Nigeria will appear to be currently ravaged from all fronts. As the country is grappling with security challenges nationally, the economy is hemorrhaging so badly to the extent of its been in second recession. Corruption remains unabated while the standard of living depreciates daily. Inflation continues to be on the rise to the extent that food inflation is nearing nineteen percent now. Virtually every stable food price is towering above the reach of the common man. Unemployment figure soars as factories and businesses close down on a daily basis due to several factors ranging from the effect of the pandemic to hostile state policies and infrastructural decay. Exchange rate of foreign currencies to naira is on the rise, thus increasing the prices of essential goods and services with foreign components. A good example is air travel.
The rate of the increment in the cost of air ticket is already putting it above the affordability level of an average Nigerian traveler. Unfortunately, road travels seem not to be an option for several reasons ranging from famished roads to the insecurity on the roads. Any attempt at venturing into road travel could be tantamount to attempted suicide at the barest minimum. There appears to be no solution in sight to all these problems. You will be wondering what has all this got to do with the provision of food in the country. In this piece, I intend to be as elementary as possible as the message is essentially for my co-farmers and the Government, of course, not relegating the people that constitute the ultimate consumers. To this end, I have chosen to be pragmatic mainly by ignoring available statistics, not because they are irrelevant, but to a large extent, the integrity of the data is challenged. Most of the factors alluded to in my introduction above affects productivity in the agricultural sector. Let me commence with policy positions of the government. As a rudimentary farmer, I am yet to note any policy of the State aiding my agricultural production; rather some of the State policies are harming agricultural productivity instead.
Most of the policies are anti farming if I may loosely put it that way. I start with the most important factor of production and a most basic requirement of a farmer which is land. Notwithstanding that the Land Use Act tends to vest all lands in the State in the Governor of the State for the benefit of the people, it is still war acquiring lands from the State for agricultural purposes. In as much as the leaders are quick to blame the youths for not taking up agriculture as occupation, one wonders where and how they will get the required parcel of land for that purpose to start with. It is still a herculean task getting land, either directly from the government or other private owners. Should a potential farmer be lucky to be offered one, conditions to meet for perfection are often impossible. Imagine demanding from a jobless youth tax clearance and some form of payment! Where are the automatic land schemes that will practically put the man in the farm once he is ready and willing to farm? Land is the basic raw material needed for farming, the absence of which indicates a non-starter. I am aware of so many young ones interested in farming but cannot get land. This is the first area of reckoning that the State needs to intervene by way of policy rectification. Land needs to be made easily available for farming. Let there be prepared schemes in the nature of incubation centers, for plugging into by potential farmers. Again, as at date, the policy position of the government is that agricultural equipment imported into the country attracts zero duty. Whilst this is inspiring on paper, the converse is the situation in the operationalisation of the policy.
What obtains in the implementation shows disharmony amongst the government agencies. Whilst this is reflected in the Custom tariff as intended, from my personal experience, the functionaries charged with the implementation hardly abide by it. As a livestock farmer for years, when recently the federal government seemed to be promoting investment in agriculture and believing the story, I decided to standardized my poultry business which was in amateur state previously. I placed an order for new, modern and automatic cages which I verified from all relevant quarters of government to attract zero duty. In fact, I obtained the Customs Tariff codes and verified same to that effect. With this conviction, I set out to import the poultry cages from China. Upon arrival at the Port in Apapa, for whatever reason known to the custom officials only, I was slammed with five percent import duty for what clearly was indicated in the Customs code as zero duty. The catch is that by the time you are disputing the claim, the goods would have attracted sufficient demurrage to render it not worthwhile, should you even be ultimately vindicated not to pay any duty. All appeals to the concerned officers fell on deaf ears. Fearing that I might incur demurrage that will further harm the business as indicated above, I had to pay the five percent import duty on the poultry cages and then formally laid a complaint with the management of the Customs Service. The response, after a lot of agitation, was much more rather disappointing than even the ‘penal duty’. In a poorly thought-out correspondence, the Management replied that I needed to pre-register with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture as a farmer to enjoy what the law provides for and without such qualification being contained in the law. It is important to note that I am not seeking a waiver of any duty in this instance. Certainly, this is absurd reasoning as the government canvassing people into agriculture cannot expect all farmers to come and register to enjoy the provision of the law. I am aware that such rider is not stated in the law, nor any other enactment and it cannot be real, as any attempt to do so will amount to creating another toll gate, thereby increasing the burden of the farmers and effectually discouraging any investment in the area. Where are the young potential farmers going to find the logistics to carry out the purported registration? To introduce that requirement will be another misguided policy of state. How many potential farmers do you want to register anyway? Is the State not on her own frustrating the promotion of agriculture she is claiming to be promoting? Somebody, somewhere needs to sort this out.
Furthermore, and recently, the government, for seemingly good reasons, banned the importation of maize into the country, ostensibly to reduce the pressure on the country’s foreign reserves. In as much I share the sentiment of the government in this regard, I believe that the implementation is faulty and hasty. I would have expected a sort of backward integration as in the days of Adesina, one time Minister of Agriculture of the country, before the introduction of the ban. We are all living witnesses to the impact of Covid-19 on the country’s grain harvest, which did not only drain the available ones but also impaired the ability to grow grains. Insecurity ravaging the country had its own toll on the grains production. The cumulative effect of all these is the scarcity of grains in the country. It is in the midst of this that the Federal government now deems it fit to ban the importation of maize and other material grains for poultry sustainability. This policy has led to not less than three hundred percent increment in the cost of the feeds, particularly for poultry. It will be recalled that maize and soya constitute the main components of this feed.
The catastrophic effect of this is the inability of the small and medium class poultry farmers to afford the feeds, leading to lot of causalities in the sector. As at date, virtually all the small and medium scale poultry farmers are wiped out, compounding the already bad situation of unemployment in the country and with the consequential effect on insecurity. The cost of egg and chicken as protein component of our diet is rising far above what an average Nigerian can afford where such is even available. One would have thought that before introducing the ban policy, adequate local provision would have been made through the incentivization of local production. There are several other policy mismatches but I have only used these two to illustrate the disconnect between the government’s desire to promote agriculture and the negative policy measures militating against its success. Another issue of interest is lack of access roads to the farms in Nigeria. Most of the roads into and out of the farms are substantially impassable. Gone were those days that rural roads were attended to by DFRII but in recent times, nothing seems to be happening again. I have struggled to know the status of the Directorate but seems intractable. Is it still in existence and under which Ministry is it subsumed? NO IDEA. The dilapidated state of the rural and access roads to the farm settlements are hampering the production of food. For a livestock farmer, delivering feeds to the farms is a challenge while effective product distribution is becoming an impossibility. Just imagine taking out eggs from the farm to the markets on a bad road, if you are lucky, a quarter of the supplies would have been lost.
Check out the irrigation system in the country. Most of the facilities have not only collapsed, they are fast vanishing. Grazing, therefore, will continue to be turbulent as animals’ sojourn indiscriminately for food in the cultivated farms. Farmers and herdsmen struggle become inevitable as growing the grass in paddocks is difficult for lack of water and fertilizer where the soil is spent. The issue of grant is another ball game altogether. Apart from the miserly information dissemination of available grants in aid of farming, the conditions to satisfy are ever harsh and unattainable by an average farmer. My take would have been identification of existing farming efforts and the rendering of support to them. This is the utilitarian way of addressing the problem. Insecurity around farm settlements is another factor militating against productivity by farmers. Cattle rustling, farmers/-herders clashes, kidnapping, banditry etc., are live issues challenging the delivery of farmers in the country. A lot of farmers have abandoned their farms in the troubled spots for fear of insecurity. It is needless to remind us of the gory events involving several farmers recently. It is no news that government is unable to secure any Nigerian today, much less farmers who are bound to do their businesses in forests. The climate change challenge is still around and must be tamed. I can continue to replicate these issues as they negatively impact food productivity in Nigeria. It suffices, however, from the foregoing that there are several challenges that need to be addressed by the government if food security is to be guaranteed in the country. There is need for synergy amongst all the stakeholders, and not government ignorantly behaving like an island.