Farmers and agronomists in Nigeria have condemned lopsided and frivolous interventions in the agricultural sector while they also demand that such interventions should be channeled towards value chain development.
Value chain development of crops, they argued, would deepen production, drive industrialisation of crops and help in wastage reduction while creating gainful employment opportunities in the agro-allied sectors.
Such frivolous interventions, they said, include the Federal Government approved N13 billion for pest control in 12 northern states, in favour of one part of the country at the expense of others.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Muhammad Nanono, had said that the intervention funds would be used for the control of quelea birds, locusts, grasshoppers and other pests in 12 states to prevent interruptions to food production during the 2020 farming season.
Some agricultural scientists said such resources should be used in building farm infrastructure, such as dams for dry season farming and food/grain storage facilities in each of the states of the federation.
The National President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr Kabir Ibrahim, said: “While we applaud the efforts and concern of President Buhari on the promotion of agriculture for food security and national development, it will be unpatriotic to keep quiet in the face of this obtuse and reductive appraisal of an integral component of the national food system.”
He pointed out that the fund was not provided for in the 2020 budget, and unappropriated by the National Assembly, and therefore, is reckless and unacceptable.
Ibrahim said: “For this kind of information to be churned out to the public is tantamount to gross indiscipline and gross misconduct by any public officer …. The farmers are at a loss when this kind of information comes out, especially when they are struggling to access their farms due to insecurity.
“For the farmers who are not sure of even being able to produce anything to wake up to the realisation that the government is planning to spend this kind of money on a perceived problem, even before it rears its head, is nebulous.
“The question we are asking is: how did the government come to the decision to expend this colossal sum to protect farm produce whose quantum is indeterminate because its cultivation has not even commenced and there is no veritable data to rely on in forecasting what it will actually amount too.”
He lambasted that for any policy driver to come up with this “it shows that they are not in firm control of what is happening in the agricultural space, or they are hell bent on defrauding the food system from the onset.”
Professor Adebayo Kolawole, an agricultural extension specialist, also said: “It is important to ask the minister of agriculture what was the basis of that information. Is there data to show that pest control in 2020 will be beyond the capacity of farmers in the 12 northern states? Is there any evidence of the specific pests and the control measures to be adopted? Does he have data to show the expected spread pattern of the past? Where is it coming from? Where is it going to? What variables are aiding its spread?
He insisted that the questions are pertinent to enable the country to make informed decisions on the necessity or otherwise of the government’s plans and whether or not it should take priority over other key areas of agriculture.
Dr Mary Ogunkoya, former provost of the Federal College of Agriculture, Akure, is of the view that the government should have a rethink and be more realistic in sharing the available limited resources.
“A human face is vital. Pest control is supposed to be part of general packages that should cut across every zone. But in a situation where sectionalism is applicable, it is painful and shameful. This is supposed to be a country where, though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we should stand,” she said.
Ogunkoya said Nigeria is just paying lip service to national food security amid corruption and nepotism, while “the future is bleak and hunger looms.”
Mr Adebayo Osiberu, a tea processor based in Sagamu, Ogun State, said it is a sad thing when the focus in agriculture in Nigeria is the north. “Unfortunately,” he added, “wrongly directed efforts like these do not work. They backfire.”
Osiberu said: “This is the planting season in the country. So, seedlings, seeds and herbicides should be paramount, although pesticides should also be available as applications will start in another one month. Pesticides will ensure that the farmers’ labour is not in vain. So, if the money is in preparation for its availability, then we can only quarrel with targeting only 12 northern states. Are the rest immune to the pest?”
Food preservation through agricultural value chain development should be paramount to avoid wastage amid low productivity, he advised, saying: “This is more important in our climate condition of high humidity and temperature. We are now in the fruit season and we are not preserving the excess capacity we are witnessing.
“Everybody is eating fresh mangoes, pine-apples, water melons, okra, water leaf, etc. They will soon disappear from the markets, but go to the fruit market now and you will see wastages. They are not even converted to animal feeds because the point of waste is far away from points of requirement.”
He further suggested that: “Grains have arrived and this will be followed by the tubers. The same wastage will follow. We need to preserve. For example, by removing 50 per cent water, some produce will keep for weeks and often times, by reducing water content to less than 10 per cent, most produce will keep for months, if not years.”
Dr Nike Olagunju, a rice processor and lecturer at Lead City University, Ibadan, Oyo State, said it is a misplaced priority when farmers should be equipped with real inputs that would boost productivity.
She said: “When other countries are making food security a priority, even African countries, because they can foresee a looming crisis in the food agricultural sector, which is a likely famine in no too distant future and are equipping their farmers with improved varieties of seeds, seedlings and fertiliser, online training, and intensive agricultural enlightenment towards the continued improvement of the agricultural business.
“Why not pick states in all the geopolitical zones that the impact of the pesticides can at least be felt to a great extent, if need be. Are there no farms and needy farmers in other parts of the country?”
However, Dr Olabisi Awoniyi, Assistant Director, Commercial Agriculture & Training, Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority, Ilorin, Kwara State, said the approval of N13 billion to pests in 12 states in the north is a step in the right direction if implemented correctly.
Dr Awoniyi explained: “This is because the outbreak of these migratory birds and pests in Nigeria could spell a doom and magnify the impact of COVID-19 on food production and the economy at large.
“Quelea is the most important [destructive] avian pest of small grain crops in Africa, causing damage up to the equivalent of millions of dollars yearly throughout semi-arid zones. They could be referred to as the most hated birds in Africa; very difficult to control as they can reproduce three times a year. The best bet for controlling them is to prevent infestation into the country.”
He advised that Nigeria should also be battle-ready to face challenges that infestation of locusts and grasshoppers into the country might cause, as prevention is always safer and cheaper than control.
He added that outbreak of desert locusts in East Africa, estimated to be 20 times worse than what they had had before and the Middle East, probably on its way to West Africa, where Nigeria is geographically located and could possibly have a share.