Buckle up on food production, experts warn South governors
‘If tiny Israel could feed self, why not South East?’
Stakeholders in agriculture and farmers in the South West, yesterday, allayed fears of food scarcity following the alleged stoppage of food supply to the region.
But they were quick to challenge state governments in the region to take full advantage of massive fertile land in South West for food production and stop paying lip service to the development of agric.
The Southwest Chairman of All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr. Olusegun Dasaolu, said the stoppage of food supply to the South was a warning of what to expect in the future.
He said: “It is a warning sign. The signal therein is telling us that we need to buckle up as far as agricultural production is concerned. They blocked the supply, within two or three days, these products are not in the market. It should not be so. We have the land and other resources enough for us to produce in the Southwest. We need to restrategize. It is a good development that has taught us to buckle up.
“In the Southwest, we have the capacity to feed ourselves and export. If you move from Lagos to Ibadan, left and right, what you see are thick forests.
“We talk much on agriculture. We need to actually walk the talk by focusing more on agriculture because people that can’t feed themselves are slaves. So, much as we have all other resources, there is a need for our government and the private sector to strongly collaborate and see how we can harness the resources surrounding us so that there can be abundant food production in the Southwest. We have the capacity to produce and even export.”
Dr. Olabode Badiru, a lecturer at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ibadan (UI), Ibadan, said regional states could feed their citizens if they practised smart agriculture, using the right technologies.
He said: “We have some of the best researchers in the continent domiciled in the region. That is, we have the know-how. However, this potential won’t transform into food security overnight.”
He lamented that states lacked coherent policies on agriculture but just key into national policy half-heartedly.
“I’m not aware of any policy document on agriculture in Oyo State, for instance. Therefore, the question is: what direction is the government moving in terms of agriculture in Oyo State?”
Prof. Femi Ajayi of Faculty of Agriculture, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, said Nigeria was destined to be great and self-sufficient in food. He, however, lamented that the region got it wrong due to a lack of visionary leaders.
A development economist and former consultant to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Dr. Samson Olalere, lamented that governments of the region have been paying lip service to food and livestock production hitherto.
He said: “No government in the Southwest since the advent of the current civilian administration has not been talking about revamping the agricultural sector. What baffles one is that this has always ended up in paperwork and discussions.
“The reality is now on us given the current threat and the imminent food scarcity in the Southwest. God has blessed the Southwest with a fertile expanse of land which has given it a comparative advantage to develop the agricultural sector, what is left is the will to do so.”
Mr. Lekan Raji, a young agricultural entrepreneur, said: “Food sufficiency in the Southwest should have been achieved long ago before it came to this. But having said that the current crisis at hand is a wake-up call to leaders to pay greater attention to the economics of food demand and supply. Interdependency and mutual cooperation remain the only model for development in agriculture,” he said.
Reacting to the threat, Dr. Debo Akande, the Executive Adviser to Oyo State Governor on Agribusiness and Director-General of Oyo State Agribusiness Development Agency, said the state has the capacity to feed itself and the South would not depend on any region for food.
“What we consume mostly in the southern part of Nigeria is actually grown in the Southern part of Nigeria. For example cassava, Oyo State is the largest producer of cassava. Beyond that, we grow yams locally and many other things. But what we have been growing locally, there are many other products coming from the North that we can actually grow here but are not being focused on. This will create opportunities for us to focus on it.”
Agriculture stakeholders in Ekiti State noted that, though the effect of the decision to withdraw supply of foodstuff might have negative effects, such would only last for six months, which was long enough to harvest some of the farm produce.
They urged state governments to support farmers with seedlings, tractors, loans and to provide security for farmers.
The argued that the economy of Ekiti State is largely agrarian and agriculture would banish poverty. The state can boast of a number of farm settlements such as Orin settlement, Igede settlement, Odo Oro settlement, Igboroko, Aba Audu, and the Aduloju farm reserve settlement in Ado Ekiti, the latest addition is the Afe Babalola University Ado Ekiti (ABUAD) integrated farms.
IN the South-East, a chieftain of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Chekwas Okorie, described the action of the northern farmers as most thoughtless and self-inflicted damage any set of Nigerians could unleash on unsuspecting and hapless traders and farmers alike.
According to him, although the protesters who erected the blockade have called off their action, the economic setback, business losses and social dislocations they caused might never be redressed in a long time.
“If Israel that occupies a far smaller and desert land space than the south-east geopolitical zone can feed itself and export their surplus, there is no reason any section of Nigeria should willfully surrender the critical issue of food production to any other section of the country,” he said.
The National President of the International Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights Initiative (ISPHRI), Comrade Osmond Ugwu, said the development was an indication of a failing state as a result of the leadership failure of the Nigeria state.
“That action is a typical manifestation of terrorism and should be treated as such. They all should have been arrested and prosecuted for an act capable of destroying the existence of the country,” added Ugwu.
On the meeting by the South West Commissioners of Agriculture over the matter, the right’s activist congratulated them for their active response and called on the governors and governments of other sections to follow suit.
In Owerri, Imo State, investigations revealed that the embargo on foodstuff impacted the market on Tuesday, as traders grappled with exorbitant prices.
A tuber of yam which was sold prior to the crisis at N600 went up to N800, Cow meat worth about N500 went up at N2,000.
A former Imo State chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), and media consultant, Chief Fidel Onyeneke, said: “This is a wake-up call for the southern people. We should work towards preparing ourselves. There should be an agrarian policy that should be taken seriously by the governments of the zones.”
Chief Jude Ugbaja, a former Special Adviser on Enlightenment to former Governor Rochas Okorocha, said the disruption was a “blessing in disguise.”
He said: “This is a blessing in disguise. It is a wake-up call to embrace agriculture. Two wrongs cannot make a right. It is certainly not the best, even to the producers, it is detrimental. Dialogue will only bring peace.”
Former President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ledum Mitee, said if the crisis of food items from the north would help the south-south region to take agriculture more seriously, then it was a welcome development.
“All over the world, the issue of the free flow of trade has been what the world is pursing for some time now. Countries are not allowed to use food as punitive measures,” Mitee warned.
Stakeholders in Akwa Ibom described the action as being foolhardy, reasoning that preventing perishable foods from coming to the South would indirectly create losses to the farmers in the north.
Speaking with The Guardian on the subject matter, Prof. Emmanuel Onwioduokit, of the Department of Economics, University of Uyo, said in the long run, poverty would escalate in the North.
“If you are producing tomato and you are blocking it from going to the market, it will spoil. You will be the one to lose. If you are producing and there is no consumption, certainly you cannot consume all that you produce,” he said.
President of Federation of Agricultural Commodities Association of Nigeria (FACAN), Dr Victor Iyama, who described the development as radicalism, said nobody should stop any trader from taking goods to where they could sell.
“The real owners of the produce and traders are against the blockage. I want to seriously believe that those involved in the food blockage are not the players in the sector, they are neither farmers nor dealers because you cannot cut off your nose to spite your face. There is no way it is going to help anybody,” he said.