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Burning of Samuel Ortom’s farm

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Samuel Ortom

The reported burning by suspected herdsmen of a 250-hectare rice farm owned by the Governor of Benue State, Mr. Samuel Ortom, is a heinous act that cannot be condemned strongly enough.

The arsonists who are reported to have invaded it with a large number of cows subsequently set fire to the farm and ran away when confronted by security agents. 

It is clear now that the wanton killings by suspected herdsmen have taken a new dimension with the deliberate targeting of important infrastructure and resources that can sustain Nigeria as a secure and independent state. Benue State is a big part of the ‘Nigerian food basket.’

Therefore, no one should treat an attack on the food production capability of this nation with levity. An attack on the food security of the nation is a clear and present threat to national security.

This act must also be seen in a larger context as an attack on the agriculture sector which is the largest sectoral employer of labour that is even yet to develop to its full capacity, a threat to private sector investment in large-scale agro-business and a danger to government effort to encourage farming by the army of able-bodied, unemployed citizens.

The implication is that investments and efforts of honest men and women can go up in smoke in one moment of madness by evil people.

Let it be noted that agriculture, besides being a source of food supply and a major employer of labour, is also a source of raw materials for the manufacturing industry.

Therefore, this act of arson is tantamount to a declaration of war on the Nigerian state. 

The Ortom rice farm is valued at hundreds of million. This is, by any measure, a big private investment, the output of which can surely add some value to the nation’s rice supply.

This country is by most calculations, a huge consumer of rice without a corresponding production of the item.

Rice is a major food on the Nigerian table to the extent that billions of naira and foreign currencies are spent yearly importing it to supplement the inadequate local production.

Nigeria is widely considered both a major consumer of rice and one of the largest importers in the world.

An audit firm, PriceWaterhouseCooper (pwc), calculates a 32 kg per capita rice consumption and notes that, “in the past decade, consumption has increased by 4.7%, almost four times the global consumption growth.”  

Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Godwin Emefiele reportedly said that in the two and a half years of January 2012 to May 2015, this country spent $2.14 billion to import rice.

In February 2017, Alhaji Aliko Dangote said, while inaugurating his company’s scheme on the product in Sokoto State, that Nigeria consumes 6.5 million tonnes of rice but produces less than half of this.  

President Muhammadu Buhari has made an increase in rice production a priority of his government to reduce importation and the corresponding drain on the nation’s foreign exchange and reduce unemployment.  

To this end, private sector participation is being encouraged with such incentives as the CBN-arranged N250 billion Anchor Borrower Programme that has so far disbursed up to N150 billion to farmers according to the executive director (Finance and Risk Management) in the Bank of Agriculture (BoA), Niyi Akenzua.  

There are no definite figures on Nigeria’s rice output in the year 2017.

While the president of Rice Farmenrs Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Aminu Gorongo, says that production grew from 5.5 million tonnes in 2015 to 5.8 million tonnes in 2017, PWC affirms that 3.7 million tonnes were produced in 2017.

Whatever the correct figure still left a significant gap of an estimated 7.9 million tonnes shortfall in 2017. “But yields have remained at two tonnes per hectare, which is about half of the average achieved in Asia.”

Ortom’s type of large-scale mechanised farming, reasonable people agree, is the modern and appropriate way to go if this country is to achieve its full potential in agricultural productivity.

PWC also reported that mechanisation can double Nigeria’s rice output from 3.7 million tonnes to 7.2 million tonnes within five years. Indeed, the rising global output is driven by mechanisation.  

But that is in stable countries where there are no malevolent, marauding herdsmen bent on destroying lives, property, farming communities and even nations. 

Even in the best of times, food production in Nigeria faces myriad of challenges that range from land acquisition and ownership, availability and quality of labour, through difficult access to credit and farm input to lack of storage and processing facilities and easy access to markets.  

The wanton destruction of already built and productive farms is quite unacceptable. It is a wicked act. 

The burning of the Ortom farm is a test case for the Buhari government on its honest commitment to food security. The perpetrators must be identified and severely punished as a deterrent.

Specifically on ‘Agriculture and Food Security,’ the party promised to, “establish a Conflict Resolution Commission to help prevent, mitigate and resolve civil conflicts within the polity” and “bring permanent peace and solution to the Niger Delta and other conflict-prone areas …in order to engender national unity and social harmony.”

All told, the Ortom farm tragedy should not be politicised and swept under the carpet. It should be treated as a national security matter, lest the arsonists will be emboldened to commit more atrocities.


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