food production is a major challenge globally. And with rising population, the increasing demand for food has made it imperative for countries to invest heavily in agriculture.
Although, many people are now investing heavily in agriculture in Nigeria to stimulate the economic diversification policy of the Federal Government, those with the crystal balls are predicting that Nigeria may experience 100 per cent food inflation by 2018 due to some challenges facing farmers across the country.
The sector is troubled on many fronts, notably an outdated land tenure system that constrains access to land (1.8 hectare/farming household); a very low level of irrigation development (less than 1 per cent of cropped land under irrigation); limited adoption of research findings and technologies; high cost of farm inputs; poor access to credit; inefficient fertiliser procurement and distribution; inadequate storage facilities, and poor access to markets have all combined to keep agricultural productivity low (average of 1.2 metric tonnes of cereals/hectare) with high post-harvest losses and waste.
Other challenges, which may lead to food shortage include tomato Ebola, flood, incessant attacks of herdsmen both on farmers and farmlands, climate change and army worms that destroy many grains farms in the country.
Stakeholders say agriculture remains underdeveloped with majority of farmers in the rural areas still using subsistence methods. They said that since farmers could not do much to prevent the disasters befalling their farmlands, they are now abandoning some food crops and shifting attention to cash crops that can withstand some of the challenges to stem losses.
Already, foodstuff prices in the market have gone too high for the average Nigerian to buy. For instance, a big basket of tomato now sells for as high as N23,000 at the popular Mile 12 market, while a tuber of yam goes for N1,500 and above.
Food transporters who spoke to Daily Sun said with bad roads, which compound their problem, they lose lives and goods worth between N250 million and N300 million every week, which consequently affects prices of food items in the market.
They stated that most of the roads connecting farm gates to cities are in bad shape, stressing that unless the government starts massive rehabilitation, the prices of food will continue to soar.
The food transporters explained: “If roads are fixed and made motorable, prices of food would come down and that would also reduce post-harvest losses and waste because a lot of food items perish at the farm gates due to this problem.
“For instance, the Jebba Bridge has been damaged due to lack of maintenance and rehabilitation and trucks cannot ply the road from the North to Lagos, and they have to go through the Abuja-Lokoja Road to Lagos, which is also in a deplorable condition and this has further made food dealers and vendors to record high losses of goods and lives. Even the road from Niger to Oyo is impassable and is in terrible condition.”
Furthermore, stakeholders said for Nigeria to record success, it needs an agricultural master plan, which should start from provision of improved seeds, good infrastructure, farmers’ education, modern farming techniques, preservation and storage plan and sustainable market structure.
Speaking with Daily Sun, the Deputy Managing Director of Peniel Gerard International Limited, Ojiefoh Enahoro Martins, said that food insecurity scarcity is sure for next year because the government only sells agricultural awareness to Nigerians instead of agricultural knowledge.
Ojiefoh said that government announces the harvest before planting without realising that 97 per cent of farmers sometimes still pray to God to send down rain, adding that the country lacks proper inspection and regulation of agro-chemicals imported and sold to farmers.
According to him, government should stop agricultural financing and embrace agricultural support programmes. He said that monetary agricultural policy can only attract political farmers, which is directly proportional to zero harvest.
Ojiefoh noted that agricultural challenges in Nigeria are outcome of unavailability of quality and improved seedlings, as 90 per cent of farmers can’t access good hybrid seedlings, stems, tubers, and suckers for cultivation in the country.
He added: “For me, so far, I can only score this government 5 per cent just for agricultural awareness. The yam export is going to increase local price because farmers are already using it as a local pricing factor against the artificial and epileptic export dollar market awareness. Yam farmers experienced a setback early this year; the early rain pushed us to the farm but after a while, hot sun came and burned the germinating spot, which resulted to retarded growth and poor yield.
“For us to sustain yam exports, we must first develop efficient seed production, quality assurance and distribution. We also need to develop high ratio propagation technologies such as aeroponics, bioreactor and vine cutting to address the problem of quality and multiplication in seed yam production because this is key.”
He said over the years, lack of farmers’ education and extension service have doubled farmers’ failure, stating that what farmers need are good seeds, incentives, machineries, updated knowledge and some financial support not 100 per cent funds, else it would attract politicians.
He lamented: “I also saw the report that we have yam spoilage. That is because we have government policies that only talk about harvest before cultivation. I passed through a silo at Bauchi built with N1.5 billion in 2014 by a former Minister now deserted. Benue State is said to be food basket of the nation; how many functional silos do we have for storage and preservation?”
He added that the billions of naira allocated to agriculture is going to yield poor result because the fund is going into the hands of portfolio farmers while the real farmers are suffering. He said in Benin Republic, the government set up agencies for quality control, extension service units, support rural farmers and develop a market structure for cotton cultivation, which Nigerian government can replicate.
For his part, the Managing Director of Wilstoun Foods, Chukwuemeka Wilson, said there would not be likely price increase in food next year because many people are now investing in farming, saying the only problem farmers are currently facing is the issue of flood that is affecting farmlands in the country.