Bolaji O. Kazeem
The recent recession that ravaged our economy has opened a new vista for many Nigerians to consider taking opportunities in the agricultural sector of the economy to overcome the excruciating pains of lack of resources to tackle individual needs. The impetus Federal government added to this sector through Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) had propelled more Nigerians to have hope in the development of the agro-allied and Agric business which had resulted in utilization of land that had aggravated conflict between farmers and snakes on farmlands.
From time immemorial, land issues have always been a problem within communities, states, and countries based on the economic value it commands. It has caused war within families, communities, states, and countries and will continue to be an issue human race dwells on because of the population explosion, economic values, and political considerations. However, the danger posed by reptiles on farmlands has not been given due priority it deserves by local, state and federal governments.
The increasing number of people that are into farming activities has started gaining traction in Nigeria because of the enormous benefits of agriculture. The Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) had added impetus to agricultural policy of this present government and provided leeway for states in the country to project areas of their competitive advantage in agriculture.
The programme was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 17, 2015, with intent to create a linkage between anchor companies involved in the processing and smallholder farmers (SHFs) of the required key agricultural commodities. According to Central Bank of Nigeria, the programme thrust of the ABP is the provision of farm inputs in kind and cash (for farm labour) to smallholder farmers to boost production of these commodities, stabilize inputs supply to agro-processors and address the country’s negative balance of payments on food. At harvest, the SHF supplies his/her produce to the Agro-processor (Anchor) who pays the cash equivalent to the farmer’s account. The programme evolved from the consultations with stakeholders comprising Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, State Governors, millers of agricultural produce, and smallholder farmers to boost agricultural production and non-oil exports in the face of unpredictable crude oil prices and its resultant effect on the revenue profile of Nigeria.
With this development, appreciable numbers of the population are into farming activities, especially in the rural areas. However, the policy did not take note of the implication of having more people on farmlands and the attendant collusion with the permanent residents of the land which are rodents and reptiles.
The herculean task of clearing the field, planting seeds and harvesting of produce is been hampered by the encounter of the farmers with snakes on their farms. Many have been bitten and it has resulted in deformity and in many cases outright fatality.
For instance, when rice farmers work on their farmland to thresh rice, snakes go under heaps of rice gathered together during preparatory for threshing, in search of shelter from the scorching sun. Such snakes pounce on farmers when they open the heaps to start thrashing. Some snakes also move in groups in search of rats at yam farms where they clash with farmers harvesting the produce.
Victims of snakebites have always resorted to local herbs to treat themselves as access to anti-venom are limited in the majority of our rural areas. Snakebite treatment needs urgent attention to avoid death and distance from farmland to location where help could be rendered play a crucial role in the treatment of victims.
The exposure of farmers to snakes on farms needs urgent attention in order to preserve the life of our hard-working farmers. It is well known that majority of farming activities take place in rural areas where lack of good roads and health facilities have been an issue that local and state government has not been able to resolve.
From News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) report of November 5, 2017, two hundred and fifty victims of snakebite had died in Plateau and Gombe states, following an acute scarcity of snake anti-venom drugs in the country. The figure represents the number of confirmed deaths from three snake treatment centres – General Hospital, Kaltungo, Ali Mega Pharmacy, Gombe and Comprehensive Medical Centre, Zamko, Plateau State.
Considering the unreported cases and if those that have been maimed across the country on the farmlands, is added to the reported cases, it is alarming enough for concerted effort to address this issue.
The commonest snakes involved are mainly the Carpet Viper (Echis carinatus), Puff Adder (Bitis Arrieta) and the Spitting Cobra (Naja Nicocolis). According to a study made by Federal University Kashere, Gombe State, snake bites are common during hot season when most of them are out of their burrows due to excessive heat. In the cold weather, the biting frequency is low but with higher toxicity due to a higher concentration of the venom.
Snakebites negatively affect the lives of thousands, mostly the rural poor and result in declining subsistence agriculture and overall quality of life of the people. The rate of attacks on farmlands can spell doom to agricultural policy of government if urgent attention is not taken to address this problem.
This issue has affected a productive sector of the economy through death and deformity of our farmers. It has also added a financial burden to the family of the victims in the rural areas. Majority of our rural farmers that fall victims to snake bites cannot afford the cost of treatment and usually resorted traditional methods of treatment.
Lack of attention by government agencies has created room for desperate individuals to produce fake drugs in order to take advantage of the inadequate supply of imported anti-venom drugs.
Kazeem writes from Lagos
It is heartwarming to confirm that Federal University Kashere, Gombe State, has been able to research on various plant extracts with proven efficacy used by local herbalists in the management of snake bite. They have administered these extract on victims in the hospital and confirm the efficacy of these extracts. What is next for the institution is to confirm the side effect of the plants and evaluation of shelf life as well as epidemiological data which require funds for them to continue with their research activities.
More funds should be allocated to research institutes and the University to enhance their activities and modalities should be put in place to address the issue of nepotism in the university in the allocation of funds to researchers. The idea of not been in the good book of Vice Chancellor before lecturers are allowed to benefit from research grant should be look into by National University commission.
The government should treat local production of anti-venom as a national and security issue in order to substitute continuous importation of anti-venom for local production. In view of the rising cost of a dollar, the government must encourage and support research institutions with funds to domesticate the production of the anti-venom treatment kits
Embarking on public enlightenment among rural communities on how to prevent snakebites would involve giving timely first aid. Such emergency and vital information should be made available in the languages that local farmers are familiar with.
Relevant government agencies should raise communities’ awareness and knowledge among general public about the correct first aids for snake bites. Also, sensitization campaign on the risk and prevention by wearing appropriate footwear on farmland is vital.
There is the need for Improvement in the training of medical personnel to tackle the issue of snake bites and training of the community to enable them to administer first aid treatment as well as making the first aid kits available in the rural communities in the country.
National Assembly should expedite action on a bill for the establishment of a national centre for research and production of snake’s vaccines. Not only that, Public-Private- Partnership arrangement between government and Echitab Study Group should be finalized to enable Nigeria to produce the treatment kits in Nigeria.
Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Education and Industry, Trade and Investment and their relevant agencies should collaborate and synergize with private sectors to actualize local production of anti-venom in the country by galvanizing and linking research effort of our institutions into a commercially viable venture.
Bolaji O. Kazeem (08033254923)