• Thursday, December 07, 2023
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Agric minister confronts vital challenges: Addressing farmer-herder clashes, ensuring security

Agricultural activities, especially food production in Nigeria, have been plagued by natural and artificial challenges recently, leading to decreased food production, which the new minister of agriculture has listed as a concern for his administration.

Despite being a significant activity in the country, engaging over 70 per cent of Nigerians and contributing as much as 21 per cent to the economy, the agricultural sector faces many challenges impacting its productivity. These include poor access to finance, insecurity, farmer/herder clashes, policy inconsistency, farming systems and techniques.

Others include poor access to farmland, climate change, poor linkages between farmers and markets, lack of access to improved seeds, and inadequate storage facilities.

Upon resumption, the new Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Abubakar Kyari, had vowed to address hunger as a significant problem in the country.

“We know the challenge that we face now; hunger is one of our big problems in this country. When I say need, it also means food security challenges; insecurity is one of them, flooding is another and other issues.

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“For me and my colleague, the Minister of State, and even state governors, our biggest hope is the political will driven by President Bola Tinubu. I think we have a big challenge, but it is not insurmountable. Our target is to secure and feed the country and export food, which we have that potential and is just there,” he said.

In January, the United Nations estimated that more than 25 million people in Nigeria could face food insecurity this year–a 47 per cent increase from the 17 million people who were already at risk of going hungry–mainly due to the ongoing insecurity, protracted conflicts, and the projected rise in food prices.

Incessant attacks against farmers across the country have led to increased cases of market disruptions and loss of livelihoods. Armed groups killed more than 128 farmers and kidnapped 37 others across Nigeria between January and June 2023, according to a report by Save the Children International (SCI).

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Also, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) report showed that Nigeria has lost no fewer than 8 343 persons to farmers-herders conflict since 2005, with Benue topping the states with the most violent attacks, followed by Plateau, Kaduna, Taraba and Nasarawa.

“Poor implementation of government policies is a major part of all agricultural problems in the country. The policies the government put down have a long way in expanding the agricultural sector in the country. Still, they are often poorly implemented and followed through,” Uchenna Daniel of Green Grain Nigeria Company told Businessday.

For Daniel, ensuring food security in Nigeria would require a deliberate effort because many factors have affected the agriculture sector, especially food production, in recent years.

He noted that access to farm machines has been on a low scale, noting that most farmers from rural areas, and the majority of them still make use of crude equipment for farming.

According to him, this shows a low substitution for labour, which makes farming more labour-intensive, affecting the farmers’ productivity.

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“Seeing labourers working on big farms with cutlass and hoes is disheartening today. The majority of these rural farmers have no access to modern farming equipment, and this is because current equipment is costly to purchase or even hire.

“Another factor is access to quality seeds. What most rural farmers do is that they use the same seeds for a long time, and the quality depreciates. And, of course, we cannot rule out the impact of insecurity, affecting almost every aspect of the economy,” he said.

Speaking further, Daniel stressed the need for the government to strengthen the linkage between farmers and markets.

For him, it was necessary to ensure off-takers would buy produce from the farmers as soon as they were made at reasonable prices. “Market linkage will encourage farmers to produce more. Also, farmers should be granted access to adequate financing at affordable rates.”

President Tinubu had declared a state of emergency on food security following the recent spike in food prices.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics report, the food inflation rate in July 2023 was 26.98 per cent annually, 4.97 per cent points higher than in July 2022 (22.02 per cent).