Agric: little things that matter
Since Nigeria was founded the issues about our agricultural sector have remained largely the same. In the midst of all those, crude oil became important to the country’s economy earning majority of our foreign exchange. However, what has remained constant is the influence of agriculture in the number of the employed. Today, it is said that 70% of the Nigerian labour force are engaged in one form of agriculture or the other. In spite of the large demography engaged in farming, we are also one of the highest importers of food, until recently. Rice, poultry, beans, fruits, etc were largely imported.
The discrepancy in the number of farmers versus the quantum of food imports tell some stories: farming is largely subsistent and we do not maximise the potential of the land we have. Something therefore needs to happen and quickly too. Even though we take notice of major investments in agriculture in the last couple of years. There are still issues left to be resolved. One of them is storage, the other is access to finance and land. The financing model we practice now limits real farmers from getting government or bank funding. The same way, we pay little attention to storage of farm produce. We still record heavy losses as a result of rotten food and fruit. The cost is then transferred to consumers.
Beyond those three factors is the cost of transportation. This factor is a major area that we expect government to tick the dots. The cost of moving farm produce is very high. Roads are bad, trains are few and far between. Consequently, cost of transportation and its impact on prices is equally critical. Coupled with that is the extortion along the routes. Police and other security operatives set up illegal toll points to milk transporters. This goes on around the country and along food producing zones. Painfully, no effort has been made to check this madness. At least in reforming how we farm (both livestock and crops) care must be taken to find a solution to the menace of extortion on our roads. Police role is to provide security not to use their guns to extort money from transporters thereby making hikes in fares inevitable.
We are at a critical time. Many people are upping their interest in farming. Little issues like this can discourage them. We have to tackle the small matters so that the big issues can be properly diagnosed. And solutions proffered. Food security is a national security challenge. We must not treat it with levity. We must as stakeholders find a better way to transport produce. The significance of this cannot be over emphasised.
We can take a cue from countries even in Africa that place premium on movement of farm produce. It is treated as a national priority and these goods are guarded to storage facilities or the market. Instead of having police guard all manner of private citizens, these cops can be drafted to aid movement of produce. We need to show that our farms and foods matter. And be in complete control to ward off infiltrators who may wish to introduce poor quality animals or crops along the produce chain.