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Commitment to agric ’ll end food scarcity, boost economy —Kalu

At a time when the Federal Government is focusing on agriculture, in its diversification programme, former governor of Abia State, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, has stated that Nigeria can overcome recession and food shortage and experience economic boom if it is fully committed to the growth of agriculture as an alternative to oil.

In a paper he delivered on Thursday, entitled: “Sustainable Agriculture: A Credible Alternative for National Development,”  at the 43rd convocation of the Federal College of Agriculture, Ishiagu, Ebonyi State, Kalu said the country must stop paying lip service to the development of agriculture.

He expressed regrets that successive governments in Nigeria had paid less attention to agriculture, in preference to oil, saying with the drop in the price of oil, the country was now grappling with economic problems, which should not have been if attention was paid to agriculture also.

He called on institutions of higher learning to show the way by becoming more practical in their approach to teaching.

He said:  “There is the need for our institutions to be less theoretical and become more practical, especially now that the world is changing. The time has come for us to move this great country forward, and to do this, there has to be an end to the blame game.

“Today, I make bold to say that all over the country, what we enjoy in terms of infrastructure are basically projects that were initiated and executed by the founding fathers of this great country. Just imagine if the resources we have earned from oil over the years had been committed into developing this country the same way the one earned from agriculture was deployed by past leaders, today, Nigeria would have been in the mode of Dubai and Saudi Arabia, if not better.

“However, all hope is not lost, as agriculture, which gave us the pride of place in the past, is still available to be explored and exploited, and now is the time to do that, especially with the Federal Government’s preparedness to support it at any level not just to ensure food sufficiency but also for national development.”

Kalu said that the commitment to agriculture by the nation’s founding fathers led to the infrastructure development Nigeria still enjoys to this day.

“Before going further, it is very important for us to reflect briefly on an important story everybody knows too well. It is the success story of how agriculture built this country’s infrastructure before crude oil was discovered. That success story was made possible through determination, sincerity of purpose, support from the people and some elements of sustainability not only by the government, but all stakeholders. From the South-West, South-East up to the North, the founding fathers of this country had one major source of income, which was agriculture.

“Through sheer commitment and determination, they did not only create jobs for their people from it, they also ensured their regions benefitted largely by providing the necessary social infrastructure, as well as offering free education in some cases.The story of groundnut pyramid in the North, cocoa in the West, palm oil here in the East and rubber in the Midwest is today relayed with relish; but I wonder, if we so love the outcome of that endeavour, why then do we shy away from it.

“The global food security index rates Nigeria the 80th and among the top countries that produce protein food crops. It is also the third in the production of groundnut after India and China, but unfortunately, groundnut is not considered as a foreign exchange earner in any way. That began to happen the moment the popular pyramids disappeared on sighting crude oil. That success story is only reflective of the fact that agriculture is the way to go, especially with what is happening all over the world;

“Those who had abandoned agriculture and migrated to cities for greener pastures and now coming back for the greenest pastures and God-given opportunity they failed to acknowledge in the past. For lack of vision, we relegated agriculture to the background. The most painful aspect of it was that while retired generals have been going back to land to cultivate, able-bodied men and women felt it was not their business to veer into food production,” he said.

He also praised the Federal Government for its zeal to ensure that the agric project becomes an overwhelming appeal to the entire country, as is evident in the approach being deployed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Bank of Agriculture, Bank of Industry (BOI) and allied organisations, all in a bid to ensure food sufficiency and export.

According to him, “Apart from food sufficiency and export, the central Bank governor disclosed recently that this government’s agric project would generate about 500,000 employment opportunities in at least 12 states. That is the one that has been recorded or projected, because “I know there are so many farmers in villages that are not or will never be in that list.  The list does not also contain the growing number of youths who work in my own farm at Ugwueke, Bende Local Government Area of Abia State. I am sure some of you here don’t even know that I am also a farmer and I get most of what I eat from my farm. So get it clear that if I come here to tell you about the beauty and benefit of agriculture to nation’s development, I am doing so in my capacity as a farmer before any other thing.

“The Chinese approach in developing agriculture has been described as very pragmatic with methodology tacitly hinged on a policy of “giving more and taking less.” In 1978, the government gave considerable emphasis to land reforms and subsidies in an effort to assist farmers and give agriculture the priority it deserves.