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N630 Billion Food Imports And The Flight Of Common Sense

Pope Benedict XVI (born Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger) who recently left the papacy voluntarily over health - related challenges, is reputed as one of the most scholarly religious leaders of all times. Apart from his global rating as one of the finest theologians to have sat on the throne of Saint Peter as the leader of the nearly two billion Catholics globally, Pope Benedict, the German-born cleric was in the news in the year 2008 to have warned the World about the danger inherent in excessive consumerism and materialism.

Frustrated at the crass abandonment of the time-tested Christian values and the speedy decline of the beautiful civilization of religious values among the Western populace, Pope Benedict XVI warned the West against the acceptance and popularization of the vices of consumerism and materialism.

In fact, Pope Benedict XVI called this evil tendency of excessive indulgence in consumption and materialism as the 'false idols' of consumerism.

In a story written for The Telegraph newspaper of Britain on 17th July 2008, the 81-year-old then leader of the Catholic Church said there were signs indicating "something is amiss" in modern society.

Referring to consumerism and the lure of "false idols", he said: "In our personal lives and in our communities, we encounter a hostility, something dangerous; a poison which threatens to corrode what is good, reshape who we are and distort the purpose for which we have been created."

He warned young pilgrims "do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer".

Speaking in English, the pope also addressed climate change, warning that the world's natural resources are being squandered in the pursuit of "insatiable" consumerism.

"Perhaps reluctantly, we come to acknowledge that there are scars which mark the surface of our earth - erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world's mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption," he said.

Clear five years after those prophetic affirmations were made by the German - born Pope, the political leader of the largest black nation in the World, President Goodluck Jonathan, also brought home the same message of the extent of rot that the 'Idol of consumerism' has done to the Nigerian agricultural sector in the sense that Nigerians have now become notorious consumers of foreign food products.

At the 7th Annual Banking and Finance conference in Abuja, on September 10th 2013, Jonathan lamented the high amount spent annually on the importation of food items that could be sourced locally.

'Our import of agricultural products as of last year, we spent N630 billion. We are now ranking number one importer of rice. I don't know the ranking but I think we can also compete well in importing fish, and also in wheat and sugar, and this is a big challenge', he stated.

The President who was represented by Minister of State for Finance, Dr. Yarima Lawal Ngama, made references to the 3.3 billion dollar facility which Aliko Dangote signed with some banks saying, 'I think there is no reason why the banks cannot come together to say that by 2015 Nigeria will not import a single grain of rice'.

'That is a big challenge. We have put the policy in place to discourage importation of rice but the main issue is production,' he added.

At the conference with theme, 'Upholding Professionalism in the Financial Services Industry: Supporting the Economy,' the minister challenged the bankers saying that many countries in the world are proud of agriculture and mining, but not in Nigeria.

He said the oil sector that Nigeria relies on has few exploration companies, few drilling companies controlled by Nigerians, 'so the bulk of the money leaves Nigeria or will not even come to Nigeria, because even the bankers are foreign bankers. But when you look at agric and mining, the entire cash flow will revolve within the country. It will have a bigger multiplier effect on the economy than the oil sector.'

But to borrow from the saying of the legend- professor Chinua Achebe of the blessed memory, we must ask question regarding 'when the rain started to beat us' and that is to say that we have to reflect extensively on when Nigerians became so lazy that institutionally, the agricultural sector that used to be the dominant foreign revenue earner prior to the discovery of crude oil, has suddenly taken the back burner so much so that we have become a dependant nation for food produce.

To this conundrum we will hasten to hear from the immediate past minister of national planning Dr. Shamsudeen Usman who has carved a niche for himself as being frank and straight to the point.

In an interview carried on the website of Channels television of September 3rd, 2013, the former minister who also had a stint in the Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN] as Deputy Governor, recounted the evolution of Nigeria's involvement in agricultural endeavours and implementing policies since the 1860's.

Dr. Usman recalled Nigeria's minimal involvement in the agricultural sector from 1860 - 1950, saying that only 'ad-hoc attention was paid to agriculture' but noted that by the 1950's and 60's 'we attempted the diversification, research and extension services even as he claimed that various steps were adopted to boost domestic production, especially cash crops and added that such a move was targeted at the export market.

According to the former minister of national planning, during the aforementioned period, Nigeria became the largest producer of rubber, groundnuts, palm oil and the second largest producer of Cocoa among others.

The Kano -born technocrat further affirmed that Nigeria within the period under review, renewed its focus on livestock and fisheries just as he recalled that the first national development plan had a very strong bias/focus on agriculture.

In the 1970's and 80's, he claimed that petroleum revenue came in and with the lack of attention to agriculture 'we started to decline in policy support and public funding for agriculture which consequently led to strong decline in domestic production and rising level of dependence on agricultural imports".

Shamsudeen Usman, who demonstrates deep understanding of the agricultural sector, also blamed the then marketing boards for deviating from their mandate but instead were converted to taxation instruments to finance development, which was a disincentive itself to agricultural development.

When read side by side with what can be referred to as the 'Abuja agricultural lamentation' of President Jonathan, one is left with no option but to state that the Nigerian government indeed knows when agricultural decline started and judging by the benefit of hindsights, the current government working in partnership with the National Assembly must introduce legislative instruments to compel the commercial banks to lend money and credit facilities on liberal terms to genuine farmers so that mechanized farming can become the order of the day even as the needed infrastructure to make farming a profitable business in the country must be effective implemented and built. Rural roads infrastructure and good storage facilities in the different parts of the country are imperative.

It is simply a flight of common sense that Nigeria with vast arable and/or cultivable lands and agricultural -friendly climate cannot feed her growing population but will now become a net dependent on foreign food imports.

For well over fifteen years, public debates have being raging on how to reform land ownership in Nigeria and the need to award certificates of ownership of lands to all land owners all across Nigeria so that the finance institutions can accept these instruments as collaterals to grant loans to genuine farmers who approach these finance institutions with efficient agricultural plans .

The only way to restore our national pride and make Nigeria self-sufficient in agriculture, is for the existing legal regime that governs land ownership to be fundamentally reformed and governments at all levels must create the enabling environment for farmers to obtain credit facilities from banks and other extension services from trained experts in the agricultural ministries across the country.

President Jonathan can exorcise the ghosts of the Idols of consumerism afflicting Nigerians by implementing workable measures to transform the agricultural sector to once more become vibrant so the nation can once more re-invent the famous 'Great Groundnuts' Pyramids' that Kano is known for and the palm plantations in the South East including the Cocoa plantations in the South West so they can stage beautiful pragmatic return to Nigeria.

Let government take concrete action so our agricultural sector can be revived so we can stop this perennial national lamentations.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Emmanuel Onwubiko