Prior to the discovery of oil in Nigeria, agriculture was the mainstay of the economy. Agriculture was then the highest earner of foreign exchange for the country, and Nigeria was also largely self-sufficient in food production.
However, with the discovery of oil, the lure of petro dollars turned the focus of the country from agriculture. Nigeria began to import food that we could have easily produced locally. As we can now see, these activities have had adverse effect on the economy of the nation in the long run.
Although agriculture is no longer the focal point of the Nigerian economy, it still plays some important roles in the country. These roles are listed below.
- Massive Employer of Labour
Although no longer the largest sector of the Nigerian economy, agriculture still remains the single highest employer of labour in Nigeria, most especially in the rural areas. As of 2010, agriculture alone was employing about 30% of the population, and this figure is steadily on the increase because a whole lot of young people are picking up agriculture as an alternative after leaving school.
Nigeria currently has a very high youth unemployment rate and this is beginning to result in a security threat in the country. Agriculture has the potential to rescue Nigeria from this quagmire.
- Foreign Exchange Earner
Again, after oil, agriculture is the second highest foreign exchange earner for the country. In the agricultural sector, cocoa is the highest foreign exchange earner with Nigeria producing more than 200,000 tons of cocoa per annum. This output can be greatly increased if the current traditional methods of cultivation are traded for more modern mechanized methods.
After cocoa, rubber is currently the second highest non-oil foreign exchange earner for Nigeria.
- Diversification of the Economy
With the current dwindling of crude oil prices in the international market, there has never been a time that Nigeria needs to diversify more than now. In the quest for diversification, agriculture seems to the most sustainable way forward.