CHALLENGES OF AGRICULTURE IN TROPICAL AFRICA AND IN NIGERIA
The location of Africa between latitudes 37°N and 56°S of the equator and longitudes 17°W and 51°E of the Greenwich meridian is a very favourable factor to the activities of the agricultural industry of the continent. Africa is the second largest continent after Asia; of all the seven continents on the globe. It is the home of agriculture with its extensive fertile lands and wide variation of vegetation. The agricultural industry has been behind the production of food and feeding of the populace, not only in Africa but in the world. This blessed continent is the most tropical of all the continents as about 43% of it lies between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn (latitude 23.5° North and South).
The agriculture of Africa has evolved over time, going through four stages
STAGE 1: Hunting and Gathering
STAGE 2: Subsistence farming
STAGE 3: Cash crop production
STAGE 4: Commercial farming.
Through agriculture, many nations have been able to provide quality food for its citizens, as well as creation of employment opportunities. The opportunities offered by the industry goes beyond the labourers or staff on the farm, but also covers the production of machines and implements used on the farm, the production of farm inputs, marketing and so on. Countries also enjoy the influx of foreign exchange through the exportation of agricultural products. A nation such as Nigeria has once benefited from the generosity of agriculture when the Cocoa, cotton and oil palm dominated its exportation, before the distraction by the discovery of the crude oil beneath the crude soil. Majority of the industries of today depend on the raw materials from the agricultural sector. The Pharmaceutical companies, textile, cosmetic, feed mills, paper, beverages, tyre, sugar, cigarette/tobacco, breweries and other consumer good industries are some examples of the agro-allied industries.
The development of rural areas have also varied directly with the development of agriculture through the introduction of farm mechanisation in the area and provision of jobs and some basic amenities by large companies. The clothing and textile industries have mutually benefited in the development of agriculture.
PROBLEMS OF AGRICULTURE IN TROPICAL AFRICA- USING NIGERIA AS A CASE STUDY
Despite the contributions of agriculture to the development of Africa as a continent and Nigeria in particular, it is disheartening to know that the government’s concentration on the Oil sector is inversely proportional to the attention given to the agricultural sector. Here are some of the problems noticed in the agricultural sector of Nigeria, common to Africa in general.
THE WHIE COLLAR JOBS: when formal education was first introduced, its aim was not to stop people from participating in food production. Unfortunately today, many have abandoned the farm in search of office work with the belief that it requires less physical labour. This group of people might be right afterall. But what they don’t know is that the white collar job is less profitable. And the office jobs till date have produced less millionaires and entrepreneurs compared to the pre-formal education era. More so, the agricultural sector is no longer as physical as past times. The few who have returned to mine the black gold are faring more than the young ones running around in the cities. Perhaps, formal education is now outdated like the agriculture of old.
IGNORANCE: the few who have wisely returned to their old love are settling down, but are now lacking in adequate knowledge to engage in agriculture. Maybe it is time for the political leaders of Africa to use formal education to enhance agriculture instead of teaching how to build planes and cars that have never moved or learning languages that are not needed. It is high time we started going back to our root and giving only practicable knowledge needed for our immediate development.
CONSERVATISM: the conservatism of many peasant farmers is another factor that affects agriculture. Many farmers still stick to the old methods of farming which they learnt from their fore-fathers. They often oppose innovations such as the use of insecticides, modern implements and improved seedlings; farmers who want to cultivate a cassava that will take 2 years to harvest instead of the newly introduced 7 months and the likes.
POOR FINANCE: this varies from the availability of capital to the accessibility of loans. A lot of farmers don’t have collateral, so the assessment of loans is difficult or near impossible. Financial institutions have little or no confidence in the agricultural industry. Even insurance companies are usually skeptical when it comes to agriculture. Without capital, agriculture would not be able to cater for the economy as expected.
QUALITY OF INPUTS: many fraudulent companies have taken the incompetence of the government leaders for granted while the assurance of quality by appropriate bodies have been mocked. There’s no Body to monitor the quality of agricultural inputs supplied by producers. Many passionate entrepreneurs have left the industry thinking they have failed, not knowing that it is the government who has failed. Even as you read this, some farm managers are losing their jobs and more farm owners are quitting, while the government keeps resting in ignorance and sub-standard input producers are preparing for their languish in the pit of hell.
In other situations, the inputs are not available as political leaders feed their families with the inputs meant to be shared to the poor farmers. Their ruin and that of their families is gathering storm.
LACK OF EXTENSION AGENTS: it is the sole responsibility of the government at all levels to ensure the availability of extension agents. The lack of extension workers have resulted in the redundancy in the agricultural research sector. It is obvious that there are several research institutes in the nation, but what they are researching or the conclusions and findings are not being disseminated properly. Hence, the conservatism of some farmers can be blamed on the government who have not done enough in the enlightenment of the people.
LACK OF BASIC AMENITIES: accessibility to farms, building of dams, availability of power and so on are some of the basic amenities meant to be provided by the government of the people. The unavailability of these things have made it difficult to encourage people into farming. At least, if the leaders cannot encourage people to practice agriculture, they should not send away the few who are sacrificing.
PEST AND DISEASES: certain pests and diseases prevail in certain parts of the country and restricts agricultural production in such areas. Insects like locusts and weevils destroy most young plants before their cycle begins and pests and diseases such as Tsetse fly causes sleeping sickness which creates havoc in cattles, sheeps and goats. There are other pests and diseases which hinders the development of agriculture within the country.
POOR STORAGE: most times, farmers hope and pray to have good yield. It is very frustrating that after having a bountiful harvest, they lose all due to poor storage facilities. The fear of watching their harvest spoil pushes farmers to move straight to the market after harvest and selling at a very cheap price. Farmers therefore produce only what they can sell; this is hindering the development of agriculture in Nigeria and in Africa.
UNSTABLE GOVERNMENT POLICIES: despite the wonderful ideas possessed by political leaders, the policies change too fast even before they are implemented. Programs like Operation Feed the Nation, Back to Land, Green Revolution and so on have all failed not because the concepts were bad, but because those who could have implemented them well were prematurely removed from office. The unstable political system has resulted in unstable policies. Another example is the ban on importation of some food stuffs by the Federal Government, and while the policy is yet to be fully implemented, the whole system changes. This is generally a challenge in Africa where continuance in governance is reserved for heroes.
UNPREDICTABLE WEATHER AND CLIMATE: while the meteorologists are putting all efforts to assist the farmers, the intruding climate change and global warming has mitigated their achievements. Will there be August break? When will the rains come? When will the rains stop? These are some of the questions that are normally not difficult to answer by the NIMETS, but recently, the forecasts have not been the reality putting the AGRIC business man in huge risk.
FLUCTUATING MARKET PRICE: this affects mostly the perennial crops and plantations. The price of a produce might be okay at planting, but at harvest, prices might have dropped. This fluctuation has made the cultivation of perennial crops rare. It is worthy of note too that annual crop cultivation is also affected by unstable prices. As long as this problem persists, farmers would not grow and the agriculture industry would not grow also. No industry can grow without it’s staff.
THE WAY TO GO
The possible solutions to agricultural problems can be found on Earth. There’s no need for space travel for that. In another article, we shall be looking at the AGRO EMPIRE ONE STOP SOLUTION to the problems of agriculture in Nigeria and the Globe in general. The Agro Empire has been able to put in place through over-time experience, research and technical consultations; all the problems of the agricultural sector and proffered solutions to all.