For decades, agriculture has been associated with production of essential food crops and livestock. At present, agriculture rises above and beyond farming. In recent times, processing, packaging, marketing and distribution of crops and livestock products, etc. are all acknowledged as part of modern agriculture. Therefore, agriculture could be referred to as the production, processing, packaging, promotion and distribution of agricultural products. Agriculture plays a critical role in the entire life of a given economy. It is the backbone of the nation’s economic system. In addition to providing food and raw materials, agriculture also plays a vital role in nation. It is one of Nigeria’s most powerful tools in addressing its goals of creating more employment, better public health and economic growth. The need to focus on agriculture stems from the fact that the sector accounts for 70% of the human resources in the rural areas, the growing demand for food at subsidized price, and more importantly, the about 44% contribution of agriculture to Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) in other to achieve economic transformation. It will require more investments in agricultural research and development and the development of infrastructure.
Agriculture in recent decades has been a neglected sector and any gains have been constrained by weak institutions and inadequate infrastructure. These constraints are well-known. Less known however, are the limited applied technologies, the low skills base in the sector, and ageing population. The young are fleeing rural areas and the production side of the sector. Similarly, financial institutions view the agricultural sector as a risky involvement and therefore, it receives a very small portion of commercial credit. Getting the young interested and developing a supportive financial system to facilitate the access of farmers, traders and processors to credit will go a long way in meeting several national needs. Agriculture, at both subsistence and commercial level could influence positively the economy, but we first have to channel our resources to its growth.
The role of agriculture in the nation’s economy is enormous and a few contingent roles will be stated, thus:
National food security: The major requirement of any country is food security. When food challenge is solved in a nation, then a substantial percentage of challenge is taken care of. A stable agricultural sector ensures a nation of food security. Food security prevents the emergence of a malnourished society. This has traditionally been believed to be one of the major problems faced by the developing countries. Our nation relies on agricultural products as well as associated industries for main source of income.
Great employment opportunities: Above and beyond what people generally think that agriculture is merely about farming, farming is just one aspect and a whole lot more is involved. The agro-allied chain is from production, processing, packaging to agro-technology. It is more than going into the farm to produce; it is from a seed to table. So many job opportunities in engineering, constructing, accounting, media reporting and various skilled are available in agriculture. Asides from farmers who are the core people in the sector, transporters deliver goods produced to the market and the traders to sell to individual. The agricultural sector provides more employment opportunities to the labour market and reduces the rate of unemployment in developing countries caused by the fast growing population.
Economic development: Since agriculture employs many people, it contributes to economic development. As a result, the national income level as well as people’s standard of living is improved. The fast rate of development in the agricultural sector offers a progressive outlook as well as increased motivation for development. Therefore, economic development relies on the agricultural growth rate.
Import substitution: Agriculture should serve for import substitution in our nation. The crops we produce in our nation should be enough to not only feed us but feed us well and there won’t be a need for importing what we produce. For instance, Nigeria is the largest producer of pineapples in sub-Saharan Africa, yet we import pineapples from a neighbouring country. 200 million Nigerians feed on maize as a staple and it is the nation’s biggest raw material for her live stock industry but sadly, 40-60% of what is used is imported. All over the world, ships and cargo planes fully loaded come into the nation and fly out empty. If there is a smooth development practice of agriculture, imports are reduced while export increases considerably.
Foreign exchange resources: This is earning foreign exchange through commodity export. The nation’s export trade depends largely on the agricultural sector. Prior to the discovery of oil, the nation survived on agriculture production with huge economic potential from our crops. For instance, agricultural commodities produced in large quantities should be exported generating a reasonable income for the nation and contributing to the gross national revenue. For a long time, this sector has been neglected and poorly funded and attention has been focused on the oil sector which presently has dropped globally and in turn has affected the nation. Agriculture is a potent economic diversion from oil.
Source of livelihood: The main source of livelihood for many people is agriculture. A larger percentage of the people directly rely on agriculture as a means of living. This high percentage is a result of many other sectors and related industries that thrive around agriculture and the job opportunities for people in diverse sphere of life.