Stakeholders on how to check looming hunger
As predicted late last year by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), more than 13.9 million Nigerians are at risk of food insecurity this year.
The forecast was the result of the analysis of October/November 2020 Cadre Harmonise (CH) of the FAO, which indicated that over 9. 8 million people from 16 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are suffering from food insecurity.
This, The Guardian learnt, might have begun to manifest since the last quarter of 2020, with the hike in the prices of food commodities, which rose to 200 per cent.
The FAO Representative in Nigeria and the ECOWAS, Fred Kafeero who spoke during the presentation of the report, said the results of the analysis had exposed the need for urgent intervention by the government.
Based on The Guardian observation, the bad situation, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic has further escalated by recent incidences, which according to experts could hasten the looming food security-related crises in the country.
As the country was grappling with the effect of the COVID-19 lockdown and continuous herdsmen attacks on farmers, the looting of the Strategic Grains Reserve (SGR) warehouses and silos mistook for COVID-19 palliatives in some states, where seeds were carted away, led to the depletion of seeds for 2021 planting season across the country.
As if that was not enough, the incessant attacks on farmers by some bandits towards the end of 2020 greatly debarred farmers from working with their attendant consequences on the availability of food.
Though the Federal Government claims it is addressing the issue, farmers and other stakeholders in the sector have expressed concern that the food crisis might hit the country harder than predicted if urgent steps are not taken to forestall food problems in the country.
The CEO of Fourteen Farms, Ifeware/Ife, Osun State, Julian Akinremi, said better access to markets for farmers and other value chain actors is very essential at this period, as it will reduce post-harvest losses on the farms and in transit, which will increase the quantity of food getting to the markets.
He said: “Logistics is a major issue for farm products, farm roads are bad and the cost of moving food to cities rises by the day. Easing the flow of food from one part of the country to the other would go a long way to increase food availability in the market. There is a need to encourage farmers to cultivate larger portions by making soft loans available, in cash and kind and provision of reliable off-takers, which would enable farmers, cultivate larger areas.
“The year has started already and a number of dry season crops ought to have been transplanted or planted directly already. But encouraging dry season farming is another solution. Supporting farmers with funds to enable them successfully carry out irrigated farming would make more food available and also reduce the cost.”
Akinyemi said there is need for fund initiatives like hydroponics, soilless farming and greenhouses among others that would increase food availability in markets by cultivating on and off seasons, adding that supporting agropreneurs who are into this would make them do more and also make more food available at affordable prices.
“At this period, the government needs to reduce tax on food items so as to encourage more people to buy from farm gates and move to large markets in cities. The tax in these markets should also be as low as possible. Funds should be provided for female agropreneurs, to increase the areas cultivated by these women, as statistics have shown that on average, women comprise 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, hence, empowering women to do more would help increase food available in markets.
“There is a need for the government to encourage more young people in Agribusiness. There should be funding for improved seeds and mechanised farming, support to purchase food processing machines, training and loans to finance digital agricultural solutions. These would improve the quality of locally cultivated food crops, increase their shelf life and reduce their cost. Also we would have increased farm yield, reduce post-harvest losses, have more hands and also increase competition,” Akinyemi said.
But Co-founder, Farmvilla Resource Centre, Ago Amodu, Saki, Oyo State, Yinka Adesola, thinks otherwise. “I am not sure there is anything the country can do to avert the famine other than just bracing it up. The best solution would have been if farmers were well equipped for irrigation farming to produce more food. As it is, an average farmer is currently waiting for the next rain for farming that will come by April or May.
“There are several dams scattered in all the states, the government could provide irrigation system and mud pumps while also supporting farmers with skill on how to produce food crops all year round. Farmers should start planning the cropping system along with irrigation. Rainfall has been so erratic leading to several losses in farm crops. No one should be on the farm without having an irrigation system to back it up.”
The former Chairman, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) agriculture sector, Prince Wale Adekoya called on the government to provide credit facilities-repayable loans with zero interest through agricultural banks set up by the government to support farmers; provision of government-owned extension services, which will be saddled with the introduction of new farming techniques and new or hybrid farm inputs to the farmers; rehabilitation of feeders roads; and provision of land, to solve the problem of land availability, a major constraint to subsistence agriculture.