By Paul Nwosu
In the years gone by, there was hardly food shortage, except during the civil war, which dislodged people from their places of occupation and homes, thereby causing famine, hunger, malnutrition and death. In those days, it was believed that only lazy people went hungry. For, insofar as a man was able-bodied, he was expected to have farmland somewhere around his community or within his immediate compound from where he could meet his basic dietetic requirements. Though people’s cash flow at that time were small compared to what we have these days, families were able to put basic food on their tables. They might not be the kind of diverse and exotic menu we have nowadays, but people had the essential food items that kept malnourishment at bay.
Backyard farming in Anambra State is an age-long practice where families cultivate and maintain different types of crops in their backyards or compounds. The tradition of having a backyard farm was necessitated by the fact that Anambra State and most Igbo communities had specific market days when people buy what they don’t already have in store. Backyard farms became the veritable option families relied on to feed themselves continuously without over-dependence on markets that held periodically.
In their backyard farms they planted different varieties of vegetables and root crops like cassava, yam and cocoyam. In addition to these, they also kept birds like chicken, guinea fowls and ducks, as well as animals such as cows, goats and sheep. Those living in the riverine areas set fish traps in rivers and streams close to their homes.
This culture also encouraged people living on their homesteads and personal properties to plant economic trees such as palm trees, oranges, mangoes, cherries, cashew, peers and guava, just to mention a few. The fruits were consumed by the family or sold in the market.
Aside from making foodstuff easily and cheaply available, backyard farms provided organic foods with high concentration of nutrients all year round. It’s no wonder, therefore, that people lived till very old age in those days.
Food storage facilities as we know them today were lacking in our native homes. But the close proximity of the backyard farms to kitchens made it relatively easy for families to procure fresh food items and condiments for cooking. It was only when an item was lacking in the backyard farm that the family would go to the market to buy it.
Due to urban migration and the quest for the Golden Fleece, this agricultural tradition gradually faded away to the point where families now resort to buying every single food item from the market.
It was, therefore, this rich agricultural tradition that Governor Willie Maduaburochukwu Obiano seeks to reintroduce in Anambra State when he launched Ugbo Azu Uno, or backyard farm. The initiative is essentially to compliment the food-producing effort of the agricultural formal sector, thereby increasing the overall food chain in Anambra State. It is also aimed at ensuring that Anambra people have easy and cheap access to fresh nutritious vegetables and other agricultural produce to boost their immune systems in the face of the prevalent pandemic.
Recall that Governor Obiano launched the last farming season with an unprecedented support to farmers. He deliberately did this to significantly improve the year’s harvest and forestall possible food shortage that was envisaged because of COVID-19. He directed the Ministry of Agriculture to secure 3,000 hectares of land in the agricultural belt, which would gainfully employ 2,000 youths from those communities. And to mitigate drudgery, tractors and implements were bought to cultivate the acquired land. It didn’t end there. Two hundred women and youths randomly selected from the 21 local government areas were empowered with poultry cages and accessories, 4,000 day-old chicks, feeds and medications. Inputs such as rice, maize and yam seedlings as well as cassava stems were also distributed to farmers. And to ensure that the crops grow unhindered, Anambra State Government provided farmers with fertilizers and chemicals of different kinds.
Backyard farming, as the name implies, does not mean it could only be practiced by people who have land space around their houses or place of residence. Those living in flats can also engage in backyard farming. Instead of all those flowers, they could plant assorted vegetables in old and discarded containers on the balconies and verandas of their apartments. The greenery would not only leverage the ambience of their apartments but also be a good source of nutritious inputs in their pots of soup.
Backyard farming is not exclusive to residential areas alone. Churches, educational institutions, corporate entities, government agencies and business organisations are also encouraged by Anambra State government to participate in backyard farming. It is gratifying to note that a number of public secondary schools and government agencies have since keyed into this initiative. This farming model should also be replicated on a national scale, especially in these trying times.
Well-fed people are a happy people.
•Sir Paul Nwosu writes from Atani, Ogbaru LGA