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COVID-19 exposes flaws in Nigeria’s dependence on rain fed agriculture

COVID-19 or not, the rains and seasons will wait for no farmer, and now it appears more strategic control needs to be established, for instance, placing an emphasis on irrigation for farming in Nigeria.

Agriculture is a time bound activity, particularly in places like Nigeria where rain fed agriculture is predominantly practised. However, with disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it became difficult for people to follow the climatic calendar needed for crop food production activities.

“The rains are here and we depend mainly or mostly on rain for agriculture. The rains are not going to wait for us,” said Manzo Maigari, director general, Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG).

According to Kabir Ibrahim, national president, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), COVID-19 is not what brought out the issue of Nigeira’s non-performance in all year round crop production. “It has been our culture and we did not pay attention to the dry season production,” he said. The country over the years, largely neglected the utilisation of dams and other water bodies that should have been used to drive food production.

What COVID-19 has revealed according to Ibrahim, is “a wakeup call that we should not only wait for the rain fed agriculture, we should be able to do this all year round so that we will have food”.

According to the Ministry of Water resources Nigeria has about 264 dams with a combined storage capacity of 33 BCM of water for multipurpose use that includes Water Supply, Irrigation, Hydropower, fisheries, eco-tourism etc out of which 210 are owned by the Federal Government, 34 by the States and 20 by private organizations.

These dams have about 350,000 hectares of irrigable land around the vicinities ready for development.

While not all of these dams were designed strictly for agriculture, as some have hydroelectric purposes, these facilities remain grossly underutilised, despite Nigeria’s need to muster all available resources for agricultural development.

“What is the ministry of water’s plan for the reservoirs and the dams?” remarked Sani Dangote, vice president, Dangote Group, “The ministry of agriculture is completely disconnected from the ministry of water resources.”

With over 230 dams in the country, how many of them are utilised for agricultural purpose, he wondered, further saying even the few in use for irrigation most farmers still have to draw their own water lines because the supply is not fully organised.

 Bello Abubakar, president, Maize Association of Nigeria (MAAN) had also noted that in areas where the rain started earlier like the South/South and the Southwest where they plant earlier than the Northern side of the country, due to COVID-19 challenges, many maize farmers were unable to go to their farms. While some of had started and were even set for planting, the challenge of lockdowns made it difficult to access their farms or source inputs from suppliers, which also made it difficult to plant.

Again, the lack of control or ready access to an alternative through irrigation, meant farmers were rendered helpless and in panic mode.

When Agribusiness Insight published projections of leaders of some commodity associations in the country, Segun Adewumi, national president, Nigeria Cassava Growers Association (NCGA) was one of the exceptions to the declines in productivity being anticipated. The only problem identified by Adewunmi, was the rainfall pattern, which had not been consistent enough for farmers to carry out necessary planting activities. This view was also shared by AFAN’s Ibrahim, who not only hoped the rains will not affect productivity, but for the general projection on productivity not to be worsened.

However, if irrigation facilities were in place for year round farming, disruptions such as those caused by the pandemic would hamper activities, but not make the situation completely hopeless for some.

As recommended by Maigari, the Nigerian government has to take very radical steps in order to ensure the country does not face a food crisis next year. “Like I said, the rains are not going to wait and if you look at the turnaround time to get some of these inputs, it’s quite a big challenge,” he emphasised, expressing hope that things get better in the nearest future.

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