Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tackling Nigeria’s Food Security Challenge

Farming looks mighty easy when your plough is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from a cornfield –Dwight David Eisenhower 34th US President.

Agriculture used to be the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. That was before the discovery of the black gold (crude oil) at Oloibiri in 1956 or thereabout. With petro-dollars rolling in, we sidetracked our first love, agriculture. In the 21st century, many of the Nigeria’s farming population still practice subsistence cultivation. Yes, a few mechanised farms dotted the landscape but majorly the country is being fed by small-holding farmers. Quite sadly, the rank of the few persons still practising agriculture in Nigeria is fast depleting. In time past, we have government policies aimed at encouraging people to embrace agriculture. In the First Republic, I know for a fact that the government of Western Region established what is called Farm Settlements where those interested in farming are allocated farmlands and given loans to practise agriculture. Thereafter, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo launched ‘Operation Feed the Nation’. In the Second Republic, former President Shehu Shagari, also launched ‘Green Revolution’ with pomp and pageantry. Today, the tide has changed.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was as worried as I am about the substantial decrease in the ranks of Nigeria’s farming population. Speaking during the inauguration of the ‘Feed Africa Committee’ of the Centre for Human Security in Ibadan on July 2, 2011, he observed that “Farmers have not been treated well in Nigeria. The problem now is how to build a successor generation of farmers. This is a great challenge now in Nigeria. If you go to my village, the youngest farmer is a little younger than me. How then can we ensure that the youths get into agriculture?” The elder statesman expressed concern that human security would be threatened if there is no abundance of food for the teeming African population, a move, he said can only be sustained when youths pick interest in agriculture.

Advancing solutions to the nagging problem, the former president rightly observed thus: “We must make farming profitable by making incentives available to interested youths. Incentives must be made in the areas of land being made available to the interested youths and graduates of agriculture. They must have access to loans and have specialised training on the kind of crops to grow. After these have been provided, they must be sure that there is a market for their produce.” To underscore one of the problems highlighted by the erstwhile president, a research finding titled “Household Savings and Credit Policy Brief: General Household Survey-Post Planting Round 2010” conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics has shown that about 98.8 percent of household farmers in Nigeria do not have access to credit facilities.

Also expressing concern about the poor state of agriculture, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Lamido Sanusi, on July 5, 2011 said Nigerians are spending a princely sum of N630bn annually on the importation of agricultural products. He made the disclosure in Abuja while delivering a keynote address at the stakeholders’ conference on the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending. Sanusi lamented that, despite the 45 per cent contribution of the agricultural sector to the Gross Domestic Product, it was getting a meagre four percent of the Federal Government’s total annual budgets since 2006. “This is contrary to the 2003 African Union Maputo Declaration that directed member countries to increase investment in the agricultural sector to at least 10 percent of the national budget by 2008.”

“Furthermore, private investment in the agricultural value chain is at a low ebb owing to perceived risks, distortions and uncertainties, such that, Nigerian agriculture is today one of the most underfunded in the world. The challenges highlighted have resulted into Nigeria losing the leading position it occupied in the 1960s in the exportation of key crops such as cocoa, groundnut, cotton, rubber and palm produce.” The CBN governor submitted that in the last decade, Nigeria accounted for over 60 percent, 30 percent and 15 percent of global palm oil, groundnut and cocoa exports respectively. “Today, the reverse is the case as Nigeria’s agricultural import bill stands at N630bn annually. Large food products imports include wheat (N165bn), fish (N105bn), rice (N75bn), and sugar (N60bn). In the interest of our dear nation, this trend must he halted” intoned the apex bank governor.

I do hope the concerned authorities are listening to what these statesmen are saying. A country that cannot feed its inhabitants cannot lay claim to being a sovereign nation. Food security is sine qua non to physical and human security. It is a requisite for national development. Our boastful claim to being the giant of Africa is hollow until we are able to attain self sufficiency in food production for local consumption and export. One key factor that has precipitated most of the world’s rebellions is hunger and soaring cost of food items. There are sayings that ‘a hungry man is an angry man’ and that ‘the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.’ According to Macridis, “Food and energy are the lifeblood of a nation.” It is therefore high time we stopped paying lip-service to the agricultural sector. We must induce our teeming population of unemployed youths to embrace agriculture. The way to go about it has been marshalled by ex- President Obasanjo and Mallam Sanusi.
Additionally, basic infrastructures like good roads, hospitals, ICT solutions, pipe borne water should be provided in rural communities so that our young farmers can still be in touch with civilisation, even while farming. We must take the threat of climate change serious as flooding, drought and desertification are potent danger to farming. Farmers too must learn to embrace insurance schemes to mitigate their loses in case of unenvisaged catastrophe.

The agricultural revolution kick-started by the Living Faith Church through the church founder, Bishop David Oyedepo is exemplary and commendable. The Winners Chapel as the church is better known had in March 2011 established its second university called Landmark University. The vision of the institution is to spearhead an agrarian revolution through teaching, research and entrepreneurial drive. According to Dr. Oyedepo: “The incontrovertible contribution of agriculture to the industrial revolution in the United States of America for example, was the ever-increasing need for more and better farm machinery. In the era just before the insurgence of automobiles, many of the largest manufacturers in America were partially or totally dedicated to producing farm machinery. With the automotive age came the first tractors with internal combustion engines - possibly the biggest single revolution that ever took place in farming. But it was farming that supplied the need for that generational technological revolution. This is our strategic vision path for Landmark University.’’