Sulaimon Alamutu, Lagos

Nigeria has remained largely a mono-economy over the years by being over-dependent on revenue from the oil sector. Ninety five percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings come from oil. This development has adversely affected its other productive sectors, especially the agriculture sector which used to be the country’s main foreign exchange earner. Nevertheless, agriculture still has the potentials to transform Nigeria into a top exporter, if given the needed impetus.
This fact is premised on the availability of abundant natural resources, including mineral and agricultural endowments that Nigeria could exploit to transform her to a major exporter. For instance, the semi arid of the far North through the Guinea savannah of the north central to the thick mangrove forests of the south of Nigeria is cultivated with abundant varieties of fruits. Water melon, pineapple, pawpaw, citrus, banana, guava, mango and cashew, to name but a few, are the common fruits grown and harvested in abundance across the country. Each region of the country produces at least three of these seasonal fruits in commercial quantity.
However, due to inadequate infrastructure, policy inconsistency and corruption, basically less than one percent of the total fruits produced in Nigeria are processed. Less than half the total harvests are consumed in its raw form, the remaining rots away. The Nigerian government could tap into the sector to convert the mass agriculture produce that rots away into a source of revenue for its economy. The economy would fare better with the millions of dollars that could accrue from the export of these farm produce that are hitherto being lost to wastage by adding value to them for sale on the international market.

It is strongly believed in economic circle that Nigeria could reap a huge foreign exchange fortunes from export of fruits produce just as South Africa, Kenya and Ghana are doing. Economists are of the view that the Nigerian government only needed to draw up an industrial development policy that would transform its agriculture sector and upgrade its produce to attain the specified global standard. The country would then equally tap and take full advantage of the opportunities in the agriculture sub sectors, just as these other African countries.

Industrialization is considered as a child of necessity in every nation’s economic growth and development. Nigeria’s present reality of dwindling oil revenue resources may have underscored the promise by the present government to invest in infrastructure and security in order to support reforms in the agriculture, solid minerals and other core job creating sectors of the economy. The government of President Muhammadu Buhari, in the 2016 budget earmarked funds to boost the agriculture sector through equipping farmers with the right tools, technology and techniques.

The government recently demonstrated its resolve by fully supporting a local manufacturer in the agro allied industry to expand its operations. The recent launching of a state-of-the art tomato processing and packaging factory in Lagos southern Nigeria by a local investor is a bold step in the direction of fully tapping the potentials of agro-produce. The Nigerian government boldly supported the local manufacturing plant, the first of its kind in Nigeria and the biggest tomato plant in Africa. The over two hundred thousand metric tons per annum capacity plant would no doubt contribute immensely to local processing of fresh tomato paste and give support to the economy, through job creation.

President Buhari’s government has indicated that industrialization would be a priority and that he would gladly reverse some inherited economic policies if doing so would lead to the creation of more jobs for Nigerians. It has also restated its commitments to generate direct and indirect employment of over fifty thousand within the next three years.

Discussions are ongoing with stakeholders with the objective of diversifying the economy to focus on agro-allied industrial development. At a recent meeting with Executive Members of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), President Buhari directed the Ministries of Industries, Trade and Investment, and Finance, as well as the Central Bank and other relevant government agencies to evolve new policies to boost domestic manufacturing.

The present government’s strategy of re-directing focus to improving agriculture and agro allied industries is welcomed as a step in the right direction. This is because the importance of the industrial sector in economic development cannot be over-emphasized.  It is believed that the fortune of every economy lies in its industrial sector, the heartbeat of economic development. The government’s new drive would, in the not too distant future, turn the country to a giant exporter.

Nigeria, with a population of over one hundred and sixty five million people, is the biggest market in Africa and ought to be a strong market for its manufacturing sector. When markets in the West African region and other regions of Africa are added, a huge market exists for the country’s quality products.