‘Why FG should revitalise farm settlements to incorporate cattle ranches’
Professor Kolawole Salako is the Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB). He paid a visit to The Guardian’s head office recently when he spoke with Head, Agro-Economy Desk, FEMI IBIROGBA on food security, RUGA settlement, youth involvement in agriculture and a host of other national issues. Excerpts:
Would you clarify the terms food deficiency, food sufficiency and food security to Nigerians because they are mixed up?
Food security encompasses food deficiency and food sufficiency. Food security concept, which came about in 1974, was directed at supplying of food but along the line it becomes not just about supply but adequate supply of nutritious food for people. It must be nutritious enough to keep people healthy.The issue of food deficiency is about nutritional deficiency. Is the food nutritious enough to make you healthy? The issue of sufficiency is targeted at people being able to produce what they need. You produce food enough so that you do not need to buy.
Nigeria is believed to be food-deficient because it imports more food than it produces. As a professional, where do you think we belong?
Let me say that the fact that we import things does not mean we need them. But we are in a nation where citizens are not patriotic enough to support local production. We have the potential to produce what we import. But if you have an economy managed by traders, even when you produce enough, everybody runs after imports. So, importing palm oil does not mean we cannot produce enough.
Are you saying we are food-sufficient in Nigeria?
We cannot say we are, but there is a lot of wastage because we don’t care about value addition. In those days, fruits and vegetables were brought to Lagos and they rot away. So, about 40 per cent of what we produce, according to statistics, are wasted. We say that many Nigerians live below the poverty line. The issue is that people eat what they can afford, not what they need. So, we need to do more. The capacity to produce what we need is there. I tell you a country can hardly produce 100 per cent of what it needs. In Europe now, tropical crops are still imported.
Farmers produce but the products cannot get to the end users. How do we address post-harvest management and losses?
There are some basic things that the country must do to achieve some certain goals.
What are they?
The first thing is stable electricity 24 hours daily. The second one is potable water. I have been to Israel, and I saw how much care they take in looking after harvested products. They do not allow some of the crops to touch the ground. If they are going to do irrigation with untreated water, it has to be sub-surface, not sprinkler system. If they have to use a sprinkler, it has to be clean water.
So, the post-harvest management starts from planting planning. When you harvest, you need to clean the crops. When you clean them up, you need to ensure that you put them in a good environment. There are crops that you need to put into other forms to last longer. Cocoa is processed into powder and they are used for beverages. You process cassava roots into high quality cassava flour now.
You said electricity is a crucial factor and the Federal Government is promoting solar systems of food preservation. Is it realistic in Nigeria to explore solar energy?
The issue of provision of electricity through solar is realistic. How well we do it is another issue. We need to be conscious of that. The government is also trying to do that in universities.Again in Israel, I saw that every house was using solar heaters. And I got to know that it is a policy that ensures you build a house and put one. It reduces dependence of coals or electricity. So, the use of alternative sources of energy is possible. We have solar. Why can’t we use it? So, it is realistic if we utilise it properly.
How can we utilise properly? Is it through the government or private sector-led?
We need attitudinal changes. As I said about the issue of importing food and local production, it is about commitment. The issue is not about who leads it. Why is it that Michelin would leave Nigeria for Ghana? Why was it that an oil palm firm managed by four white men was profitable while the ones managed by Nigerians were not making profit? It is about attitude.
It is feared that Nigeria will become a regional trading rather than manufacturing hub with the signing of African Continental Free Trade Agreement AfCFTA. Do you see the agreement as a threat?
How many African countries are really getting it right? Some say South Africa, and some say Botswana produces more cattle and can export beef. If you allow all sorts of things to come into your country, you will kill the local industries. So, there must be regulation, no matter how free.
I am not really a fan of Donald Trumps but he takes care of the challenges posed to the USA economy by the China. Chinese products are everywhere. China was believed to be a communist country, but all of a sudden it becomes a big capitalist economy, pushing their products and people into other countries to take over, including the uneducated Chinese. That is the kind of thing you may get when you allow that.
In the spirit of ECOWAS, we allowed people to come and at a point we reacted negatively and we said Ghana people must go. That is the kind of reaction you would get. But already, we are importing just anything into the country. So, if you allow imports, people will keep trading and will not think of production. The enabling environment is not here. It is not that our people do not want to produce, but certain basic things must be there. Those things are taken for granted in production economics. They are electricity, portable water and food.
Benin Republic imports rice and other products more than it needs and Nigeria is believed to be the dumping ground. Will this pact not aggravate the situation?
During Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s era as the president of the country, Benin Republic came begging us not to close the border. I read an interview some years ago when one of the smugglers said what they did was giving out some bags of rice to the customs as seized items while they went ahead smuggling tonnes. That country is a door for importers and everybody knows that.
Having realised this, what do you suggest?
Closure of borders is not a solution to this problem. There must be commitment from the people. There was a time we toyed with the idea of ethical revolution under the military. We really need ethical revolution but must come from the mind. So, the solution to this is that production level of our crops or livestock must go up. Before we close the border, production must go up and we need to do it gradually.
Again, you and I should face the reality. If we want to buy rice, are we ready to buy the one with stones? So, closing the border is going to come with commitment from the people and the government. The law enforcement agencies must be up and doing. They must be patriotic enough to support their nation. Production, storage, post-harvest management and value addition should be put in place. If you close the border and there is no rice again, there will be crises.
How can youths be attracted to farming to engage them profitably?
Since we are talking about youths in agriculture, I should talk about the model in our university. Around 2008 to 2009, we observed that our graduates did not want to take up agribusinesses. And we established a programme called Graduate Farming Scheme. The idea was that if you graduated from our university, bring your certificate as a collateral. We gave each N200,000 then. We would plough the land for them, and they would plant. When they started selling, they should give us the N200,000 and retain the profit.
And how was the response?
The response was good enough but we stopped it along the line because the repayment was not fast enough, and it made it difficult for us to enroll other graduates in the scheme. But we are going to review it.Most of the graduates we engaged had registered for post-graduate studies and we did not need their certificates since they graduated from us. So, they were using the money to run their post-graduate studies rather than paying back. Therefore, we had to stop it but we collected the money. It was an eye opener.
The second one that we did and I happened to be the pioneer director was called community farming scheme. There were students doing farm practicals. We thought that keeping these students on campus was like keeping them in a comfort zone where we must look for diesel to power generators to give them electricity. So, we moved to four zones in Ogun State to get land from the community and used it for farmland. We moved our students there and initially they were spending one year. And the result was that some of them got the idea of getting farmland for farming in those areas.
Along the line, the number of students to do the practical farming was increasing yearly, and we had to start taking them in batches. Every student goes there now but not for one year again.The bottom line is that if you are studying agriculture, you must be ready to live in the rural area because that is where you will get land to produce. Some of them have come to say they want to pay back to the university that has made them through farming.
Can this model be escalated to the national level?
If we get support from the government, yes, we can take it to the national level. I also recall that when I graduated in 1983, the Lagos State government gave graduates land in Ikorodu for farming. So, it can be done at the national level. We had farm settlements in the days of Chief Obafemi Awolowo where farmers produced foods in a scientific way, including having ranches. The settlements are still there, though the building may look old.
Are you suggesting re-introduction of farm settlements?
Yes. The farm settlement should have minimum comfort any human being needs to live well, including water and electricity.
RUGA was a national discourse some weeks ago before the government suspended the scheme. What is the problem, and what is the way forward, especially to resolve herder-farmer crises?
FADAMA is a Hausa word for irrigation farming in valley bottoms. The World Bank adopted the system and is everywhere in Nigeria. In doing that, the World Bank did not move northerners to the South. We have FADAMA in Anambra and Ogun states, they did not move anybody from anywhere.
And the flood plains of the north are larger than the south. They did not move southerners to go and farm on the flood plains of the north. There are about over 30,000 hectares on the River Gongola. In Sokoto Rima, flood plains are there. They did not move southerners to farm there because the land was there.
RUGA, some people will tell you, is rural grazing area. But we also learned that it is a Hausa word which means cow settlement. It also has a meaning in Fulani. So, why do you conceptualise an idea and say people must leave their traditional land? If FADAMA could be a World Bank project which is extended to all parts of Nigeria, and it did not involve movement of people, cannot we have ranches in particular locations and let the locals manage the ranches? After all, there were ranches in the southwest in the past and they succeeded.
So, if we want to create cow settlement or ranches, create them for everybody, and let the locals manage them, because attachment to land is, I will call it, sacred. Ancestral land is sacred. There are some people who settled on our campus before land was acquired for the university. Despite the government’s directive, they have refused to leave. That tells you how much attached they are to the land. Though only a few people remain in the village, they have supporters among their children who are well-to-do in Lagos, Abeokuta and everywhere else.
My position is that you can have ranches, and if you give us a ranch, well financed at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, we shall manage it. And we are already doing something close to that, called cattle cooperative system. People bring their cattle to us, we manage and share the profit. The same thing can happen. It can be done like a farm settlement managed by locals. But the issue of I want to take your land and settle some other ethnic group is not going to work.
How should the government handle herder-farmer clashes?
Professor Toyin Falola gave an interview last year. He suggested that people should grow pasture grass in the south and move through the train to the north. Two, you can dry them and package them to where the cattle would eat them.Again, I usually ask that who says a stand of cassava is not as important as a cow in term of value? That cassava stand may be what you need for food security of a family.That cassava may be what a widow and a child need to survive and you run cattle over it.As I said, everybody can be taken care of if the government wants to do it. Create settlements and let the youths and people of the locality manage them.
In any case, when the settlements were functional, one or two Fulani people were there to assist in managing the animals. The collaboration has always been there. Obudu cattle ranch is there. Who are the people managing it? FADAMA projects in the north, who are the people managing it? The southerners were not moved to those places to farm. Why should you move people here to do livestock?
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