Presidential declaration of state of emergency: A must! (2) – Dr.Muiz Banire

As indicated in the last edition of this column “Presidential declaration of state of emergency: A must!

There is severe hunger in the land and all hands must be on deck towards guaranteeing food security, and ensuring food surplus in order to stave off any untoward eventuality.

Beyond all that has been said in the last intervention, the federal government and, by extension, the states, need to urgently set up commodity boards that will guarantee the offtake of farm outputs.

This is one area that I believe the federal government might be most relevant in the agricultural chain. Once there is a guarantee of offtake by the government, most farmers will have less headache in marketing their farm produce. This will also assist them in reducing the quantity of the farms produce that perishes in the process of retention for sale. In addition, this will facilitate the migration of more people into farming. Once potential investors in farming are sure of the offtake, there will be drift towards engaging in farming.
The present situation in which it is a herculean task procuring sales of farm produce is a disincentive to any interest or investment in farming. No wonder, therefore, that fewer people are engaging in farming.

Furthermore, there is the challenge of infrastructure confronting those interested, or practising agriculture presently. Most of the farmlands are inaccessible in all ramifications.
There are no roads to access them, and where the earth roads exist, they constitute danger to the farm produce, particularly the poultry outputs. Birds die off easily in the course of transportation due to the bad roads while several crates of eggs are lost to the bad roads. Gone were those days that the Directorate for Food, Roads and Rural infrastructure (DFRRI) provided good roads to the farms. This was an Agency established primarily to enhance food production through the provision of rural infrastructure. As at date, I am not too sure of the status of the Agency, either in existence or comatose.

The truth however is that the Directorate is no more feasible nor impactful in the country. This is greatly impairing food production. Again, this is the area of intervention that the federal government needs to prioritize. I honestly beg and plead that this Agency be resurrected under the headship of a competent hand. It is a must in the circumstance of the country. I always wonder how the country takes one step forward and many steps backward. This agency needs to be revamped and aggressively deployed to fill this gap. I must also not fail to register the challenge of the farmers in accessing credit facility due to the documentation and perfection of title to their farmlands. Most farmlands are not well documented and perfected in terms of title.

The implication of this is that such farmlands cannot serve as collateral for any loan in aid of agriculture. Apart from the cumbersomeness and complexity involved in the execution of relevant documents, the cost is often unbearable for the farmers. Again, this requires urgent intervention by way of simplification of the process and waiver of the fees, or at least, substantial reduction. This is a way to attract more people into the sector.

Ancillary to this is the challenge of clearing and tilling the farm lands. To farmers, this consumes substantial amount of their financial outlay and often frustrates efforts to expand the farm. The cost of clearing the forest and bush is equally astronomical and unaffordable to an average farmer. Hence, the need for the government to intervene by assisting farmers in this regard. I am not too sure that they specifically require any financial donation in this regard but just mere deployment of machinery and equipment.

This issue is linked with the mechanization of the farming process for optimal returns. These are immediate areas of intervention that the resurrection of DFFRI can cure. Conventional (crude) mode of farming cannot take us to the promised lands. The use of cluster system can also be helpful in this regard, particularly when zoning is applied. We can have fish zones, cassava zones, poultry zones, rice zones etc.

There is also the challenge of water, hence the need for irrigation. Strangely, with all the River Basins funded annually by the federal government, there is still dearth of water for farming.
To a large extent, I can say that the River Basins are totally unimpactful. This is the exclusive area of intervention by the federal government. Again, no record of achievement. Life needs be breathed into this entity. The irrigation schemes are bringing no joy to the farmers where they manage to exist epileptically. Cost of irrigation is most times suicidal for the farmers and demands the attention of the federal government.

I am calling on the appropriate agency to therefore wake up from its slumber and be impactful and graceful. Nigerians are dying of hunger. In addition to the above is the need to equally assist in the supplies of appropriate seedlings. Access to best seedlings still remains a challenge to the farmers. The climate change challenge is hurtful to the farmers. As I remarked elsewhere, Nigeria is a country afflicted by the three impacts of climate change. In the Northern part of the country, a lot of farmlands is being daily lost to desertification. In the eastern part of the country, erosion generally is claiming most lands in the area while in the western part of the country, flooding is greatly washing away most farmlands.

Therefore, there is urgent need for the enthronement of appropriate mitigation and adaptation measures to save the farmlands. Few weeks ago, as the federal government was launching the dry season farming in Jigawa, it was raining heavily in Lagos. The implication of this is that there is need for diversity in the approach of the federal government in the address of agricultural issues. What works for the North might not necessarily apply to the South.

This calls for the regionalization of policies and programs. For the poultry, there is urgent need for intervention in the feeds, particularly the main component, which is maize. Presently, there is severe deficit in the required quantity of maize in the country.
It is so bad that beyond the exorbitant amount it commands, maize is just largely unavailable in the country. I am aware that the Poultry Association of Nigeria has been crying out for some time on this but it seems nobody is interested.

All that the association has sought is the window to import maize at their own cost, without sourcing foreign exchange from the Central Bank for six months while embarking on backward integration of locally produced maize. Except this urgent intervention is made, the poultry business will soon totally vanish in the country. I only hope someone is listening. Security challenge also needs to be tackled. It all started with farmers/herders’ clashes. Today, banditry and kidnapping is on rampage by way of affliction on the farmers. Apart from bandits rustling and carting away the produce of the farmers, they kidnap them at will. Most farmers, for fear of their lives, have therefore deserted the farms.
With this, I am sure the country is not expecting any magical produce from the farms; or do we want to outsource the miracle in this respect to God again, in our usual lazy characteristic manner? It has been suggested that maybe we need to establish Farm Rangers exclusively for the farms or the deployment of vigilante outfits such as Amotekun in the southwest, Ebube in the south east or the Civilian Joint Task Force in the North. I understand that the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) is considering helping out with some of its staff for the purpose also.

This has become another essential in the face of the existential threat we are confronted with. I must also not forget to register the suggestions that the use of our prisoners in agriculture is not out of place, even if it be to produce what they eat. National Youth Corps members can be deployed into the agricultural sector by way of training, after which they can be gainfully employed after service through the provision of appropriate support. It is a quick wind in reducing the youth unemployment figure. By way of further intervention in the prices of foodstuffs, I am of the strong view that the federal government and by extension, States, can intervene in the logistics area.

The cost of transportation of foodstuffs from the point of produce to the consumption destination is sufficiently huge to place the prices beyond the reach of most Nigerians. Moreover, the quantity of food stuffs lost to deterioration and spoilage is equally significant due to lack of storage and requires the intervention of the government at all levels through the provision of appropriate storage facilities.

These are further areas of intervention by the government. As the saying goes in the farming’ circle, ‘no farmer, no food’, but most crucially, the truth is ‘no farmer, no life’. This, therefore, calls for the prioritization of farming in the country. There is a need for deliberative efforts by the leaders.

All these fire brigade approaches to poverty alleviation through the provision of tricycles and motorcycles can never work. Constituents of politicians need to be encouraged into farming; a little patience but enduring source of survival is better than all these transitional and temporary reprieves. The summary of all that has been said above is that the government, as done in even developed countries, needs to subsidize agriculture through the various means highlighted above. The good news is that there is so much savings from the removal of oil subsidy which can be plunged into agriculture. Without food, the populace cannot survive, security cannot be guaranteed while productivity will continue to decline as health crisis rises and death tolls climb. A stich in times, saves nine! In concluding, let me appreciate members of the United Action for Change who thought it fit to convene the roundtable on food security and the various participants, particularly the resource persons. Together, I believe, we can continue to make a difference within the rentier economy of the country.

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