Tackling Threat to Food Security

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At a time Nigeria is threatened by food insecurity, especially with the persistent farmer-herders’ clashes across the country, the Plateau State Government has received a presidential pat on the back for repositioning the state through mechanised farming. Seriki Adinoyi writes

Food security is an aspect of government that no nation that is worth its salt can afford to take for granted. It is defined by the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, as the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

It has been warned that in the near future, a changing climate, growing global population, rising food prices, and environmental stressors will have significantly yet highly uncertain impacts on food security.

Adaptation strategies and policy responses to the global change, including options for handling water allocation, land use patterns, food trade, post-harvest food processing, and food prices and safety are urgently needed. These policy responses will be vital to improve the living conditions of farmers and rural populations across the globe.

It is therefore worrisome that while nations, including Nigeria are working seriously towards this, the recent persistent clashes between farmers and herders across the country and indeed the Middle Belt states have posed serious threat to this vital part of our living.

Benue State, the famed Food Basket of Nigeria, for instance has in recent times suffered unimaginable setbacks occasioned by frequent farmers/herders’ clashes, so much that fears have been expressed that if not checked, we might be running a serious risk of famine in the near future.

The National Economic Council (NEC) at one of its meetings had said that there will be food crisis in Nigeria unless the displacement of farmers resulting from incessant conflicts between them and pastoralists is immediately addressed.

The Council after a closed door meeting at the Presidential Villa reportedly said it was worried about the displacement of farmers and felt that unless it was immediately addressed, there would be shortage of food in the entire country in the near future.

The Council therefore resolved that an emergency meeting be held with all affected states to find an immediate solution to the crisis.

Also, Search for Common Ground (SCG) has revealed that Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa and Plateau states are losing 47 per cent internally generated revenue annually to farmers and herdsmen conflicts.

The organisation’s Research Fellow, Dr. Chris Kwaja, recently stated this in Abuja while presenting a draft at a Technical Validation Meeting on ‘Implications of Open-Grazing Laws on Relations between Farmers and Herdsmen in the Middle Belt Region of Nigeria’.

Kwaja said that the data was provided by a research that the group conducted in collaboration with the former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar’s Institute for Peace and Sustainable Development Studies (AAIPSDS)

“In fact, challenges relating to access to and control of natural resources such as water, arable land, obstruction of traditional grazing routes, livestock theft and crop damage are the issues that trigger the conflicts. The most affected states are in Nigeria’s Middle Belt – Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba. It was estimated that the Nigerian Government loses a large sum of 13.7 billion dollars annually as a result of conflicts between farmers and herders in these states,” Kwaja said.

According to him, the fragile relationships between farmers and herdsmen were having a direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of those involved, and that it had also disrupted and threatened the sustainability of food and livestock production in the country.

While saying that one of the profound responses to the lingering conflict was the enactment of a law against open grazing which Benue adopted on November 1, 2017, he said that the rationale for the law was to curb the menace of destruction of farmlands, attacks on farmers and threats against food security and development in a state.

He however noted that the passing of the law in Benue which was already having ripple effects in Nasarawa, Kaduna, Plateau and Taraba was met with resistance by herdsmen because they view it as discriminatory.

The aftermath was the January 1, 2018 devastating attack that claimed about 73 lives and the resultant distrust and inordinate politics that have followed, leading to more deaths.

Farmers have therefore fled their farms, while pastoralists have also vacated Benue and other troubled areas, thereby also posing threat to Nigeria’s dairy production.

It was against this backdrop that Plateau State Government recently took it upon itself to begin to work towards averting this imminent danger of food insecurity that stares Nigeria in the face.

The state has decided to make a mark by providing food for the citizenry, and as way of boosting its own economy.

The good weather, fine vegetation and fertile soil place Plateau State above other states in this regard. Plateau has an excellent soil and climate to grow all manners of fruits and vegetable. Also, in terms of potential for growing famous Irish Potatoes, Plateau is in the frontline.

The state governor, Simon Lalong, quickly identified this and decided to harness it by providing fertilisers at discounted rate to at least 57,000 to farmers in the state under the state’s Special Fertiliser Intervention Scheme, a new arrangement to make fertiliser easily accessible to farmers.

Lalong said at the flag-off of sales of the fertilisers for the 2017 farming season at the College of Agriculture Garkawa, that the scheme expected each state of the federation to blend a specified quantity of assorted fertilisers for its citizens, adding that Plateau had received approval to blend 20,000 metric tonnes for distribution in the farming season.

Also, at Bokkos, the state government distributed 24,000 metric tonnes of assorted fertilisers it acquired for onwards sale to farmers at a subsidised rate of N4,000 per bag.

Lalong, at the formal flag-off of the sale of fertilisers to farmers, said agriculture was very key in his leadership drive, adding that having realised that “the bulk of our farmers and peasants can hardly afford the exorbitantly priced fertilisers in the open market, government decided to subsidise the product by 50 per cent so that farmers can access it at N4,000 per bag.”

He said that government has adopted the method recommended by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, which he tasked to develop a workable plan that would ensure accountability in getting the input to targeted small holder farmers within reasonable period, adding that the distribution would be done using a registered list of farmers who have been captured in the farmers’ database.

According to him, “In this arrangement, the fertiliser supplier takes the commodity to one of the 100 designated selling points across the state, and uses the register of that selling point to sell the subsidised fertiliser at N4,000 per 50kg bag and maximum of three bags per farmer under the supervision of government officials.

“I urge farmers to be vigilant enough to ensure that this well thought out strategy formulated in their favour, works well in their communities.”

Lalong emphasised that his administration has placed a high premium on the development of agricultural sector, and that the sector has occupied the third point of the five point policy thrust of the administration and it presents itself as a key area of comparative advantage with great opportunities for all.

According to him, government has realised that it has only 400 functional tractors, which translates to a dismal ratio of 0.2 tractors to 1,000 hectares as against the global ratio of 42 tractors to 1,000 hectares.

He said: “Realising the importance of mechanisation, government has committed itself to a tripartite arrangement between farmers, banks and tractor suppliers. With the knowledge that issues of providing tractor services will better be handled and managed by farmers themselves. The government has graciously approved the provision of 40 per cent subsidy (30 per cent state and 10 per cent local governments) to capable farmers who desire to own tractors.”

Lalong advised farmers to key into the Anchor Borrowers Programme of the federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria.

In a bid to fulfilling his promise to turn around the fortunes of mechanised agriculture in the state and harness the huge agriculture potential, Lalong recently purchased over 400 new tractors.

He said that government was leveraging on the benefits of public and private sector investments through partnership to achieve the goal of diversifying its economy to agriculture.

The tractors, which were eventually inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari during his recent two-day working visit, brought a huge relief to farmers on the Plateau, who lauded the efforts of the governor on agriculture.

During the inauguration of the tractors by the President, Lalong said, “In the pursuit of our commitment to service delivery, the experiences from the economic misfortune occasioned by the fall of oil price in the global market necessitated our thinking out of the box under the new reality. In this regard, the administration identified three new normal or areas that the state has comparative advantages namely, Agriculture, Mineral Resources Development and Tourism. These have been pursued within the context of strategic policy framework through the relevant MDAs.”

He said that agriculture is one of his administration’s five policy thrusts, “and in our effort to key into agricultural production of the federal government, the state government evolved the policy of Tractor Ownership Scheme. It is a Public Private Partnership (PPP) Scheme between Plateau State Government (PLSG), Hakar Engineering Ltd and Plateau All Farmers Multi-purpose Cooperative Society (PAFMCS).

“The Farmers’ Cooperative Society identified the lack of modern farm tools as a major impediment towards productivity and returns on farmers’ income and improved livelihood. Thus in the year 2016, after negotiations between Hakar Engineering Ltd and PAFMCS, the state government was approached and accepted to facilitate the Tractor Ownership Scheme to enable interested farmers of the state to own tractors for efficient and effective farming operations across the three geo-political zones of the state. Consequently, the funding scheme to support the farmers to achieve this economic goal is as follows: state government provided a 30 per cent subsidy; the 17 local government areas providesd10 per cent; Farmers’ Cooperative Society 10 per cent; Hakar Engineering Ltd 25 per cent and Bank loan 25 per cent at single digit interest rate.

“This arrangement enables farmers and/or farmers groups to own tractors for modern arable crop farming. Other objectives include; providing tractor hiring services across the state, increase farm productivity, raise farmers’ income and welfare, and ensure timely cultivation of arable land especially during the rainy season.

Lalong said that the scheme, which is expected to last 36 months from flag off and commencement, will have the following benefits: “The vendor Hakar Engineering Ltd has procured 400 units of tractors (Deutsch Fehr Model 70HP) as requested by the PAFMCS. The Farmers’ Cooperative would eventually become the owners of the Tractors. The State shall provide suitable locations that will serve as workshops one in each of the three geo-political zones of the State.

“Furthermore, the scheme will enlist and train 200 interested youth per LGC in basic farming skills for three years and empower them with tools and finances to embark on farming on successful completion of the training. Each LGC is expected to provide 2,000 hectares of land for this project. Farmers are also to provide farmlands in their communities of between 1 to 5 hectare per farmer for the community farming project for either maize or rice. This project will be funded by the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) Anchor Borrower’s Scheme to be accessed on their behalf by Hakar Engineering Ltd and utilised on 60,000 hectares of land.”

He said that each tractor unit cost is fourteen million Naira (N14,000,000.00) and administrative cost of N50,000.00. The scheme shall be jointly managed by the three parties especially in the Monitoring and Evaluation to ensure that milestones are achieved within the time and budget.

Meanwhile, the President, who was flanked by Chief Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development was elated by the many efforts of the state government towards food security.

While inaugurating the tractors, Buhari who test-ran one of them, also disclosed that the federal government will make use of the 90 per cent money saved as a result of the cut down from rice importation to improve agricultural infrastructure in the country.

The President said, “The federal government has cut down the importation of rice by 90 per cent and the money saved from this gesture will be used to improve agricultural infrastructure in the country.”

Buhari described the tractors as machines of high quality, saying it can last for decades, but urged users to maintain them to enhance durability. He therefore urged the 442 Youths Intern Farmers beneficiaries of the tractors on adequate maintenance.

Buhari described the achievements of Lalong in agriculture as “quite laudable.”

He said, “I am glad that the state government has fully keyed into All Green Initiative and the Anchor Borrower Scheme of the federal government considering the strategic importance of agriculture to our national development. In particular, I must commend Plateau State for its commitment to the African Development Bank-funded Potato Value Chain Support project, which is targeted at wealth creation, employment generation and food security.”

It is hoped that Lalong’s efforts will get all the supports from all concerned quarters to make it succeed, as Nigeria will be the better for it when food is made available at everyone’s table.