Playing Politics With Food Security
We grumble about the comatose health system that has somehow driven a chunk of our population to herbalists, ritualists and traditional priests for medical attention and the AIDS-infected educational system that have generously left us with more “educated illiterates” than elites. For those who fall into this category of urban dwellers, one can only but wish they are prepared for the crisis of food scarcity which is the worst of nightmares.
A few years ago, in my remote village and others along Ibadan-Ilorin road, I mean that famous route, now a death trap, a small basket of Orange, Tangerine, Tangelo and Mango sold for between fifty naira and one hundred naira. The price covers the entire annual citrus season. On the average, such baskets had about ten pieces each which means a medium-size Orange for instance will sell for five naira or thereabout. Same goes for Tangerine, Tangelo, Mango and Lemon. About the same time, it was sold in cities at the rate of three for twenty naira. Today, an Orange sells for between twenty and thirty naira even in those villages. I didn’t even know it was this bad, because we had them on the farm. I was, however, taken aback when I decided to help myself to buy fruits on the road side a few weeks ago at Ibadan, the Oyo state capital
Cassava, which we used to sell at seven thousand naira per truck load of one thousand medium tubers at the farm gate, was sold for forty five thousand naira last month in most villages around Oyo town, Ogbomoso, Eruwa and Oke-ogun area of Oyo state. Same goes for Yellow Maize, a critical commodity in livestock feed production, a tonne now goes for between seventy thousand and ninety thousand naira as against forty five thousand naira early in the year. Let me not even mention Beans, Rice, Yam and Yam flour. Those housewives and bachelors who shuttle markets daily will tell you what has become of the prices of Yam, Garri, Plantain, Tomato, Dried-fish and Cow meat. It was my friend’s mum that told me she no longer buys her meat in Lagos. The poor woman now patronizes rural markets for almost all her foodstuffs.
My quotations are modest because I have restricted them to prevailing trends in the South-West region. Ask an average working class Abuja resident and you will be amazed how they cope. Those who are not sure of themselves dare not visit Wuse Market. That market in the heart of the city drowns the salary of civil servants without apology. As a
survival strategy, most government workers now sneak to places like Dei dei, Bwari, Karu, Katampe and all those funny FCT satellite towns to buy food stuffs. The big ones order foodstuffs from down South or nearby Suleja, Lafia, Akwanga and Makurdi. I know a family that buys their monthly foodstuff from Ilorin.
A few years ago, to think that taking a fruit as dessert will become a luxury in this country will be termed impossible. But alas, it has started and with the rate things are going only the super rich will be able to eat fruits on a daily basis. See how water melon, pineapple, pawpaw and apple have become so expensive. An apple sells for one
hundred naira, the big one sells for one hundred and fifty naira on the Island. Even banana, ordinary banana, now sells for ten naira per piece (not per bunch). Yet government at all levels allocates billions of naira to agriculture annually. Our last three presidents, including the present one are big-time farmers. Some of our governors have very big farms too. Infact, two of them chair the Nigerian Farmers Council and the All Nigeria Farmers Union or so. We all know Obasanjo’s Ota Farms and those other ones he has in virtually all the regions of this country. We are not strangers to Gen. Abubakar’s Maizube Farms in Niger state. And of course, the Yar’Adua farms in Funtua and other parts of Katsina state where I did my mandatory National Youth Service.
It is an understatement to say these men have done well for themselves, their families and their generations yet unborn. But then, what happens to the average Nigerian who does not have any link to the national swag. I must not forget that some of our ministers, past and present, including permanent secretaries and Directors general have also suddenly become big-time farmers courtesy of previous national bazaar, the latest vision 20 20-20 and other sharing sessions of our commonwealth. It is a shame that most of the rice and almost all of the stockfish we consume in Nigeria today are imported. We import all kinds of agricultural produce from turkey wings to chicken laps; from Kote to Sardine, tin tomato, milk, spices and even toothpick. The goats and cows we eat daily still come from North Africa and neighbouring Niger. I can go on and on. And no one seems to bother about these things.
My grudge with the present administration its inability to check this trend and take remarkable actions in the agricultural sector with all the substantial goodwill and enormous foreign reserves at its disposal at inception. At the expense of sounding immodest, let me categorically state that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Water
Resources in Nigeria is either playing politics with agriculture or stranded. This Ministry as far as I am concerned is not ready to move our agriculture sector forward. My reasons are uncomplicated.
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources in its bid to achieve food security as espoused in the Commercial Agriculture Development Programme (CADP) initiative of the present administration developed a 5-Point Agenda (sounds like 7-Point Agenda) for Agriculture and National Development. This agenda is what they intend to use as a short and long term implementation roadmap which will reposition and consolidate existing successful programmes in the sector.
The first step will be Developing Agricultural Policy and Regulatory System (DARPS); secondly, establish Agricultural Commodity Exchange Market (ACCOMEX Nigeria Project); then, Raising Agricultural Income with Sustainable Environment (RAISE); also, Maximizing Agricultural Revenue in Key Enterprises (MARKETS) and lastly, Water, Aquaculture and Environmental Resource Management.
I will like to single out the third point which is Raising Agricultural Income with Sustainable Environment. These goals, well-articulated and publicised, are to say the least, lofty. You cannot have a better roadmap than this in the short term. These ordinarily should facilitate a national agricultural revolution of some sort. But then, we have seen much more than these before only to end up with nothing tangible or visible on ground. It appears more like a curse in this nation that we write and say a lot of things and almost instantly execute the opposite or somehow do nothing at all. The fifth point also involves the development of 1,500 targeted RAISE sites with small dams and irrigation infrastructure facilities; flood control; early warning systems; agricultural cadastral through auto-photo mapping of farmlands; migratory pest control; bio-energy development and carbon credit project through aforestation and reforestation.
I can assure you that if this is all the present administration can achieve given its failure in practically all other sectors of the economy, at least we will have food security. It was the music maestro, Chief Ebenezer Obey that told us in one of his several songs that “the main issue in poverty eradication is food security.” Meaningful poverty alleviation starts from serious deliberate massive investment in agriculture at the small and medium scale level. My concern right now is how these points will leave the realm of an agenda into reality. If as at now, with the looming deregulation brouhaha, the unpredictable dry season ahead and few months into another election year, we don’t know exactly what is going on as regards both the 5 and 7 points agenda.
Earlier in the year, government announced to the joy of farmers an unprecedented two hundred billion naira lifeline to the sector through two banks for onward lending to farmers nationwide under the auspices of the Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme (CACS). These are the same banks that will never for anything fairly invest in the productive sector especially agriculture. These are the same banks that were quick in releasing money without collateral to money doublers and invisible stockbrokers to the detriment of genuine investors.
We later discovered it was meant for just the big farmers. Those of us searching for few millions were schemed out. And of course you and I know very well that CACS, the way it is presently disbursed won’t produce any beneficial result for the general populace. It is dead on arrival. Very soon, EFCC will be trailing those billions to private accounts of the privileged and prodigal class. These big guys don’t really need the money for their farms. Some of them are seasonal big-time political farmers. They are not farming to feed any nation; they are farming to legitimise questionable resources garnered over the years. At best, one feels it is a settlement scheme for those who have been very supportive and appreciative of government efforts in all “ramifications.”
The truth, however, is that they are playing politics with a dangerous aspect of human existence, hunger. One cannot estimate the role that food plays among humans and animals alike. Is it not even indicting that with one of the best soils in the world, Nigeria is still grappling with food scarcity?. A recent report by UNICEF shows that 80 per cent of the world’s chronically under-nourished children are in 24 countries, including Nigeria. The report stated that there were over 10,000 stunted children in Nigeria as at 2008. This number it said accounted for 5.2 per cent of the world’s stunted children in the year under review. As far as UNICEF is concerned, under-nutrition is a violation of child rights. The Convention on the Rights of the Child emphasizes children’s right to the highest attainable standard of health and places responsibility on the State to combat malnutrition. I don’t see that happening in Nigeria of 2009. The grouping of Nigeria with countries like Niger, Burundi, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Vietnam and Sudan is shocking but true. With the tremendous land, forest and water resources in this country one will expect us to be feeding our neighbours in the West coast if we cannot feed the whole continent.
If a tenth of the two hundred billion for CACS or Sanusi’s over five hundred billion largesse to raped banks is expended on resuscitating the rural school farms project in public secondary schools across the country alone, we will be witnessing an unprecedented season of harvest. With one hundred billion, our universities of agriculture can turn things around both in the short and long term. We are talking about an entire generation in the nation’s classrooms taking on agriculture as part of their curriculum all- year round.
My argument has always been and will remain that given the will, purposeful leadership and diligent hands, Nigeria can actually feed the African continent. What we see in Shongai Farms is not magic. We can do better if our government is serious. I am unfortunately one of the few that rarely thinks we can actually pull a stunt in the ICT world than the Japanese but I strongly believe we can deliver on agriculture. If countries like Israel with all the natural and artificial challenges can breakthrough in Agriculture, we don’t even have an excuse not to do better.
Is it not bad news that we import vegetables and fruits from the Mediterranean region? The parent stocks of our livestock are imported year in year out from Europe and the Middle-East. Sometimes I wonder how and where the Minister of Agriculture spends his day. The only time we get to see or hear him is during fertilizer allocation sessions as if it is the only mandate of his ministry. The other is at the routine meetings of the Federal Executive Council.
To avoid ending the tenure of this present administration on what street analysts now refer to as the zero-point agenda, I urge President Yar’Adua to call his almighty Agriculture Minister to order on the need to stop playing Frank Edoho’s “Who wants to be a millionaire? With food security in Nigeria.
*Kolawole is a farmer.
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