Appraising Agricultural Initiative Towards Zero Hunger

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Benjamin Nworie, in Abakaliki, reports on the second meeting of the Nigeria Zero Hunger Forum held recently in Abakiliki

The second meeting of the Nigeria Zero Hunger Forum took place in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, recently. The forum held on November 6 and 7 at the International Conference Centre, Abakaliki, provided an opportunity for stakeholders to access the impact of the zero hunger policy of the federal government after the maiden summit in June in Makurdi. The policy aims to eliminate hunger in the country and improve the living standard of the citizens through agriculture.

The NZHF, which is made up of policymakers and development partners committed to eliminating hunger in Nigeria, has six pilot states. For the take-off, six states were chosen to test-run the programme intended to end hunger in Nigeria by 2030.
The pilot states are Ebonyi, Benue, Ogun, Sokoto, Borno, and Kebbi. The programme was first launched in Benue State, where all the governors of the pilot states and development partners were in attendance. The aim of the tour of the state was to look for agricultural programmes to implement and policies to actualise; to help states in any area they might need help.

The Zero Hunger Strategic Review, as encapsulated in the synthesis Report, identifies key development and humanitarian challenges confronting the people on the path to achieving the aspirations of Sustainable development Goal II. It identifies the role of the private sector in achieving zero hunger; proposes actionable areas as well as milestones; and identifies key actions and partnership for the national roadmap on achieving zero hunger status.

Ebonyi Initiative
The idea of zero hunger has long been the focus of the Ebonyi State government, especially since the country’s economy went into recession in the second quarter of last year. The governor, David Umahi, has taken bold steps to revolutionise agriculture through various windows that provide soft loans to farmer.
The programmes of the Ebonyi State government in the agriculture sector have helped the state to increase its rice production.
Since assumption of office, the Umahi government has initiated policies aimed at diversifying the economy through aggressive farming. With this effort, rice production in the state has blossomed from 120 tons in 2015 to 360 tons in 2016.
Attention has now shifted to mushroom production.

So when Ebonyi State played host to the NZHF team in Abakaliki on November 6 and 7, it was an opportunity to showcase the state’s agricultural capabilities and, perhaps, compare notes with stakeholders on new production strategies. The two-day meeting ended with a tour of agricultural projects of the state government on November 7.
Participants at the meeting included the host governor, Umahi; the governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom; Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State; Governor Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi State; Deputy Governor of Borno State Maman Usman; and a representative of Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Senator Abdullahi Adamu.

Participants from the donor and international community included Director-General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Dr. Nteranya Sanginga; Director (Agriculture) of the African Development Bank, Dr. Chiji Ojukwu; Dr. Abiodun Oladipo of the World Food Programme; Dr. Abraham Shaibu of AfricaRice Centre; and Dr. Tawanda Muzhingi of the International Potato Centre (CIP). Also in attendance were members of Ebonyi State Executive Council, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, members of the academia, representatives of the private sector, farmers groups, and traditional rulers.
More than 500 persons attended the meeting. Apart from the representatives of the five pilot States of Benue, Borno, Ebonyi, Ogun, Sokoto, and Kebbi, there were also people from other states, including Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Niger, Oyo, and Plateau.

Appraisal
A field visit was conducted by the NZHF team to appraise the agricultural efforts of the Ebonyi State government. Places visited included the showroom, government farm/mushroom site, Ezillo Farm, Dr. Sam Egwu’s farm at Umuebe, Waste to Wealth plant and bags, hatchery, rice cluster old mill, fertiliser plant, Ikwo Rice Mill, Ebonyi Rice Mill, and biomass plant at Ikwo.
The team led by former President Olusegun Obasanjo also commissioned the Ebonyi State University’s Green House.
At the end of the programme, the forum called on the federal government to support the production of genuinely-certified seeds for farmers and check the distribution of fake seeds. They raised concerns over the influx of adulterated herbicides into the Nigerian market and called on the federal government to step up the regulation of the herbicides and input market, as the issue of adulteration was taking negative toll on the agricultural productivity of the state.

The forum also raised the alarm over the high interest rates charged by banks for agricultural loans and called on the Central Bank of Nigeria to intervene to make interest rates to be given to farmers at single-digit.
They recognised the deficit in rural infrastructure and called on states to discuss with the African Development Bank and other development partners with the aim of creating a special investment vehicle that would address rural infrastructure.
Stakeholders at the interactive session bared their minds on how to make the zero hunger campaign successful in Nigeria by developing a clear roadmap sustainability and technology usage.

Speaking at the end of the field visit, Obasanjo said, “What I saw in Abakaliki boggles my mind, especially when I compare it to the allocation to the state from the federal government and the capacity of the state to generate revenue. There were bridges where there was no water. This means that Umahi is a good manger of resources. The governor of Ebonyi State enjoys great support from the president who is not in the same political party with him. Governor Umahi has washed his hands well and so he is eating with his elders.”

The former president said the aim of the programme was not only for the elimination of hunger among Nigerians but to also improve their standard of living through an implementable agenda and network of agricultural programmes and activities. He noted the programme was the initiatives of stakeholders who gathered to think about ways of alleviating poverty and hunger through sufficient agricultural programmes.
It is expected that after every visit, the team would evaluate the various facilitates and areas of comparative advantage for possible assistance and improvement.

Support
Obasanjo stated, “We will go round this beautiful state; we are looking for agricultural programmes to implement and policies to actualise. We want to help the state in any area the state might need help; what we have seen that is going well and or wrong. The governor will be telling us about the next level; production of all commodities that the state can produce. We want to make this state a most important food basket of Nigeria.
“As we go along, we want to improve on what every state is doing. We want to impact positively on what we see on ground. I doff my cap for Ebonyi for rice production.”

The governor of Benue, Sokoto, Kebbi and Borno states said they were overwhelmed by the facilities on ground in the state, stressing that the visit has afforded them knowledge of areas they would like to replicate in their states.
The meeting also afforded Ebonyi and Benue states an opportunity to strengthen their ties and unit the boundary communities between the two states who have engaged in border disputes for decades.

Ortom charged the two states to see themselves as brothers and sisters, stressing that the agricultural policy would not bear fruit if both states are in dispute. He stressed that both states would work together to resolve the boundary dispute between Mgbo in Ebonyi State and Agila people of Benue State because it would also affect the zero hunger campaign positively if they resolve the crisis.

The Benue State governor added that the open grazing prohibition law, which he signed into law, was not targeted at any section of the people but meant to ensure a peaceful and harmonious existence of all persons living in his state.
Umahi thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for his support to Ebonyi State. The governor said his government had deployed agriculture to turn around the fortunes of the people. He said he had no choice than to look for alternative sources of revenue, detached from the “precarious” monthly allocations from the federal government.

The governor added that with the drastic fall in oil revenue and its effect on the income of the country, achieving zero hunger status and driving the economy forward could only be possible if Nigerians changed their attitude and approach, and work towards economic diversification. He lamented the negative consequences dependence on the free flow of petro-dollars for nearly half a century has had on the manufacturing and agricultural sectors.

Umahi said, “The Nigeria zero hunger initiative being taken through the leadership of global statesmen such as our former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, to whom we owe this current drive to bring hunger to zero in our country, is to be highly applauded.
“The leadership of the Nigeria zero hunger forum has its work cut out. Anyone who underestimates the threat of hunger in our nation only needs to see the tragedy unfolding in the North-east zone of the country to pause and reflect.
“President Buhari has paid the greatest attention and demonstrated exemplary passion for agriculture. He has taken practical steps to advance the cause of economic diversification, with focus on agriculture and food security – lending unprecedented support to Ebonyi State.”

President of African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, represented by Dr Chidi Ojukwu, called on government to put up measures that will ensure the sustainability of its agricultural programmes through advancement in technology.