performed by the West African Fisheries Research Institute (WAFRI) at Freetown, Sierra Leone; a unit was maintained at Birnin Kebbi. Under the 1954 Constitution of Nigeria, the fisheries organisation was split between the Federal and Regional Governments.
The Federal Fisheries Service concerned itself with the development of the modern fishing vessels (trawlers) including their licensing; the planning of a fishing terminal for Lagos; and also with research.Achievements of the Service included the establishment of the Malarnfatori station on the Lake Chad, development of the Brackishwater fish farming project at Buguma, and study initiatives at the Kainji Dam site.
The period 1956-66 witnessed great expansion in Nigeria’s fishing activities. In the coastal trawler fleet, from a single registered trawler in 1956, the fleet was built up, by 1960, to 13 while the total fish catch increased ten-fold during the period. This level of production was sustained up to 1963 but catches fell in 1964-66, following heavier exploitation of the Lagos fishing grounds.
By this period, however, commercial quantities of prawns had been discovered in the eastern parts of the country and many of the vessels converted to prawn fishing, thus reducing the pressure on the fish stock. By1970, the fish stock had fully recovered and the expansion of inshore fishing activities was becoming so rapid that plans were then made to regulate fishing in order to conserve the rather limited resources.
The period also saw a considerable increase in the artisanal fisheries. This has been attributed to the concentration of fishing activities close to the rich grounds; higher money returns for efforts; general improvement in processing, storage and distribution methods; improvement in the type of fishing craft used and, especially, to the higher gear efficiency due to a complete changeover to synthetic fibre. The general result was that the contribution of fisheries to the country’s QDP quadrupled between 1960 and 1970.