Agriculture has been identified as a key to economic transformation. However, Nigeria is still facing its worst food conditions, faring poorly among leading nations on the continent. The situation has attracted concerns among stakeholders. DANIEL ESSIET reports.
For the National President, Federation of Agricultural Commodities of Nigeria (FACAN), Dr Victor Iyama these are not the best of times. The rising cost of living is going up due to the rising prices of key household commodities. He aligns with citizens’ complaints of the struggle to put food on the table due to soaring food and fuel prices.
His concern is that there has not been enough effort to prompt a flurry of activities to lower the cost of basic staples and expand farm production. Across Nigeria, price rises have been most pronounced with crops such as soya beans, maize, rice, and cassava that comprise the basic diet of millions.
According to Iyama, many issues are contributing to increasing food loss and disruption of food chains.
Farmers, he continued, were enduring worsening conditions and risking their lives to feed Nigerians.
As it is, Iyama told The Nation, the food shortage crisis requires a response to increasing farm production and self-sufficiency in food-deficient areas.
More funds, he stressed, should be deployed to provide fertiliser, farm implements and improved seeds to farmers to help reduce prices for basic foods.
He also expressed concern that insecurity is adding to migration numbers, and driving more Nigerians from the farms.
Months of attacks and killings by terrorists and bandits, he maintained, have taken a serious toll on farming, with people refusing to return to their farmlands to continue with food production. The farmers, he explained, were afraid to be killed by rampaging bandits as they go about destroying farms and killing people without enough response from the security agencies.
Iyama stressed that agriculture is one of the sectors that should spur economic success, noting however that not enough had been done to demonstrate commitment to efficiency and productivity.
To achieve growth, he explained that the government has to support and intensify development where crops that can succeed in specific regions, are promoted given factors such as weather and soil type.
According to him, accessing credit has been a long-standing issue for farmers, as many in the industry complain about the risk-averse nature of the banking system.
While the sector has brought gains and breakthroughs, a lot of dents remain in the agricultural landscape, including a low level of trade and export development, agri-industrial business corridors, easy and affordable access of farmers to agri financing, mechanisation and infrastructure investments, among others.
A consultant to the World Bank, Prof Abel Ogunwale, noted that it was apparent that the sector would continue to witness poor food production due to the negative effect of banditry on farming and food production. Besides, he said the sector was facing a shortage of inputs prompting a surge in food prices and worries about shortages.
The expert noted that the continuing drop in crop yields and spiralling prices were also worsening the country’s economic woes. Among other challenges that could be overcome, he stressed that insecurity is an important issue that needs to be addressed urgently.
Ogunwale said what the sector needed was more investors to boost domestic production and reduce its hefty import bill.
He is among other analysts who believe the government has to open the agric sector to private and foreign investors in an attempt to slash the cost of food imports. Some key challenges to be addressed if Nigeria is to achieve its goals of improving food security, he noted, would include increasing the area of irrigated land, encouraging the use of fertiliser and promoting new farming techniques.
Ogunwale stressed the need for the government to rehabilitate and redevelop sub-sectors across the value chain.
The Executive Director, Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI), Ilorin, Kwara State, Dr. Olufemi Oladunni, noted that reforms were needed to turn agriculture into a sector that can help address the government’s goals of generating quality jobs and ensuring inclusive growth.
He was of the opinion bad governance has not helped the country exploit its comparative advantage in agriculture. Beginning with high input costs during the production, he noted agribusinesses have had to contend with a supply chain that progressively erodes the sector’s competitiveness.
A lot of challenges and constraints along the supply chain, he maintained, continue to hamper the sector’s full potential including the inadequate provision of infrastructure and inefficient logistics.
Oladunni said insecurity is impacting agricultural production and food security with more farmers abandoning their farms due to fears of being attacked.
He said Nigeria’s agriculture research sector loses about $100 million yearly, due to its inability to attract grants from local and foreign foundations and organisations.