By Akoma Chinweoke
Nigeria is currently experiencing a serious food crisis in its history.Before now, the country spent over $350million on rice importation alone.The recent escalation of food prices call for sober reflection particularly as successive governments in the country have failed to address the increasing high cost of stable food in the country.
Prince Wale Oyekoya,is an experienced and practising farmer/ consultant. He attended the Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University, Huntsville AL USA. He is also the chairman, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI)’s agriculture sector and the MD/CEO of Bama farms. In this interview, the commercial farmer, sheds light on problems and solutions to Nigeria’s food crisis Excerpts:
Sir, how would you react to the high cost of stable food in the country and the claim by the government that it has the right policies in place that would lead to food sufficiency?.
Nigeria’s agricultural commodities and food import bill have averaged over 1 trillion in the past years, these huge amount were expended on items that the country has the potential to produce locally, for instance, the import bill of rice and wheat was estimated at N428 billion and N307 billion in 2013 and 2014, which has continually depleted our foreign reserve.
The challenges of unemployment, rural migration, excessive dependence on oil and poor living standard of Nigerians is as a result of agricultural negligence which Nigeria has suffered over the years. The availability of timely and affordable credit delivery to this sector has been minimal over the years which makes it difficult for the citizens to practice farming.
In today’s Nigeria, one of the major problems of food production is poverty. On the other hand, one of the simplest and doubtless truth that you can easily know about Nigeria is the fact that over 75 percent of our rural dwellers are full time farmers. Another doubtless truth you can also discover is that, Nigeria’s present inability to solve her own problem of food and agriculture, is not as a result of her peoples laziness; or the matter of the nation being naturally unblessed.
Nigerians in general are really hard working and industrious. A very great variety of delicious species of organic food, fruits, and vegetable and cash crops abound in the country . But to me Nigerians are not really lacking food, what they really lack is the money to buy the food and the money to produce the food; even the money to procure small piece of land to grow the food.
How do you mean sir?
Do you know that the average Nigerian farmer is still making use of outdated farm tools. Farm tools for example, cutlass and hoe as their fore-fathers used many centuries ago. Do you also know that instead of using some affordable modern agricultural technique or simple machine; farmers in this part of the world have repeatedly adhered to various archaic agricultural method and practice that were copied from their ancestors. The use these kind of archaic and outdated tools and technique constitute a very great set-back in the country’s quest for increased food and agricultural outputs.
In my view, one of the most serious problem of food and agriculture in Nigeria is leadership, Mismanagement,embezzlement and corruption of public funds and very common within Nigerian government officials. And as you know patriotism, trust, honesty organization and careful management has often led to the success and prosperity of modern man. Food and agricultural industrialization and privatization is supposed to eradicate global hunger and poverty but the reverse is the case in Nigeria.
Forest destruction and over-grazing of animals has really turned a lot of Nigeria’s farm land into deserts. The rural communities in Nigeria have neither road nor water nor electricity. Some do not even have hospitals and schools around them.
Can you imagine the pains and labour, and to what extent the farmers from such areas can contribute in adequate food production. Many delicious and juicy fruits, vegetables and cash crops are largely produced from Nigerian farming communities.
But, do you know that very great percentage of these delicious organic farm products often get damaged or wasted before getting to the final consumer. In this kind of situation, one of the major problems that is facing the helpless local farmers, is the lack of adequate food storage and processing facilities.
What then do you think should be the way out of the problem?
The establishment of training programs to the farmers in the country and also looking at what has been done within and outside Nigeria would help in achieving good measures of farming practice. Malawi, china, Indonesia and Brazil system of farming operations should be introduced.
Also, the allocation of farm lands is an issue that the government should tackle head on and revisit the Land use Act of 1978 in other to practice mechanized farming to attract the youths and increase production.
The government should create a hub or collection centres in all local governments and buy back farm produce from farmers which would guarantee cash back, and they should partner with private investors and add value to all the produce through processing, distribution, marketing export. This way youths will be fully interested and fully employed in the sector.
A private partner participation ( ppp ) method should be put in place to drive the initiative, and ensure that storage silos in the country work better and effective under the ppp initiative.
Dry season and raining season farming will be pari-pasu while farm infrastructures should be urgently tackled to enhance proper planting and harvesting.
Creating a real Bank of Agriculture and giving loans would help farmers to go into large scale production and also eradicate poverty. All 774 local governments should be actively encouraged to take part in farm practice.
All schools from grassroot to tertiary will produce minimum of 30 percent of what they eat and reviving all processing industries and establishment of new ones very crucial.
A guarantee price control measure should be put in place to Nigeria’s and government as a whole. Also, if the government should surround itself with think tanks in agriculture business, agro economics and hard core farmers, it would help in generating new ideas that would help elevate farm practice.
All agricultural agencies will be self-sustainable by generating income through their activities with little supervision from the federal government.
The new federal Task Force on food and security established was with good intention but poorly constituted because no farmer or stake holders in farming was among them to advise the ministers in the committee and the fact finding that transportation is the main cause of high price of stable food is understated because this is the least of farmers myriad problems.
We can produce what we eat, and we can eat what we produce!