By Isaac Asabor
There is no denying the fact that since the leaderships of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) and the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria (AUFCDN) literarily began to flex their muscles on how to ostracize Nigerians of Southern extraction from consuming agro foods grown in the Northern part of the country that not few Nigerians have become jittery of the consequences of such action, particularly when well implemented and coordinated by both associations.
It is paradoxically sad to say in this context that traders of Northern extraction usually come to Igbanke town in the past on every Eke market day, and other market days that were held within the interval of four days across towns and villages in the then Akugbe district; now Orhionmwon and Uhumwode local governments. At the time, they were wont to buy garri, yams and plantains in quantities, and conveyed them to the North in Mercedes-Benz Lorries, and Peugeot pick-up vehicles. Puzzlingly, the situation today is different that they are even threatening to stop “feeding us”.
At this juncture, it is expedient to ask, “Where did the Southerners get it wrong?” The answer to the foregoing question cannot be farfetched as most youths from that part of the country and the entire Southern parts of Nigeria have neglected farming for white collared jobs. In as much as one is not in this context condemning the mass education that was promoted through the establishments of secondary schools under the administration of late Professor Ambrose Alli who served as the Executive Governor, and the first civilian governor of the defunct Bendel State between 1979 and 1983, and in the same vein by other governors in the South West that were affiliated to the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), it is obvious that the ephemeral financial blessings and social upliftments that are inherent in white collar jobs contributed to the seeming death of peasant agriculture in the South that once served as the food basket of the whole Nigerian population.
For instance, at age 16, Osagie Emeka (not real name) has already acquired his school certificate where he passed in flying colours with grade 2, and by that virtue landed a job in Benin-City where he was employed as a Clerical Officer.
A few years later, Emeka was earning N100 which was a huge amount of salary then, and was also a part time student at the University of Benin. At age 22, he graduated, and had saved enough to build his own house in the heart of Benin-City. Don’t ask me how. In those days as a school certificate, a clerk does not need to work for donkey years for him to be able to become a car owner or a landlord.
Up till now, Emeka, who has completely forgotten the dynamics of peasant farming has not stopped seeing education as the singular reason why he has the opportunity to make a good living. Given his successful education and career trajectories, it is little wonder that peasant farming is by each passing day becoming unattractive to most youths in the country, particularly in the Southern axis. Without any iota of exaggeration, there is now a frightening shortage of farmers who have traditionally been the food producers, be they food crops producers, goat herders, hunters or fishermen in the entire Southern axis of the country.
Analyzed from the foregoing perspective, why will the Northerners not threaten us with starvation?
Looking at Nigeria at a glance from the perspective of agro food distribution, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in one its insightful analysis posited that “In spite of the oil, agriculture remains the base of the Nigerian economy, providing the main source of livelihood for most Nigerians. The sector faces many challenges, notably an outdated land tenure system that constrains access to land (1.8 ha/farming household), a very low level of irrigation development (less than 1 percent of cropped land under irrigation), limited adoption of research findings and technologies, high cost of farm inputs, poor access to credit, inefficient fertilizer procurement and distribution, inadequate storage facilities and poor access to markets have all combined to keep agricultural productivity low (average of 1.2 metric tons of cereals/ha) with high postharvest losses and waste”.
To my view, the weak points that are militating against food sustainable farming in the country, particularly in the Southern part of the country need to be addressed.
At this juncture, it is expedient to say that to revive agriculture in the Southern part of the country, it is expedient that provision of accessible roads and good transport system are provided for farmers. This is because the availability of accessible road and transport system is a necessity for agriculture to thrive in Nigeria. Many farmers get discouraged when they remember the stress that they will have to go through in bringing their farm produce to the end users (consumers). Again, with bad roads, the prices of the products are usually outrageous when they eventually hit the market.
Another area to look into by various state governments in all the Southern part of Nigeria is in the area of provision of fertilizers to farmers at highly subsidized rate.
In as much as fertilizer is not the only way of nourishing our farms, the use of fertilizer in modern farming is still very much acceptable and should be made available. Industries that produce this should be encouraged by all concerned.
Of much relevance in this context is the provision of loans to farmers. Finance is the back bone of every worth venture of which agriculture is one of them. Adequate financing of agriculture made available to farmers in the South at rock bottom interest rate will surely boost agriculture in Nigeria. One way that the government can do this is to imbibe the culture of good financial management and strategic asset allocation technique into governance. This will ensure that funds are properly allocated and monitored for efficient utilization when allocated.
Similar to the foregoing is the provision of agriculture insurance. There is no denying the fact that losses are inevitable in all works of life and needs to be insured against. Farmers should be encouraged to take up agricultural insurance policies to help re-instate them in times of loss. Surprisingly, little is known about the existence of Nigerian Agriculture Insurance Corporation (NAIC), which is a body that is overseeing the agriculture insurance in Nigeria.
In fact, for the South to be independent in food production without looking up to the North, there are agricultural best practices that can easily be adopted if we really want to reap from the numerous benefits of viable agricultural sector, and this is by rendering support through the constructions of large and small scale irrigation schemes.
The reason for the foregoing suggestion cannot be farfetched as availability of functional irrigation system will ensure that farm produce are available from time to time, and with that, seasonal problems that characterized food production will be effectively controlled if good irrigation scheme project is commissioned and executed.
By the time all the foregoing suggestions are pragmatically adopted and implemented, the paradox of depending on the North for food would no doubt be considered to be fully addressed.