Since the news broke of a possible nationwide famine next year, Audu Ogbeh, the Agriculture Minister, has reportedly denied it. Government’s equivocation on the possibility of a famine is completely unnecessary. Given our long history of government tardiness and lack of proper planning, chances are that this prediction will come to pass, if things are not done differently to avert it.
For a country in recession, the looming food crisis compounds the problem of hunger and poverty which is already hitting the people very hard. The fact is that our country should have no business with this unfortunate prediction, given our huge endowments in agriculture.
Long convoys of trucks are said to leave the country almost daily for neighbouring countries, bearing food items. Our farmers sell their products to anyone and anywhere, whereever they get the best prices.
That should not be the reason for a shortage of food to feed our citizens. What the looming food crisis simply means is that we are not producing enough food. Government should be more proactive in its food security policies and programmes. Food production efforts should be intensified and expanded. The present administration has rightly prioritised agriculture as a means of diversifying the economy. What the country needs to see is the result of the food production efforts. Crops like cereals and grains which are in high demand, for example, can be planted and harvested in a matter of months.
With good harvests, government should ensure that enough food products are bought from the farmers at competitive prices and stored in our numerous silos for the rainy day. Natural disasters and other unforeseen occurrences could happen when least expected, but a nation that has put its house in order would be shielded from the adverse effects of famine.
Whatever measure we take to avert next year’s predicted famine would only be short-term. Going forward, government needs to put an accent on agriculture. This can be done when we stop paying lip-service to agriculture. We cannot have a better incentive now than the present economic challenge facing the nation.
The budgets of successive administrations in the country have not indicated the importance of agriculture as a vehicle for food security and national development. The Muhammadu Buhari administration has to do more on agriculture. After security, agriculture should come next on the priority list of our national budgets. Unfortunately, given the poor current federal earnings, that would not amount to much. That is why all stakeholders, including state and local governments, need to move aggressively now on the food production front.
Farmers would be encouraged to produce more if they get good returns on their investments. This is not the case now, and government needs to note this sore point. In nations where agriculture is taken seriously, subsidies and incentives are given to farmers to motivate them and ensure optimal productivity. The farm-gate price for agricultural products is largely competitive and uniform.
Extension workers and other support agencies are on the field with the farmers from day to day, to ensure the best yields. The farmers know from day one what price government will pay for their products, and when they have a surplus, they know government will be there to mop it up.
These are important and practical assurances that farmers need to embark on the task of food production. Our government should emulate good agricultural practices in other countries. While the recent revised policy document on agriculture by government is good, collaborative efforts like the on-going one between the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and rice farmers in different states of the country should be sustained and intensified to avoid the impending famine. The country is too endowed in agricultural resources to envisage a food crisis next year or at any time in the future.