Nigeria’s population is expected to hit 264 million people in 2030 even as food inflation continues to rise and food prices skyrocketing. Gilbert Ekugbe writes on the need to address the challenges hindering the free flow of healthy food from farm to table.
Apart from climate change and the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic that have ravaged the global economy, Nigeria’s agricultural value chain is currently hindered to meet the nation’s food needs. Poor farming conditions, lack of technical know-how, poor seedlings, insecurity, and absence of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), are among the multiple factors that should be addressed if Nigeria would be liberated from food importation.
Apart from being adjudged the poverty capital of the world even in the midst of abundant natural and human resources, the nation is still wallowing in darkness as its food importation bill continue to surge astronomically. Just recently, the World Food Programme (WFP) tagged Nigeria and 22 other countries as “hunger hotspots,” a position that leaves much to be desired by any nation seeking an all-inclusive economic growth and development.
However, these challenges are not insurmountable, but would require deliberate and urgent efforts by the federal government and stakeholders in the agricultural sector to make the value chain work again as it did before the advent of oil boom.
Call for immediate Action
Stakeholders in the agricultural sector held their peace and resisted the urge to access the performance of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, who assumed office six months ago. But the more they hold their peace, the more things looked like as they were during the tenure of his predecessor. For instance, the ministry is yet to give a clear cut roadmap on how it would revolutionise the nation’s agricultural sector. Food inflation is high and galloping to the sky while more Nigerians are being pushed below poverty levels.
Reports have shown that the number of people below poverty line is expected to increase to 90 million, representing 45 per cent of the population in 2022 using the World Bank’s income poverty threshold of $3.20 per day putting Nigeria’s poverty rate at 71 per cent.
Agriculture Promotion Policy
The APP (2016-2020) deliberately designed to end decades of failed policies and create a sustainable plan for the advancement of the agriculture sector has long expired. And with less than 18 months to be in office, the Minister of Agriculture needs to act swiftly to develop a new APP or have a consolidated APP for (2021-2024) as recommended by the National President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr. Kabir Ibrahim. Ibrahim expressed doubts if a new APP would be developed due to the limited time the present administration has in office.
Although the federal government announced that it is in the process of developing another policy, which it termed as the National Agricultural Technology Innovation Policy (NATIP) to cover the 2021-2025 periods. It is expected with hope that NATIP would provide an integrated approach to agricultural development in terms of access and application of improved inputs; improve the linkage between agricultural research and training institutions. The policy, according to the government, would also enhance the provision of input to farmers, improve agricultural mechanisation, extension services, provide rural Infrastructure and increase access to affordable funding.
Public, Private Financing
Over the years the federal government has facilitated several financing schemes to take the sector out of the woods, but sustaining these financial intervention agricultural programmes seem to be unsustainable as accessing these loans by farmers has proved abortive over the years making expansion of these credit schemes to the agriculture sector a Herculean task.
According to the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, the apex bank has cumulatively disbursed a total of N864 billion to 4.1 million farmers across the country, stressing that under its Agribusiness Small and Medium Enterprise Investment Scheme (AgSMEIS) over N43.19 billion had been disbursed to support the cultivation of over 250,000 hectares of maize, sorghum, soya beans and rice during the 2021 dry season in October 2021 under its Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP).
The African Development Bank (AfDB) emphasised the importance of reducing risk in financing agriculture to bridge the $30-billion funding gap and transform African agriculture, citing that the poor level of financing from the private sector was hindering agricultural transformation in Africa. The multilateral agency also added that the issue of risk and lack of capacity for the private sector to offer innovative financing solutions to the agriculture sector were the main factors obstructing growth of the sector.
It said: “Agriculture is less than four per cent of private-sector financing although it contributes to 20 per cent of the economy across the continent.”
Sensitisation of farmers
Farmers are the main actors in agricultural value chain, but majority of these farmers still depend on old methods of farming because they are yet to be exposed to modern techniques and GMP. A large number of Nigerian farmers still depend on harmful and poisonous substances to preserve their produce.
Experts have therefore called on the federal government and the organised private sector to act urgently to conduct nationwide sensitisation programmes to create awareness on the negative effects of preserving farm produce with harmful chemicals. Reports gathered have shown that the poor handling of farm produce from farm to export market is the major reason why Nigerian produce are subjected to a high level of rejection at the international market.
“The Nigerian Administration for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and other regulatory agencies must function to ensure that there are standards for the production and exports of food and agricultural products and ensure compliance with set standards, said an expert who do not want his name in print.
Agricultural produce are mostly contaminated with Aflatoxins, which are poisonous chemicals produced by certain mold fungi (Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus). These fungi resides in the soil and prevalent in the environment. Aflatoxins’ cause diseases such as cancer, hepatitis, and suppression of human immunity, low productivity and high mortality rates in livestock and poultry.
To address the situation, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), has developed crop protection and treatment product, AFLASAFE, which had gone commercial following the successes recorded on full field trials nationwide.