I must confess I knew next to nothing about the new Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, until his emergence as the monarch of the ancient town. And pronto, four things really strike me about his personality. The first two are is his youthfulness and attractive look. The others are his deep entrepreneurial skill and stunning wealth. Within just a few months on the throne, emerging details about the youthful monarch indicate that Olodumare did not make a mistake in approving of his ascendance to the exalted throne of Oduduwa. For one, he has demonstrated uncommon wisdom and single-mindedness in his pursuit of unity among Yoruba kings. Concerning the project, he recently said: “I have a clear strategy: if you don’t want to accept me, I will accept you. It is important and I will be persistent about it because it is a divine calling.” He also has a burning passion for youth empowerment as well as the industrialization of his domain.
However, of all his actions so far, the one that really catches my fancy is his renewed efforts to draw attention to the ailing agriculture sector in the country. While speaking to reporters during a recent visit to Aso Rock, the monarch expressed a strong conviction that cocoa and other agricultural produce can take Nigeria out of its present economic predicament. He said: “I am working with the minister of Agriculture. We have assembled over 200,000 youths within 30 days. We are encouraging them to go back to the farm.” He further informed that while crude oil price continued in its downward slide, cocoa price has gone up by over 100 per cent.
Going down memory lane, the Ooni recalled that, during the colonial era, Nigeria used to be the largest exporter of cocoa in the world. According to him, since the farmlands and personnel are still available, nothing stops us from replicating same feat again. To demonstrate his resolve to walk the talk, he revealed an ambitious plan he termed “a positive indicator for the nation’s economy’ which is hinged on empowering the youth to embrace agriculture by offering five acres of land per youth in addition to other technical and financial supports.
True to the words of the monarch, of late, cocoa price has received huge boost. We are mostly unaware of this because of our thoughtless over dependence on crude oil. Not until the Ooni drew our attention to the current development, most of us have been busy, as usual, blabbing about how the national economy is not faring any better. Characteristically, everyone has been saying the obvious without actually providing recipes for the way forward. While we lazily howl over our dwindling oil fortune, cocoa, a produce with which we have relative competitive edge has been making waves in the global market.
This is partly due to increase in global demand for chocolate, a favourite delicacy in Europe and North America. With the increase in the consumption rate of chocolate, there is, as expected, a corresponding increase in demand for cocoa beans, the central component in chocolate. Consequently, producers across the globe are assisting farmers to boost harvest, especially in tropical regions where cocoa trees grow, with the hope of getting sufficient supply to meet increasing demand for chocolate. According to market intelligence providers, Euro Monitor International, Europe and America account for about 71% of chocolate consumption.
However, other regions, especially, emerging markets in Asia, are fast developing a taste for chocolate. Singaporean commodities trading firm and agribusiness processor Olam International had projected that demand will outpace supply as more emerging-markets consumers catch on. The value of the Asia-Pacific chocolate confectionery market is expected to grow from $12.6 billion in 2013 to $16.3 billion in 2018, according to Euro Monitor. Growth in Latin America and the Middle East is also outpacing the global average, which ranges between 1 and 2 percent annually, according to figures from Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest processor of bulk cocoa.
This new trend should ordinarily be cheering news to us, if only we had made positive efforts, long ago, to diversify our economy by revitalizing the agriculture sector. Succeeding administrations only paid lip services to the development of the non-oil sector. For instance, the much celebrated ‘Operation Feed the Nation’ and ‘Green Revolution’ of the Olusegun Obasanjo led military government and the civilian administration of Sheu Shagari respectively did little to lift the agriculture sector.
Former Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina, once revealed that the Federal Government spent N98 trillion on the importation of food for five years. In 2010 alone, the nation spent N635 billion on wheat importation while another N35 trillion was spent on rice importation as well as N217billion on sugar importation and another N97billion spent on fish importation.
Over the years, the export potential of cash crops such as cocoa, groundnuts, cashew among others, has seriously diminished. It is sad that Nigeria is no longer a key exporter of cocoa, groundnuts, rubber and palm oil. Ironically, these were the produce that the nation’s founding fathers built the prosperity of the country upon. It is incredible how a nation that was once the biggest poultry producer in Africa now has its total output reduced from 40 million birds annually to about 18 million. Agriculture has suffered from years of neglect, poorly conceived governments’ policies as well as lack of basic infrastructure.
Despite the fact that agricultural production rose by 28 percent during the 1990s, per capita output rose by only 8.5 percent during the same decade. Consequently, agriculture has not been able to keep pace with Nigeria’s rapid population growth as evident in the sad reality that Nigeria, which once exported food, now relies heavily on imports to sustain itself. Contented in its newly found oil wealth, succeeding governments in the country simply allowed investment in agriculture to decline to a ridiculous state. The prospect of the sector, nevertheless, still reflects in its being accountable for over 26.8% of GDP and two-thirds of employment in the country.
To reverse the drift, we must appreciate the potentials of the sector as a catalyst for economic and industrial transformation. There is a need to recreate a modernized professional and commercial farming sector, supported by improved infrastructure and research into high performance seeds and livestock. To encourage the teeming army of un-employed youths in the country to take to agriculture, government should make access to loans meant for agriculture much easier while large scale farming powered by mechanized infrastructures should be the central goal.
Equally, local food production needs to be encouraged by making inputs available, giving farmers access to more farm land, providing micro credit at subsidized cost, supporting adequate processing and storage, providing market facilities, and discouraging import of produce with local substitutes through tariffs. It is also important that a significant portion of the country’s annual budget be set aside for the development of the sector. This can be achieved if we reduce expenses on frivolous ventures.
Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.