By Dele Sobowale
“We’ve lost 50% of production to insecurity, farmers lament” – News Report. July 22, 2021.
There is no alternative, TINA, was the regular acronym of those promoting the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, during the Babangida regime. It was the way technocrats’ (as the promoters were then called) were telling Nigerians that given the heavy debt burden and the recession inherited by the Babangida regime on August 1985, he had no other choice than to follow the lead of the Asian Tigers – Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand etc – by accepting the package of reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund, IMF, in order to qualify for $2 billion loan at favourable interest rates.
Most Nigerians who blame the IMF for our woes in the 1980s were certainly unaware that the Federal Government of Nigeria, FGN, actually rejected IMF’s recommendations, bowing to popular pressure. Instead we introduced our own package of reforms which were in some significant respects different from that of the IMF.
However, it is not my intention today to re-open an old controversy. The important point is for us to note that occasionally, a situation arises in the history of a nation when there is no alternative to certain measures being considered. Otherwise great calamity follows.
Alhaji Kabir Ibrahim, National President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN, had an important message for all Nigerians – in and out of government; and irrespective of political affiliation. Before revealing the message, I will urge those in government and the ruling party to cast aside propaganda; and consider the facts presented objectively. Millions of Nigerian lives are hanging on how governments – Federal, States and Local Governments – respond to the imminent disaster. They cannot avert it. They can only reduce the impact; or make it worse. Here then is the message. We all ignore it at our own peril.
He said, “Although it is difficult to quantify what farmers have lost as a result of the precarious security situation in Nigeria, the truth remains that our losses are very huge.
“We don’t know the exact number of farmers we have in Nigeria and the total produce in any crop. Nobody has any exact data on these. However, to be on the conservative side, we have lost almost 50 per cent of what we used to produce. And, this is because, currently, most of us cannot produce anything due to the level of insecurity in Nigeria.”
Some of us might be tempted to dismiss what we just read by saying “we have heard that before”. That will be a major blunder on our part.
To begin with, no nation, not even any of the food-surplus countries – USA, Australia, Canada, Argentina, India, etc – can afford to lose half its food produced without serious repercussions. A net food importer, like Nigeria, which never had enough, under the best of circumstances, is faced with a monster problem regarding how to feed its people when 50 per cent of its food productivity is lost.
Indeed, we now have the unpleasant irony of having millions of people, who hitherto fed the rest of us, now looking up to us for food.
Furthermore, in order to keep a growing population fed, every country must increase its food supply by the same percentage as its population increases. Nigeria’s population is estimated to be growing at 3.2 per cent. That means six million more mouths are open to be fed this year than last year.
By this time last year, the number of farmers driven off the land was not as large as we have now. My personal experience in this regard is that once a farmer leaves, he/she does not return because the security threats driving them remain there.
Here again, we have another sad irony. The fewer the farmers still struggling to produce anything, the higher the percentage of harvest lost to bandits, herdsmen and kidnappers. What we now have is a downward spiral in terms of what the farmer can expect to take home.
What bandits and herdsmen don’t claim, floods, worse than in previous years are either destroying now; or will wash away later. Nimet has issued warnings about floods later in the year. Given the experiences in several countries and all continents, Nigeria can expect record level floods before the year ends. More food will certainly get lost in a country which has no grain to spare.
I was in Niger State two weeks ago on account of the 80th birthday celebration of former Head of State General Babangida. Here is the preliminary report.
Because it will be uncouth to be planning this project without informing Babangida, I travelled to Niger State and Minna to brief him. I was there for three days. Our appointment was scheduled for afternoon, it was opportunity for me to go into some rural areas around Zungeru, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s birth place and along Bidda-Minna highway. Niger being the state with the largest land mass; and a major food basket, what I saw was an eye-opener regarding the great famine Nigerians will experience this year and in 2022. It was horrible…..”.
That brief report covered up more frightening information about the situation in Nigeria’s farmland. The Minna-Zungeru road has, from time immemorial, been one of the country’s most productive for food stuff. Until now, it was impossible to travel two kilometres along the road without encountering a food market. Monday, August 2, 2021, was an experience never to be forgotten all my life. We travelled five, seven kilometres without a single market open. Naturally, questions were asked. The answer was the same.