By Olubode Olatunji
The geography is naturally not conducive to agriculture. More than half of the land is desert; only 20% of the land is naturally arable. Other land area was mostly semi-arid, rendered unutiliasable by deforestation, soil erosion and other natural elements. Added to the terrible state of farmlands is also major water problem. With an uneven distribution of rainfall across the country, every single drop of water each year was needed.
The odds were indeed stacked against this country.
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But with various innovations, the story changed. The desire to transform the land, then a barren and disease-ridden region, into a modern state was a key factor in subsequent scientific inquiry and technological development.
With innovations came revolutions in agricultural methods. Rocky fields were cleared and claimed, terraces constructed; swampland drained, reforesting ensued, soil erosion counteracted and salty land washed. Water-saving techniques were searched out which spurred the development of many types of computer-controlled irrigation systems, including the drip method, which directs water flow and nutrients straight to the root zone of plants so that smaller amounts could be used efficiently. With the drive to increase yields and crop quality came the development of new seed and plant varieties. In addition, a variety of equipment were designed, manufactured and implemented for tilling, sowing, planting, harvesting, collecting, sorting and packing.
With a population of 7.8million and only 3.7% of the work force involved in agriculture, this naturally agriculture disadvantaged country became one of the world’s leading fresh citrus producers and exporters and also grows over forty types of fruits. Israel’s agriculture continues to thrive, and produces 95% of its own food requirements.
South Africa has similar story. About two thirds of the country is arid or semi-arid. Only 13 percent of its surface area can be used for crop production. Rainfall is also unreliable and unevenly distributed across the country. There can be long drought periods, as well as devastating floods. But curiously, South Africa is not only self sufficient in virtually all major agricultural products but also a net food exporter, making it 1 of 6 countries in the world capable of exporting food on a regular basis.
Contrast this with our dear country Nigeria. 80 percent of our land is cultivable. Most part of the country experience rich soil, good rainfall and warm year-round temperatures. Nigeria’s diverse climate, from the tropical areas of the coast to the arid zone of the north, make it possible to produce virtually all agricultural products that can be grown in the tropical and semi-tropical areas of the world. In spite of all these endowments and the engagement of about 70 percent of the labour force in this sector, the country cannot still self-feed.
Our import bill on agriculture produce has been on a continuous increase from early 90s and today, it has assumed a phenomenal level. Nigeria’s food balance sheet is in a terrible state.
But there is a ray of hope. And it is a novelty in its own right. For Lagos State is indeed land poor. So, the proposed acquisition of farmlands outside the state by the government for the cultivation of rice should be lauded and encouraged. It takes a visionary and innovative leader to take this route. Knowing the antecedent of the Lagos State Government headed by Babatunde Raji Fashola, it can be taken as certain that the project if and when embarked upon will be a success.
Who knows? This may serve as the tonic that will jolt other governors to see the goldmine that is wasting away in their states. Who knows? This innovative idea may birth other innovative ideas that would lead to a revolution in the agriculture sector of our economy. Who knows? This may herald the new dawn we have long been eagerly awaiting.
Lagos city, all eyes are on you.