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Opinions of Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Columnist: Jide Ojo

Overcoming food insecurity in Nigeria

Food produce for sale at the market Food produce for sale at the market

The American psychologist, Abraham Harold Maslow, in his 1943 paper, “A theory of Human Motivation”, in the journal, Psychological Review, put basic human needs as food, shelter and clothing. They are the essentials for every decent human being. No one can survive for long without food. It is from it that all required human nutrients for growth and development are got. Among the nutrients contained in food are vitamins, proteins, and carbohydrates. Foods are sourced from farming which can be through crop cultivation, fisheries or animal husbandry. Elementary agriculture refers to cash crops and food crops, rearing of livestock such as cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, and rabbits.

Agriculture value chain is very long. Apart from cultivation, there are also transport, processing, packaging, marketing and consumption. Two broad types of farming practiced in Nigeria are subsistence and mechanised farming. Given Nigeria’s huge population which is put at about 206 million, the demand for food is very high and cannot be met by local food production alone hence food importation. In order to boost food production, the Central Bank of Nigeria in line with its developmental function established the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme. The programme which was launched by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on November 17, 2015 is intended to create a linkage between anchor companies involved in the processing and smallholder farmers of the required key agricultural commodities.

The main thrust of the ABP is the provision of farm inputs in kind and cash (for farm labour) to smallholder farmers to boost production of these commodities, stabilise inputs supply to agro processors and address the country’s negative balance of payments on food. According to the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, “A total of 3,107,890 farmers had been financed for the cultivation of 3,801,397 hectares across 21 commodities through 23 participating financial institutions in the 36 states of the federation and FCT, from the inception of the programme till date.”

According to Buhari, in his June 12, 2021 Democracy Day broadcast, in the agricultural sector, for instance, the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme resulted in a sharp decline in the nation’s major food import bill from $2.23bn in 2014 to US$0.59bn by the end of 2018. Rice import bill alone, he said, dropped from $1bn to $18.5m annually. This initiative supported local production of rice, maize, cotton and cassava. Government financed 2.5 million small-holder farmers cultivating about 3.2 million hectares of farmland all over the country and created 10 million direct and indirect jobs.

Unfortunately, this laudable programme is now under serious threat by the lingering insecurity in Nigeria. This newspaper in its last Friday edition reported that the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations has raised the alarm of impending food insecurity in the North-East region, saying insurgency has denied 65,800 farmers access to agricultural inputs in the area. Speaking at the inauguration of the 2021 rainy season farming interventions at the Farm Centre, Maiduguri, on Thursday, June 24, 2021, the Country Representative of FAO in Nigeria, Fred Kafeero, lamented that inaccessibility to improved seeds and fertilisers resulted in food insecurity and poverty among the populace.

It’s not only in the North-East that we have over 65,000 farmers unable to access farm inputs due to insurgency, if the tally of those who have similarly been affected in Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Nasarawa, Niger, Kaduna, Katsina, and Zamfara states are to be added, it will be very glaring that Nigeria is headed for famine not due to drought or natural disasters but to banditry, herders’ killings, kidnapping and other forms of criminality.

A November 12, 2020 report in Sahara Reporters observed that “farmers in Northern Nigeria now pay bandits at least N1.7m annually as tax and harvest fees before they can have access to their farms and avoid being abducted. The newspaper quoted a resident of Dankurmi Village in Maru Local Government Area of Zamfara State as saying: “Our people have stopped going to their farmlands for fear of being kidnapped or killed. Kidnapping has become a common phenomenon in this area. Bandits are now the ones who decide whether we go to farms or not, in some areas even if farmers plant crops, they cannot cultivate due to insecurity. In my village, we pay N800,000 as tax and N900,000 as harvest fees. Even if you pay, they will come to your farm and abduct you.”

This newspaper in its May 10, 2019 edition, quoting News Agency of Nigeria, reported that farmers in the North-West geopolitical zone lamented that bandits have resorted to taxing them before they can have access to their farms. They said apart from this, most of them have been forced to abandon their farms. The farmers’ union stated that in Kebbi State, the hub of rice farming, 350 farmers, mostly rice cultivators, have abandoned their farms. They, therefore, warned that the increasing rate of banditry and kidnappings in the North-West geopolitical zone could affect food production in the area by over 50 per cent. Officials of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria and the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria informed the News Agency of Nigeria that 10,000 households, mostly peasant farmers, have been displaced in Zamfara State.

Apart from displacement and being forced to pay access and harvest fees on their farms, bandits and insurgents have also abducted quite a number of farmers. The son of a former Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, Dayo, was kidnapped by unknown gunmen on his farm in Oyo State. Adewole was waylaid at gunpoint on his farm in Iroko, near Fiditi in Afijio Local Government Area of Oyo State at about 6pm on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. It was also reported that a former Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Prof. Osadolor Odia, was abducted on his way to his farm at Egoro, Ekpoma, Esan West Local Government Council of the State on Thursday, April 29, 2021. Just last Friday, gunmen abducted a traditional ruler in Ekiti, the Eleda of Eda Ile, in Ekiti East Local Government Area, Benjamin Oso. It was reported that the traditional ruler was returning from his farm with his wife when he was abducted and whisked away.

While those abducted farmers might have been released after paying ransom, some were not that lucky. Quite a number of farmers have been murdered in cold blood by bandits and insurgents. Over 40 farmers were murdered on rice fields at Zabarmari, in Jere Local Government of Borno State, in November last year. A former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshall Alex Badeh, also died “from gunshot wounds sustained when his vehicle was attacked while returning from his farm along the Abuja-Keffi road on December 18, 2018. Likewise, a big time farmer in Oyo State, Dr Fatai Aborode, was killed in his farm along Apodun Road, Igangan in Ibarapa North Local Government Area of the state on Friday, December 11, 2020.

The implications of these displacements, taxing, abductions and murder of food producers in Nigeria are very grave. They are strong pointers to food insecurity unless something drastic and urgent is done to halt these heinous crimes against humanity. Already, the prices of commodities in the market have skyrocketed. Those who borrowed money under the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers Scheme are unable to pay back due to the activities of the bandits on farmers; many of them have even left their communities and migrated to city centres for safety. However, in the towns and cities, they are not productive as they resorted to begging as what they know how to do best was farming. Many have themselves taken to crime in a bid to survive hunger pangs.

It is therefore important for government at all levels to bail out the farmers from the stranglehold of bandits and insurgents. All ungoverned spaces should be heavily policed through deployment of more security agents and sophisticated security gadgets. It is also important to speedily resolve the lingering herder/farmer conflicts which have significantly contributed to these insecurity while community policing efforts such as the South-West Security Network codenamed Amotekun, and the South-East variant, Ebube Agu, should be well-resourced to provide adequate security for farmers and members of the communities so that they can operate without let or hindrance. It is commendable that the Federal Government through the CBN is ordering release of grains from the Strategic Grain Reserves in order to bring down the price of food in the market. However, that can only be a short-term solution. In the long run, only safety and security of all will guarantee peace and prosperity.