Stories by Steve Agbota [email protected] 08033302331
Agriculture, which remains the base of the Nigerian economy, providing the main source of livelihood for most Nigerians and direct employment to about 30 per cent of the population, has seen little improvement but faced traumatic challenges in 2017.
Despite that Nigeria occupies 92.3 million hectares of land, of which 91 per cent (84 million hectares) are arable, industry watchers say 2017 would have brought bumper harvest for Nigerian farmers in terms of raking in huge revenue, but Nigeria still lost $13.7 billion to farmers/herdsmen conflicts alone in some agrarian communities across the country.
Among challenges that bedevilled the sector in the year under review are budget delay, climate change, lack of improved and hybrid seeds for farmers, lack of storage facilities, poor access to credit, farms either shutdown or abandoned due to threats of Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen killing farmers and destroying farms, especially in the middle-belt and northern parts, which cost Nigeria huge losses.
Notable states that suffered huge losses as a result of farmers and herdsmen’s conflicts are Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Kogi, Niger and Plateau. To make matters worse, the Tiga Dam in Kano that serves over 40,000 dry season tomato farmers and some other crop farmers was shutdown as it was undergoing repairs, which might lead to shortage of tomato in the first quarter of 2018 if proactive measures are not taken.
At a forum recently, a former Military Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, said 62,000 people were displaced in Kaduna, Benue and Plateau states between January 2015 and February 2017, in farmers and herdsmen’s conflicts. He said 2,500 people died nationwide in farmers and herdsmen’s conflicts.
In the year under review, tomato and maize farmers who would have made huge profits witnessed the worst farming season, as disease ravaged these crops across the country. ‘Tomato Ebola’ known as ‘Tuta Absoluta’ destroyed so many tomato farms, especially in the northern part regarded as the largest producer of fresh tomatoes, and suffered a 40 per cent loss valued at N78 billion annually, between farm and market.
In the same year, farmers also witnessed a disease outbreak known as ‘army worm’, which destroyed maize farms mostly in Southwest region and some parts of the North. Industry watchers have, therefore, stated that Nigeria may likely face scarcity of maize in 2018.
However, Nigeria recorded bumper harvest in rice production in 2017, as some state governments like Lagos, Kebbi, Ebonyi, Ogun, Kogi, among others, including group farmers and individuals, embarked on a massive rice production. This improvement forced prices of rice to drop before and during the festive period. For instance, a 50kg bag of imported rice now sells for N13,000 as against N18,500 it sold last year, indicating a 30 per cent year-on-year decline. Similarly, a bag of local brands such as Labana and Mama’s Pride cost N16,000 per 50kg bag as against N19,000 and N18,500 sold respectively last year.
This shows a 16 per cent decrease in the Labana brand and a 14 per cent decrease in the Mama’s Pride brand.
Similarly, a kilogram of imported frozen chicken sells for N1,000 as against N1,200 sold in 2016 December. A local frozen chicken also sells for N1,000 per kg as against N1,300 sold last year.
A lot of farmers ventured into rice production but Nigeria is yet to be self-sufficient as billions of naira still goes into importation of rice.
The Managing Director, Highhill Agribusiness Development and Incubation Centre (HABDEC), Adeniyi Sola, during a chat with Daily Sun, said 2017 was very good for the agriculture sector because of the awareness and the consciousness that agriculture sector is the sector that will bail Nigeria out of economic crisis. He said the agriculture sector played a vital role shoring up Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and helping it to exit recession.
According to him, one of the things Nigeria got right in 2017 was the determination stop importation of rice as the Federal Government is working through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. Adding that some states are doing well in the production of rice in order to put a stop into importation of rice.
The HABDEC boss said another thing Nigeria got right in the agriculture sector in 2017 was the involvement of the private sector in the development of agriculture in the country. He urged government to look into capacity building, youth involvement in policy and more of processing in 2018.
Speaking on the issues of herdsmen and farmers’ conflicts, he said it is unfortunate that the Federal Government is not saying anything about it, especially President Muhammadu Buhari, noting that the step by different states to pass the grazing bill is the best way.
He said there is need for government to create ranches for the herdsmen and their cattle because Nigeria cannot continue to witness the conflicts between herdsmen and farmers.
On credit accessibilty, he said government should explain to Nigerians who is entitled to the loan facilities made available for farming and where to obtain such loans, the procedure for getting the loans and all necessary requirements for obtaining the loan.
The Deputy Managing Director of Peniel Gerar International Limited, Ojiefoh Enahoro Martins, said 2017 was 80 per cent agricultural campaign year and 20 per cent result.
He stated that, “the structure we have now in agriculture is epileptic and baseless because the 2017 agricultural chorus only opened rooms and opportunities for looters. So far, nobody can explain the whereabouts of the billions of naira pumped into the agriculture sector by the Federal Government, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and African Development Bank (AfDB).
“This year, agro commodity business has been so porous and loose. There is so much lawlessness in the agro-trading sector. At the Nigeria’s agro commodity export market, we failed quality wise. We need a sustainable agricultural development scheme if we really want to achieve success. For months now, I have been in the North working with local farmers. After my daily market with them, I ended up shedding tears because they work hard daily for 12 months and earn little.
“Herdsmen activities are now seen as normal killing to our leaders. States like Benue, Nassarawa, Kogi, Taraba, Bauchi and Kaduna experienced 40 per cent decrease in grains production.
“Over 35 per cent of grains was lost by local farmers who abandoned their farms to herdsmen in the region, death rate increased in Benue, Kaduna, Kogi, Nasarawa and Kaduna by 23 per cent. The unlawful activities of herdsmen, if not managed properly, may increase cost of food to 45 per cent by 2020.”
He said in 2018, government must take serious actions to address all the challenges facing the agriculture sector to avoid severe hunger across the 36 states in the years to come.