The agricultural sector has a multiplier effect on any nation's socio-economic and industrial fabric because of its multifunctional nature. A strong and efficient agricultural sector would enable a country to feed its growing population, generate employment, earn foreign exchange and provide raw materials for industries. The agricultural sector has the potential to be the industrial and economic springboard from which a country’s development can take off, (Chude, 1989:28). Indeed, more often than not, agricultural activities are usually concentrated in the less-developed rural areas where there is a critical need for rural transformation, redistribution, poverty alleviation and socio-economic development. Agriculture was the key development that led to the rise of human civilization, with the husbandry of domesticated animals and plants (i.e. crops) creating food surpluses that enabled the development of more densely populated and stratified societies. The study of agriculture is known as agricultural science. Agriculture is also observed in certain species of ant and termite.
Agriculture encompasses a wide variety of specialties and techniques, including ways to expand the lands suitable for plant rising, by digging water-channels and other forms of irrigation. Cultivation of crops on arable land and the pastoral herding of livestock on rangeland remain at the foundation of agriculture. In the past century there has been increasing concern to identify and quantify various forms of agriculture. In the developed world the range usually extends between sustainable agriculture (e.g. perm culture or organic agriculture) and intensive farming (e.g. industrial agriculture).
In Nigeria, during the early post independence days (1960 – 1970) before the discovery of oil, agriculture served as the engine of growth of the overall Nigerian economy, (Chude, 1989:28). From the standpoint of occupational distribution and contribution to the GDP, agriculture was the leading sector. During this period Nigeria was the world’s second largest producer of cocoa, largest exporter of palm kernel and largest producer and exporter of palm oil. Nigeria was also a leading exporter of other major commodities such as cotton, groundnut, rubber and hides and skins, (Adeniyi, 1991:16). The agricultural sector contributed over 60 per cent of the GDP in the 1960s and despite the reliance of Nigerian peasant farmers on traditional tools and indigenous farming methods, These farmers produced 70 per cent of Nigeria's exports and 95 per cent of its food needs, (FAO, Summary of World Food and Agricultural Statistics 2003, Rome 2004:46-47).
The agricultural sector declined dramatically in the 1970s following the oil boom. While the oil sector has remained the dominant sector of the economy, agriculture has been neglected and relegated to the background, (Robert 2004:3). This is in sharp contrast to the situation in other oil producing countries where agricultural production generates significant revenue for their governments. For instance, Indonesia and Russia are leading oil exporting countries that produced 50 million metric tonnes of rice and 36 million metric tonnes of coarse grains respectively in 2001, (Robert 2004:6). The grains produced were sufficient to cater for the countries consumption and the surplus exported to generate additional income for their governments.
Oil was first discovered in commercial quantity in Nigeria at Oloibiri in Bayelsa state in 1956, (Robert 2004:7). Since the discovery of oil, the sector had witnessed rapid development and growthwith government attention being gradually shifted from agriculture to the petroleum sector. The petroleum industry thus became more attractive and profitable and also became a major diplomatic and political economic resource. The country thus joined the Organization of Petroleum Exporting countries (OPEC) in 1971, (Sam 2004:3), as at 2001, oil exports accounted for 98 per cent of the country’s total exports. This was produced at an annual rate of 826 million barrels from over 150 oil fields that are mostly in the Niger Delta region, (Rilwanu 2001). The government’s immediate concern was towards petroleum as the main source of income. Nigeria became a mono – product economy due to its reliance on a single product for a substantial part of its revenue.
Nigeria is made up of 5 geographical zones, namely the North East, North West, South- South, South East and south West. Of these 5 geographical zones, the population from the North West are predominantly farmers this can be attributed to the availability of arable farm land and their cultural heritage. However, there has been little progress in the development of agriculture in that Zone just like in other parts of Nigeria. Many agricultural programmes aimed at developing the sector were put in place in the past without much progress.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
The volatility of petroleum prices in the world market has led to the instability of the Nigerian economy. This is due to Nigeria’s over dependence on oil for its revenue. Consequently, the economy has remained a mono-product economy, weak and unable to effectively support the needed growth or development. The diversification of the economy has taken a centre stage in the present effort towards economic reforms in the country. The agricultural sector readily presents itself as that vital alternative in this regard.
There have been efforts in the past towards the development of the agricultural sector albeit without appreciable results. This research therefore seeks to examine the efforts made in the past, why they failed and how agriculture could be developed to be at par with petroleum in generating revenue for the Government. This could be achieved by providing answers to the following questions:
a. What efforts were made in the past by the Government towards agricultural development?
b. What were the factors responsible for the ineffectiveness of Government policies towards agricultural development?
c. What are the constraints to agricultural development in the North West Zone of Nigeria?
d. How can the Government develop the agricultural sector in order to reduce over dependence on oil?
1.3 OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY
The objectives of the study are as follows:
a. To examine efforts made by the Nigerian government in the past towards developing a viable agricultural sector.
b. To identify the factors responsible for the ineffectiveness of policies in the past and the constraints to agricultural development in Nigeria.
c. To develop policies and programmes that could be employed for the development of agriculture in the North West Zone of Nigeria.
d. To highlight what Nigeria stands to benefit from the development of agriculture in order to reduce it’s over dependence on oil.
1.4 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
This study will also assist Government in formulating policy strategies towards agricultural development in Nigeria. Accelerate Agricultural development in the North West Zone of Nigeria and the Country in general. Furthermore, it will serve as a reference material to future researches in the field of agricultural development in the country. It is also hoped that the study will add to existing literature and body of knowledge.
1.5 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
The research covers the period from 1965-2009. However, greater emphasis will be laid from 1970 to 1983 this is because from records, most of the significant policies on agriculture were made during this period.
In the course of this study however, relevant literature on this subject will be referred to. This will include literature from 1984 till date.
In the course of the research, the following limitations were encountered:
a. Inability of the researcher to visit the Ministry of Agriculture Abuja, however Kaduna State ministry of Agriculture as well as the Ahmadu Bello University Department of Agriculture were visited. Most of the data used in this study were obtained from there. However, up-to-date data were not readily available on the subject matter, as custodians of some relevant data were unwilling to make them readily available. However, this did not have any significant effect on the findings of this research work.
b. Most of the data obtained were from government sources; therefore its accuracy cannot be ascertained.