As an economist I have an inquiring mind. What the profession teaches, in essence, is the need to keep asking questions. And for that reason, there is nothing called an ‘economic expert’, except you are an expert in asking questions. Anyone who says s/he is an expert in economics is a fraud, simple. Pay him or her their consultancy fees because that is what he or she is after. Otherwise, an economist is one with an unbelievably broad mind, who is ready to take on more and more information because s/he knows that s/he can never know it all. And no one really needs a degree in economics to think this way, though the degree helps.
One other thing you may gain from being an economist, having developed a broad, questioning mind, is the nose to smell fraud and deception from a mile off. Your mind constantly calculates; you are constantly looking for variances, correlations, causalities, means, averages, trends, patterns, relationships; your mind is constantly testing hypotheses, rejecting or accepting these, drawing graphs and looking for equilibria, churning our models and populating them with variables that explain the phenomena. Let me not bore us with economic jargon.
And so it was when Akinwunmi Adesina – our former minister of agriculture under President Jonathan and now president of the African Development Bank – told us that they had collated the names of 10 million farmers in Nigeria and that since he believes that agriculture is strictly business, they had bought smartphones for these 10 million farmers so that they could get on websites, check the price and location of fertilisers, as well as the global prices of their crops in the international market. My mind did a quick math. If Nigeria had 180 million people, and let’s say 120 million of those were working age, fit, people, with the majority of landowning farmers being men, we were looking at approximately 60-70 million male adults who could be potentially landholders. I disagreed with Adesina that there could be as many as 10 million farmers in Nigeria (for whom we had bought smartphones). That was 10 million potential enquiries about fertilisers and crop prices coming from Nigeria on a daily basis. That is a tremendous amount of data to mine. Of course, nobody knows the fate of those smartphones today. The entire process of purchase was actually shrouded in secrecy. Money went down and was allegedly deployed for the PDP’s 2015 campaigns. Smooth guy Adesina landed his plum job, and we ushered in the symbol of integrity, Mr. Buhari…
This is the point where you have to screech to a halt if it were an animated movie. Halt!!! What integrity?
I ask, because this government is also coming up with a grander lie. From the time that Jonathan’s government managed to find 10 million landholding farmers from the population of Nigeria’s mostly 70 million working males, the Buhari government has done the unthinkable, the incredible – it found 12 million RICE FARMERS alone, from this same population! Let us even admit that men and women own farmlands in equal measure in Nigeria. The sheer implication of 10 million landholders producing food – or any other farm product – in Nigeria, seems to be lost on us all. Are we saying that one out of every 7 men is a farmer with a productive land? We are not talking of farmhands. Did Adesina distribute his smartphones to farmers and their farmhands as well? Including their children and so on? Since that time, I always felt that if ten million farmers where even half productive in Nigeria, not only will all food be cheap in Nigeria, but we will be a massive exporter everywhere – and that a lot of crops will waste because we have no means of preserving them.
Enter the Buhari propaganda machine.
The Buhari people recently announced a huge donation of N1.2 billion from 12 million RICE FARMERS who donated a token of N100 each. Some people have alleged that the names of rice farmers is being used by the Buhari Campaign to do money laundering, by routing monies obtain corruptly by him and his friends through that scheme. In 2015, we also heard a number of stories from the same man, whereby he claimed that retirees, villagers and so on, provided the huge amount he spent to win the presidency. At least two very poor people were said to have spent their last savings on Buhari – and I wondered then why he or his campaign would collect people’s last savings. My guess is as good as yours about how those people feel today, if they are still alive. But hey, they have been brusquely shoved aside. Out goes the common man who worships the integrity phenomenon and is ready to trek 2,000 kilometres for him. In comes the Anchor Borrowers Programme. In comes rice farmers. Because we are so fixated on rice in this country – and I confess I am too – it’s as if our ‘rulers’ are ready to use it for scams. They say it’s what you love that kills you. I’ve always said that this focus on rice alone – at the detriment of other crops in which we are even doing well and should consolidate our position (such as millet, sorghum, sesame etc) – was toxic.
Again, my challenge is that we cannot have 10 million, not to talk of 12 million farmers, with their own lands in Nigeria. On this rice farmers matter, we cannot have 12 million farmers, with farms large and productive enough to attract funding from Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) or the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The whole thing started with government prapagandists claiming they created 12 million NEW JOBS in agriculture and specifically in rice farming. Then the director-general of the Nigerian Bureau for Statistics denied that he has any such record. Something is definitely amiss here. If, however, we were told that the Buhari campaign collected money from thousands of landholders, as well as their workers, children and labourers and that figure ran up to 12 million, that is believable. For one, Nigerians plant a lot more crops than rice. And it is not the whole of our landmass we use for agriculture. The last record shows that we cultivate about 40 per cent of our arable land. That is 40 per cent of 923,000 square kilometres or 92 million hectares net of at least 20 per cent built up. This is close to 300,000 square kilometres or 30 million hectares cultivated in Nigeria – with a lot of that owned by people like General Obasanjo, Admiral Nyako, Olam, Chi Limited and other massive players. By every means, 12 million rice paddies will be visible from space. Nigeria will have become the biggest rice producer in the universe. We will even supply some to the kingdom of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). We must note, however, that not all of our 923,000 square kilometre landmass is arable. We have some desert and increasing desertification. We have swamps. We have rivers, lakes and so on. We also have mindless environmental degradation.
I did some research. Thailand, the world’s largest rice producer, has about 70 million people in population. 48 per cent of them live in rural areas. About 13 million are considered farmers (including their families). Out of that 13 million, 60 per cent or 7.8 million are involved in the rice value chain. Yet they took over the world. In the USA, which is 9.8 million square kilometres (more than ten times the size of Nigeria), they had 2.05 million farms in 2017, though the average size per farm is 177 hectares. One hectare is one kilometre by one kilometre. Only 910,000 square kilometre of the USA (or less than 10 per cent of landmass), is farmed. In South Africa, there are about 420,000 farms, with an average of 264 hectares each. 81 per cent of South Africa’s landmass is used for agriculture. They are aggressive about it. Their model is commercial and has pushed the peasants to the fringes. In Nigeria, most of our farming is subsistence. Most farmers here are neglected people, living in the realm of confusion, even as modern economics overtakes them.
Let’s round off with a little maths. If Nigeria has just 300,000 square kilometres or 30 million hectares cultivated as a whole, how do we fit in 12 million rice farmers? If we used all our cultivated land for rice, that will be a mere 2.5 hectare per farmer. There will be nothing to finance using Anchor Borrowers Programme in a 2.5 hectare farm. Where will the big players be? But since we don’t use all our land to farm rice, let us be generous and concede a tenth of Nigeria’s farmed land to rice alone. This shrinks each landholding to just 0.25 hectares. Absolute waste of time.
I think Nigeria has officially instituted deception, lies, stealing, fraud and corruption as official governance models. Time shall tell where this all ends.