Crusoe Osagie takes a look at the new agricultural policy announced by the Minister of Agriculture and wonders why farmers have to pay government to protect them
Finally, it is official. Nigeria, the largest black nation on earth and the biggest economy in Africa has slid into recession.
This basically means that the economy is in a period of temporary economic decline during which trade and industrial activity are reduced, this is essentially indicated by a fall in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in two successive quarters.
At the rate at which the country is going however, more danger may lurk, with the possibility of the economy drifting into depression with all the attendant socio-economic discomfort.
When a nation suffers the nature of predicament, which Nigeria’s economy currently faces, one area to watch closely to prevent the condition from degenerating is food security.
With foreign exchange flow into the country declining rapidly and businesses scrambling for the limited dollar in circulation, hunger and starvation will be the inevitable consequence if Nigeria’s 160 million people would have to depend on imported food.
According to statistics from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the country currently imports about 50 per cent of the rice consumed locally.
The Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, noted: “We still import 70 per cent of the wheat, about 5 million eggs per day from South Africa and some other countries. Fish worth $600 million is imported per annum, the number is reducing because local fish production is increasing. We still import a lot of tomato paste.
“We import honey to the tune of about $100 million per annum, we still import cookies and biscuits and even toothpick but all these did not happen in one day. The idea is to reduce these imports. We import a lot of milk.”
With the figures given by the minister, it is obvious that a lot remains to be done in the nation’s agricultural sector to bring the country and its citizens closer to food security and gives farmers an even more important role in the nation’s economy.
Recognising that farmers and agricultural enterprises should be the first priority of this government, it is therefore a no-brainer that huge support should flow to the green sector but comments and policy from the federal government seem to suggest the exact opposite.
A good example of the government’s insensitivity to the plight of farmers, the very people that hold the nation’s last line of defence, is the announcement of a new agricultural policy, which may likely mandate farmers to pay government extra levies for their protection and the security of their farms.
After the announcement of this mind-boggling policy, many Nigerians have asked if it has become part of the responsibility of tax-paying Nigerians to defend and protect themselves.
Ogbe said he had already held a meeting with the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, saying that government was considering various measures to protect farmers probably at the cost of the farmers themselves.
The minister said kidnapping would not stop but that government was determined to protect investors.
He said: “I had a meeting with the Minister of Interior, we were looking at security situation in agriculture. Sometime last year, some gunmen went to Olu Falae’s farm, a Nigerian in status, in age and ranking and took him away and marched him around, forced him to trek ten kilometres, even carried him on their backs.
“Many more farmers are coming in, including foreign investors and they stand the risk of being subjected to this kind of humiliation.
“So, we are talking with Ministry of Interior that we have to put measures in place. These things are happening in other countries too, where the civil defence corps may have to train a special department to protect huge investors and investment in their farms for a fee, because kidnapping will not stop.
“From the security point of view, we have to take measures to make sure that people who invest are protected.
“In other countries of the world you may have noticed that people live on their farms, you hardly see a farmer who lives in the city, he lives on the farm with his family, you cannot do that here. They will come and take you, your wife and children in the name of kidnapping, we have to stop it and we have to use the legitimate instrument of state to do it legitimately because the farmer has no right to buy an AK47 to protect himself.”
He also announced that the government has taken a bold step to achieve its plan to reduce Nigeria dependency on oil, as the Federal Executive Council, has approved the Agriculture Promotion Policy (2016-2009).
Ogbe said the policy outlined all that needed to be done to achieve self-sufficiency in agriculture.
He said: “The document is titled ‘The Green Alternative’ and it outlines virtually everything we need to do, every policy we need to undertake to achieve self sufficiency in agriculture and also to become major exporter of agriculture products.
One is the roadmap for agricultural operations in the next three years, which we presented to council . Is a detailed document, it outlines our policies and our objectives in trying to see agriculture as the next biggest alternative in our drive to diversify the economy of this country.
“We are working hard on the staples to satisfy local production and we are fully aware that there is a major concern in the country for food self-sufficiency in the country and that there is crisis in many families as a result of serious shortage of food.
“But we are working hard and thank God that ours has not become as bad as one South American country, which was also a major oil producing country, by that I mean Venezuela which situation is definitely a 100 times worse than ours.
“But the point is that where we are going we believe that in a short while, another year and half in the maximum we should be reasonably self-sufficient in grains like rice, maize, beans, we may not achieve everything in wheat but we will be very close to our targets. Other things are also there in the roadmap. That is what council endorsed this afternoon.”
“The council also appealed to other state governments that can afford to take over federal roads to lessen the burden on federal government, to enable them repair and maintain road as quick as possible, so that they don’t go into total deterioration.”
Speaking further on the the crisis between herdsmen and farmers, the agric minister said a pilot programme was being planned in the Federal Capital Territory to stop cows being moved around.
He said: “We have got very good seeds of grass which we are going to start planting. Eventually and in the next one year, I hope we shall move most of our cows into ranches and reserves depending on different terminologies people want to hear.
“Some people don’t want to hear about grazing reserves and government has no intension of forcing anyone to surrender one inch of land.
“Some states are willing, we shall develop these things in their domain, cows, will move in there, they will be given best grass for cattle. Most of these grasses contain 18 per cent protein and amino acid, so the cows can feed well, have the good water to drink and give us the best milk and beef.”