In his newest article published in Premium Times, Sunbeth Global Concepts’ Managing Director, Olasunkanmi Owoyemi, discussed the employment opportunities available in the Nigerian agricultural sector and what the government must do to create well-paying jobs in the industry. Here is a summary of the key points.
The Problem: Over 23 million people are employed in the Nigerian agricultural sector, but most are poor.
Olasunkanmi Owoyemi kicked off his publication with statistical figures showing the level of active participation in the Nigerian agricultural industry. The Nigerian agricultural sector employs over 23 million people and can employ an additional four million in the coming years.
However, these statistics do not reflect the economic status of the individuals involved in the industry. As is often said, there’s a difference between being “employed” and being “gainfully employed”; many operators in the Nigerian agricultural industry are not gainfully employed. A cursory look at any list of well-paying jobs in Nigeria makes the situation apparent.
Primarily, the majority (over 70%) of the 23 million operators in the Nigerian agricultural sector are smallholder farmers living below the poverty line of $1.9 per day.
The Reason: Over-dependence on oil exports, leading to negligence of the agricultural sector by the government
One of the main reasons the agricultural sector continues to perform below its potential is the country’s heavy dependence on oil exports, which has resulted in successive governments not doing enough to maximise the agricultural sector’s potential.
A lot has been said about the need to diversify the economy, mostly on the subjects of “Where?” and “Why?” The common answer to the first question is agriculture. Nigeria is blessed with a good climate that makes it a fertile ground for cultivating different crops, such as cocoa, cashew, sesame and soybeans, in commercial quantities. This factor makes it a no-brainer decision.
But now, the conversations should pivot to “How?” That is, how do we diversify into the agricultural sector?
The Answer: Policy-backed initiatives – FELDA as a case study
Malaysia, a Southeast Asian country, faced similar challenges to Nigeria in their developmental stages. However, the country has since grown its economy through pro-poor initiatives aimed at alleviating poverty in rural areas and addressing the unemployment problems in the country.
One such initiative is the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) scheme. The Malaysian government established the scheme in 1956 to support the development of plantation lands for landless families. Through FELDA, the Malaysian government developed lands into plantations for crops such as oil palm and allocated 10 acres per household to poor settlers. The government also helped manage the plantations, settling all farming costs in advance.
While the costs were subsequently recovered in instalments by the government, the scheme gave the settlers an opportunity to own and build their farms since ownership of the plantation was transferred to them after they settled all debts. As a result, the settlers were able to develop their livelihoods, improving their incomes from an average of MYR200-400 to MYR 1000-3000 monthly.
Expectedly, the FELDA scheme was also a major contributor to Malaysia’s rise to become the 2nd largest palm oil exporter globally.
Can Nigeria borrow a leaf from the success of FELDA?
According to Olasankanmi Owoyemi, Nigeria can successfully implement similar initiatives such as FELDA. He stated his faith that a similar scheme could go a long way in drastically reducing the unemployment rate in Nigeria, giving people a decent source of income and contributing significantly to the country’s foreign exchange. But considering that it’s not a perfect model, it’ll require necessary adjustments to fit the local context in Nigeria.
In his breakdown of the FELDA Model, the MD cited key factors contributing to its success and crucial lessons from its weaknesses.
The Malaysian government was clear about its core priorities with the scheme, which is to diversify the economy and alleviate poverty. The clarity set the pace for the implementation that followed, from settlers’ selection to the choice of crop and continuous process iteration.
Bringing the idea to Nigeria, the priority should be on designing the scheme to be attractive to young people and focusing on crops such as cocoa, cashew, sesame, and soybeans, which are vital export crops.
Focus on consistent growth.
The FELDA continues to evolve even after several decades of operation, but one element it has been consistent on is its growth. The scheme started with 55,000 hectares of land, but it has since expanded to 5.9 million hectares under cultivation.
When implementing such a scheme, Nigerians should not expect to see all the changes at once but rather focus on consistent improvement.
Engaging competent professionals and experts
The FELDA scheme started with competent professionals running its operations, and they achieved the remarkable feat of offsetting the World Bank loan funding the initiative ahead of time. However, they were reportedly replaced with less-competent hands who couldn’t maintain the results.
This points to the need to have the best hands-on ground for such a scheme to work in Nigeria. The selection of professionals to run it should be strictly based on merit and competence and with continuity in mind.
Being a government initiative, FELDA’s success heavily relied on the government’s commitment to making it work. The government’s commitment is reflected in the development of policies that supported the initiative – the agency itself was a product of policies.
To replicate such success in Nigeria, the government needs to fully buy-in and support the initiative as a national agenda.
Investment in research and development
Research and development into what works and necessary improvements were also major contributors to the continued success of the FELDA scheme. Thus, investments in research and development to drive innovation and technological advancements must be a key part of the initiative if implemented in Nigeria.
Overall, beyond diversifying the economy and alleviating poverty, the Nigerian government can prioritise issues such as designing the scheme to be attractive to young people and focusing on crops such as cocoa, cashew, sesame, and soybeans, which are vital export crops. This is crucial to the posterity of such initiatives and the development of a blossoming agricultural sector in the country.
Read the full publication on Premium Times.