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Special Report: Poor Policies Of Successive Administrations Responsible For Nigeria’s Food Insecurity-World Bank Economist

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Lukmon Akintola

Lagos

 Food, shelter, and clothing are globally accepted as the basic needs of man. However, many would agree that food takes precedence over the other needs.

In the 60s and 70s, Nigeria was globally recognised as one of the largest producers and exporters of food.

In 2010, agriculture in Nigeria employed about 30 per cent of the population via commercialisation at the small, medium and large-scale enterprise level.

The following year, it contributed 32 per cent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Before then, specifically in 1990, 82 out of 91 million hectares of Nigeria’s total land area were found to be arable. 42 per cent of the cultivable area was famed under the bush fallow system, whereby land is left idle for some time to allow natural regeneration of soil fertility.

A colourful statistics no doubt, they are now memories fading away, as Nigeria’s once admired record in food production is now almost history.

The catastrophe at hand is evident in the unpredictability of the prices of food items in the Nigeria market, as what is purchased at N 1000 can hardly be gotten as the same price the following day, except in peculiar cases.

According to traders, the situation can be blamed on multiple factors chief among which are a shortage of supply and bad roads. While food and other produce might be cheap and in abundance in some states, the challenges of bringing them to the market end up skyrocketing the price.

“The situation is pitiable, as whatever food item you buy plentiful in Ogoja local government of Cross River State which is about five hours from Calabar comes to nothing when you transport it to the main town in Calabar. By the time you get home and do the Mathematics, you will realise that it was a wasted effort, as you could have simply bought the items in Calabar, no matter the cost. The truth is that the road is bad, and a journey which originally should take five hours ends up lasting for eight or more,” Funke Alayande (not real name), a woman who spoke with Saturday INDEPENDENT Newspaper said.

The wastage of perishable produce in Benue and other states due to lack of storage facilities is known to be almost legendary. The wastage also plays a role in food insecurity.

The situation is exemplified by the Senior Agricultural Economist for the World Bank, Dr. Adetunji Oredipe when he recently stated that Nigeria’s food crisis had assumed a frightening dimension.

Dr. Oredipe, who spoke at the second Sterling Bank International Agricultural Summit (SBIAS), in Abuja stated that the nation was “tragically living on borrowed times and being unable to feed her own citizen who are now very hungry, angry and war-threatened.” He blamed the situation on poor policies of successive administrations in the country.

Making his presentation at the summit themed “Agriculture: Your One Trillion Dollar Economy ”, Dr. Oredipe said: “anticipated rewards and positive changes will only happen if Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses undoubtedly can receive expanded access to more capital outlays, uninterrupted electricity, modern technology, and well-irrigated areas to cultivate high-value nutritious foods.

“For Nigeria, it is a great window of opportunities to harness the countless openings that exist in the agricultural value chain towards building a sustainable economy that creates hope for the realisation of our much-desired national development and sustainable food security.”

Furthermore, he said: “To maintain its share of the continent’s agriculture GDP by 2030, Nigeria will need to grow its agriculture sector revenues by a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.7 per cent. To ensure this is achieved, a national agriculture budget to GDP would have to be sustained by at least seven per cent annually.’’

While the solution proffered by the Agricultural Economist might be long term, there are moves to manage the food crisis baring its fangs.

According to the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari is on course to reinvent the country through agriculture.

Represented by the Minister of State for Agriculture, Mustapha Shehuri, Professor Osinbajo, who also spoke at the second edition of SBIAS which was attended by delegates from all continents of the world, including 40 others representing some African nations assured that the government was also working to make Agriculture the mainstay of the nation’s economy.

The road to food security is however not only on the doorsteps of the Federal government, as some state governments have also been making efforts to ensure adequate food for residents there.

In the past, state governments such as Lagos and Ogun States have individually pursued projects to make food adequately available.

In 2015, about 400 farmers were a part of a special rice farming project tagged ‘FADAMA III Additional Finance Project’. The project was an offshoot of a $25 million agreement between the Federal Government and Lagos State.

According to the then Lagos State Fadama Coordinator, Foluso Ajibola, the project was aimed at raising production and increasing income of farmers operating within the catchment of the selected states and other production area engaged in priority staple foods namely rice, cassava, sorghum, and horticulture in Kogi, Kano, Niger, Enugu, and Anambra States.

In March 2016, the Lagos State government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), with Kebbi State government which led to the unveiling of the Lake Rice in Lagos markets in December of the same year. Initially sold during festive periods, a 50kg bag sold for N12, 000, while 25kg sold for N6, 000 and 10kg for N2000, although variables have since led to a change in price.

Asides making the rice available to reduce food scarcity and break the escalating price of polished rice, the state government also went a notch further to ensure even and fair distribution by signing a pact with distributors to ensure adequate transportation, distribution, and marketing of the rice.

While the just mentioned efforts at food security might be in the past, steps are presently being made by some state governments including Lagos and Akwa Ibom to increase food production.

The Lagos State government under the leadership of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu recently acquired 84 hectares of land in Osogbo, Osun State. The lands are expected to be used for crop cultivation to meet the immediate food needs of residents.

Speaking on the acquisition, Gbolahan Lawal, Commissioner for Agriculture said that the farms would ensure food security for Lagosians.

“Lagos State with a population in excess of 21 million people and a daily influx of people from diverse places has a serious agricultural land constraint and being a coastal state, the available land for agriculture has been drastically reduced due to urbanisation.”

Lawal further explained that the farms will serve as the aggregation center for the State Government’s collaborative efforts with the DAWN States exporting produce to other states of the federation and foreign countries, adding that the Osogbo Farms would forestall the shortage of food as well as ensure food security for the ever-increasing population.

On its part, the Akwa Ibom State is also starting strategic farms to ensure food security for its residents. The state recently promised to provide 100 hectares of land for cooperatives and farmers for cultivation in each of the 31 local government areas of the state. Cumulatively, the government is expected to make available 3100 hectares of land for food crop cultivation.

The position was confirmed by the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information, Charles Udo.

While the moves by states might be a step in the right direction, there have been fears raised about how effective and successful the project can be. There have also been questions concerning similar projects carried out earlier.

A Lagos State Agriculture Youth Empower Scheme Agric- YES with centers in Epe and Badagry originally meant to create jobs and food security became inactive years after it kicked off.

While the Epe center has been partially taken over by weeds, especially the greenhouses, the Badagry center which sits on a massive 167 hectares of land is in a better look, but is devoid of activities.

The collapse of the project was blamed on alleged mismanagement and embezzlement of funds by representatives of the state government as well as beneficiaries.

The Agric-YES programme started in 2009 and ran successfully till 2015 until stakeholders alleged a stoppage in the allocation of funds by the state government.

A three-phase initiative, it included a six-month intensive hands-on practical based training in aquaculture, poultry, vegetable farming, and beekeeping.

The next phase would naturally see the trainees being exposed to another six-month practical experience in aquaculture, poultry, vegetable farming and beekeeping in a commercial farm before they are permanently settled in a farm estate in various locations across the state.

While the Badagry center was modelled after the Songhai farming system in the Republic of Benin, the Epe Center was fashioned after the Israelis farming system.

Currently, both centers are a shadow of what they used to be. However, officials in the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture still consider them work in progress.

The new initiative by Lagos and Akwa Ibom state governments has however been described as a step in the right direction.

Otunba Oke Babafemi, the Chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), described the moves by both Lagos and Akwa Ibom States to ensure food security as a good development.

“Lagos State is trying very much. Immediately they identify anything having potentials they move in to take advantage of it. I can easily point out the partnership with Kebbi State which led to the production of Lake Rice. It is yielding good result and I do not doubt that the new collaborations in the area of crop production will be very fruitful.”

On the challenges likely to be faced in actualising the project, he said “Lagos State being the center of excellence, there is no way that some challenges will not come up, but definitely by the time the project starts proper, they will be easily identified and eliminated. For now, I don’t think there will be many challenges knowing that the project is just kicking off.”

Otunba Babafemi, however, agreed that transportation to move the products from the farm to the markets or distribution centers would be a major challenge, as most of the roads are now bad.

According to him, “transportation is a major challenge in the country, I don’t know if there is any place that does not have that challenge. However, thanks to the new government, they are trying to put up some new roads and those with potholes are being patched. We have to start somewhere.”

Advising the government, he asked that they work towards making adequate storage facilities available. “We could have some farm settlement where storage could be sited, especially those using solar energy so that we don’t rely on electricity.”

Mufutau Oyelekan, a practicing farmer in Lagos State who spoke with Saturday INDEPENDENT bares his thoughts on the project.

“I think this is a good action in the right direction if the purpose is to increase food production and to sustain food security in the country and Lagos State especially. It is not a new thing for Lagos State to acquire land from the Osun State Government. The state is already in partnership with Kebbi State and the result is the Lake Rice, so such partnerships should not stop existing because a lot of state governments do businesses with Lagos State. We don’t have what they have and they don’t have what we have in Lagos State. If they don’t have other resources or financial buoyancy in their state and they come to Lagos State to do business, nobody is stopping them. If we don’t have the land and we now go to Osun State to acquire land for food production, I don’t see anything that is bad in it.”

On the likelihood of the new project succeeding, Oyelekan said that there have been such projects in the past. According to him, “Things like this have happened in the past, and none of the projects have been a failure. We have acquired land in Osun State before now, but I think the land documentation was not perfected then. If they are asking for more acquisition of a larger expanse of land, I think it is a good thing in the right direction provided the executors are good executors because you know in Nigeria generally, although Lagos State proves an exceptional state in most things they do, they prove to be a state of excellence, and some of the executors are good. They are very active and sincere to some extent. So, seriously, I want to believe that the personnel and the Ministry of Agriculture in Lagos State today, especially the leadership of the government officials, I mean the Permanent Secretary Dr. Olayiwole Onasanya, he is a professional and he is up to the task. And I want to believe that anything he lays his hands on will be very successful. I want to believe that this project being embarked upon by the Lagos State government through the Ministry of Agriculture will be successful, and I will give them any support required of me as a practicing farmer in Lagos State and as a professional too.

 That is not to say that there wouldn’t be some challenges on the part of the executors or the staff of Lagos State. You know that all of us cannot be good executors when it comes to program execution, so let us give room for 30 per cent failure and 70 per cent success.”

Indeed, light in a very dark tunnel, the successful execution of both projects will, however, be dependent on the ability of the executors to articulate a clear vision towards achieving a hunger-free Nigeria.

And according to Dr. Oredipe, it will all be dependent on the ability to encourage an agricultural sector that grows income, accelerates food, generates employment and transforms the nation into a leading player in global food markets.

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