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Opinion

Agriculture, our focus in 2020 – Governor Diri

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Every successive government both at the federal and state levels in Nigeria often announce diversification of their economy from crude oil to agriculture. Since return to democratic rule in 1999, they have no doubt recognised that the return of the people to the farms would provide job opportunities and improve food production.

But it leaves much to be desired why most government have over the years paid lip service to the once vibrant sector; a sector which has huge potentials to change the economic situation of an individual and government.

The place of agriculture in Nigeria’s economy has remained very critical and strategic when you hold the very fact that it was the mainstay of the nation’s economy before the production of crude oil began in the 50s. Agriculture was a thriving entreprise in the 70s but the consequence of the oil boom with stupendous revenue accruing to the federal government brought about the neglect of the sector that ensured food production.

Many abandoned their farms and the search for jobs in oil companies increased, thereby giving rise to rural-urban migration. Most of the states in the Niger Delta were affected and soon, employment of any sort in an oil company was all that mattered to the people.

It must be noted clearly that prior to the political crisis of 1967-1970, the positive contributions of agriculture to the economy were instrumental to the nation’s economic growth and stability. It is for a fact that the bulk of food demand at that time, was satisfied from domestic output, giving no room to loss of scarce foreign exchange resources on food importation.

This is an indication that the nation can be self-sufficient and sustainable in food production. Year in year out, government solely relied on revenues from crude oil sales and neglected other non-oil sectors such as agriculture. But for some time now, many state governments and the federal government appear to be appreciating the need to return to agriculture to primarily create wealth among the people and as a true alternative source of revenue.

This new drive is in agreement with the reasoning of the third US President, Thomas Jefferson, back then when he identified agriculture as a valuable endeavour. In one of his quotes he said, “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.”

This wise thought and postulation by Jefferson, aptly captures the vision of the present administration in Bayelsa state under Governor Douye Diri, to deploy agriculture as a tool for wealth creation. In his maiden budget, being the financial proposal for 2020, Governor Diri, has set a new direction for the state’s economy and he is placing high premium on agriculture as a major leap towards delivering his campaign promise of consolidation for prosperity.

Yes, the Governor, believes that deliberate policies on agriculture will harness the massive investments made by the immediate past administration of Henry Seriake Dickson and further boost the confidence of the farmers that this government means well for them.

It is historical in Bayelsa state, that the State Ministry of Agriculture, has been earmarked the second highest sectorial allocation of N8 billion naira after the Ministry of Works and Transport which got the highest of N8.6 billion naira. This is ambitious and a positive tendency to show how much the Prosperity government is deeply concerned about the well-being of the people.

Food, they say is life, and the 2020 budgetary allocation to agriculture by Governor Diri, will harness the potentials in agriculture and turn Bayelsa state to a food basket. Tremendous opportunities exist for Bayelsa State agriculture and the entire value chain. The people must return in good numbers to fisheries and livestock production, as well as production of cash and food crops.

Blessed with good arable land, appropriate climatic conditions and rainfall, many crops do well in Bayelsa state. Some of the food crops that can be cultivated for maximum yield include: oil palm, rubber, cocoa, coconut, ginger, rice, sugar cane, citrus, pineapples, bananas, plantain, yam, cassava, cocoyam, sweet potatoes, maize, and pawpaw. A predicted steady and relatively high international cocoa price and export values of other farm products makes this an attractive investment, prospect.

The sector is therefore, a highly promising window to create employment opportunities, boost the local economy to create wealth for the people and as a major contribution to the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of Bayelsa State. The economic potential is looking very bright in the 2020 fiscal year with the “budget of consolidation for prosperity” of N242.187 billion naira signed into law by the Governor. To him, the time for politics is over and that his government is set to hit the ground running.

Taking a critical look at the various sectorial allocations, it is evident that the philosophy and policy thrust behind the 2020 Budget is aimed at laying a solid foundation for sustainable poverty reduction, employment generation and wealth creation through partnership with private sector investors, research institutes and communities to diversify from a crude oil revenue economy towards achieving food security in the state in the near future.

To this end, government has also formulated specific sectorial strategies in the areas of agriculture and rural development, as well as small and medium scale Industries to boost local production of goods and services.

The thinking is that, by leveraging on the achievements of the past government in the agricultural sector, the state would be able to ease whatever effects the ravaging COVID 19 and its disastrous impact on economies, both locally and internationally, would have on the Statutory Revenue from the federal allocation as crude oil fixed at a benchmark of $55 per barrel continues to slump in the international market.

Based on its geographical constitution and abundant marine resources, the state government says it intends to invest massively in the following projects in the agricultural sub-sectors to ensure that Bayelsa becomes a global fish, cassava and palm oil processing destination by the end of 2020.

The new government is making more investments in the Cassava Multiplication Projects in Ebedebiri and Otuasega communities, the Peremabiri, Kolo and Isampou rice Projects and the massive aquaculture started by the Dickson’s administration.

Governor Diri, said, “we are poised to quit being a net consumer of food items to becoming a producer and supplier state. The value chain transformation programmes will be supported. We are already in partnership with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other agencies to increase funding of various agricultural projects. We will put to optimal use the aquaculture projects in Igbogene/Yenegwe, Ikeibiri, Angalabiri etc. We shall engage in cassava, rice, plantain, sugarcane farming among others”.

This government is not given to rhetorics and the budget speech of Governor Diri, has shown a man with a definite plan for the agricultural sector. It is indeed a new season for the farmers in Bayelsa State.

It is the new economic destination and the world of opportunities in the state would be measured by “Agrodollars” and that is the new reality in Bayelsa state. Truly, the farmers would be kings again. Indeed, agriculture remains the most noble employment of man. So, who is the next agro-preneur in Bayelsa State under the consolidation for prosperity government?

Oredipe, is Co-ordinator, Bayelsa Governor New Media Team

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