Head, Agro-Economy Desk, FEMI IBIROGBA; LAWRENCE NJOKU (Enugu) and AHMADU IDRIS (Birnin-Kebbi) write on the state of rural infrastructure, the government policy on gap closing and lack of political willpower to really diversify the economy.
The Agricultural Promotion Policy (2016-2020) of the Mohammadu Buhari-led administration, especially on gaps closing between demand and supply of crops and livestock through rural development, has been described as a failure due to inability to open up rural areas and make the country food-sufficient.
The policy, tagged ‘The Green Alternative,’ states, in part, “That new policy’s primary focus will be on closing the demand – supply gaps between crops and livestock production. Gap closing will also include tackling related inputs, financing, storage, transport and market access issues present in the key value chains.”
Investigations by The Guardian on rural development and road networks linking food-producing areas to the urban areas revealed that rather than development, rural communities are grossly underdeveloped with poor electricity, degraded road networks, and ineffective means of transporting foods.
Rural development is about bringing economic and infrastructural change among rural community from the traditional to the progressive ways of living, including agricultural growth through inputs facilitation, electricity, road construction and means of transportation, housing, village planning, public health, education, functional literacy and communication. Rural development is a national necessity, as long as a nation desires to become and remain food-secure.
Unfortunately, indices emanating from all sectors from rural areas point towards backwardness, extreme poverty, labour wastage in terms of post-harvest losses of crops, and dysfunctional public education.
Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, admitted this failure while signing a pact with tractor owners association last week, saying, “We are aware that the cost of food is a bit high due to cost of transportation and other factors, but most importantly, we want to ensure that the rural areas are richer and happier. They suffer too much.”
He, however, did not explain how the government would go about it at the eleventh hour of the administration. Most people wonder what this government has done to open up semi-urban and rural areas for food production in almost four years.
Deplorable rural infrastructure in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo
FARMERS and their leaders in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states have all described the state of rural infrastructure as deplorable and frustrating.
Lagos State chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Chief Femi Oke, bewailed the state of rural roads and other infrastructure, saying both the state and the federal government had failed to open up food-producing communities.
“So far, it has not been good. Most of the infrastructure at the rural areas and farm settlements are gone. We want the government to come to our aid in this regard. It is not easy moving our farm products out of the farms because of the deplorable conditions of the road.
“Solar power and irrigation facilities are needed in some of our areas to make a difference. Some non-governmental organisations have provided bore-holes used for irrigation, but they are scanty,” Oke said.
He said most of the farm products in rural areas are not easily moved out to the city.
Affirming the comments of the Lagos AFAN, his counterpart in Oyo State, Mr Olumide Ayinla, berated the government at all levels for failure to develop rural infrastructure that could have gone a long way in boosting food production businesses.
“The state of the roads in all the agrarian areas of Oyo State is very bad. We had downpours some months ago. As a result of these, most of the roads have been washed away.
“This transportation problem has contributed to the higher cost of food items in the market. In some areas, only one vehicle plies the road, and farmers would have to be on a queue to move their products to towns or markets. The cost of hiring a vehicle to the farm is escalating,” Ayinla told The Guardian.
He said apart from bad roads, other amenities are also lacking, especially electricity, water and health care services.
“When we are talking about bad roads to the farms, where will you get electricity? There is neither water nor electricity supply in most of the food-producing villages in Oyo State,” Ayinla said, adding that “there is nothing that can encourage younger people to stay in the villages for farming.”
A former chairman of the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Oyo State chapter, and current chairman of the Commodity Farmers Association, John Olateru, said the situation is not the best. Some works are ongoing, he admitted, but there is a lot to be done in opening up the rural areas, saying, “It is still very difficult for farmers to move products out of the farms. The trucks are stranded during rainy periods.”
Olateru said though the state government was trying to build silos in Awe/Oyo township area, “Until that is done, there are no storage facilities. Right now, there is no proper planning. Oyo State is trying to emplace a kind of roadmap, but we are not there yet.
He added: “We have not addressed the issue of preservation and storage, honestly. If anyone is working on a plan, it has not been executed.”
Chairman of AFAN in Ogun State, Mr Olusegun Dasaolu, also described the state of rural infrastructure in the state as pitiful.
Diplomatically, Dasaolu said, “We know the state is making efforts on infrastructural development in urban areas, but it is not easy to combine with rural development due to paucity of funds.
“However, the World Bank is working hand-in-hand with the state and the federal government to find a way out on infrastructural development in the rural areas. So, we are not yet there, but the government knows it is necessary.”
He admitted that, “As of today, we still have much to do on infrastructural development in the rural areas.”
Lamentations of rice, poultry farmers in Enugu
A rice farmer at Uzouwani, Enugu State, Mrs Grace Ugwuja, told The Guardian that farmers in the area were still faced with the challenge of poor rural infrastructure, including roads and transportation, stressing that moving their products to the market and other areas for processing and sale had been very difficult.
She admitted that Uzouwani remains the agricultural hub of the state, regretting however, that poor state of roads often contributes to losses of farm yields and incomes.
“If you come to Uzouwani, we have vast farmland which is suited for the farming of cassava, rice and yam. The swampy nature of the land in the area gives us the edge, but we go to the farms, plant rice but bringing them out for sale after harvest becomes a problem because the roads are bad. The few drivers who ply our farm areas do that once a week,” she said.
She added that there is the other challenge about processing facilities, urging the federal government to “assist us remove sand from our harvested rice” by equipping them with rice de-stoners.
“They are not in existence and we are faced with the trouble of moving from one location on the bad road to another. Some farmers end up just harvesting. They do not process their products, and processing is where they could make their better income,” she added.
She explained that though the state government had provided micro credit facilities to some farmers, the gains of that exercise were being dwarfed by lack of good road networks to convey their finished farm products to processing centres and urban markets.
Ikenna Oti, who claimed that he could have expanded his poultry farm beyond the level it is at the moment, also affirmed the deplorable state of development in the area.
“I have 120 birds in my farm at Okwu-Ubahu community in Nkanu East local government area. I can only access the place with a motorcycle. I generate at least three crates of eggs daily which I supply to people. But the problem is that, during the rainy seasons, it becomes difficult to access the place because, most of the time, the road is not cut off. I know I can do better if the infrastructure is improved. We don’t have electricity supply there; getting water is also difficult unless I go through the stream and ponds and many other things to keep the birds healthy,” Oti lamented.
Oti said that a community self-help bridge linking his poultry farm was always caving in, especially during rainy seasons, stressing that it was a discouragement on someone who would want to go into farming in the area.
Oil palm producers say rural roads dilapidated across Nigeria
President of the National Palm Oil Producers’ Association of Nigeria, Mr Henry Olatoye, also expressed dissatisfaction over the abandoned state of rural areas in developmental projects, saying such is counter-productive to the claim of diversifying the economy through the sector.
Olatoye said: “Most of the roads that lead to food production areas in the villages are in a very deplorable state, from the north to the south, and the south to the east, even from each corner of Nigeria. It is not something to write about and these have added to the cost of production.”
In most places, especially in the southern part of Nigeria where most of the village roads are prone to erosion and flooding, Olatoye added, the roads get washed off and cannot be used.
“Most times, the government’s responses to provide resources to repair the roads are usually slow and even when resources are available, the repair of the roads still takes a long time,” he added.
Roads to our farms are bad, say Kebbi farmers
As it is in the south, so also it is in the north. Rural roads and other infrastructure are not any better.
Farmers and their communities are deprived of basic essentials of life, and more importantly, good road networks required for transportation of their products to the aggregation centres, commodity markets or homes are equally deplorable.
The puts a big question mark on the agro-economic diversification policy of the current government as summarised in its Agricultural Promotion Policy 2016-2020: Building on the Successes of ATA, Closing Key Gaps,’ also known as The Green Alternative.
In Kebbi State, farmers have appealed to the government to construct more access roads to link the farmland and villages to make movement of farm products easier.
Farmers at Kalgo, Jega, Bunza and Arugungu local government areas of the state said the roads are usually cut off in rainy periods. These are rice-producing settlements which need all the incentives to rev up production of rice, the most consumed food in the country.
Speaking to The Guradian, Alhaji Ibrahim Nma Kalgo said the rice-producing communities need access roads, adding that even on Kalgo market days, the Farfajiya Fadama farmers find it difficult to transport their farm products to the market.
Also in Bagudo local government area, one of the farmers, Alhaji Bagudo Usman, expressed concerns over access roads and healthcare facilities, adding that their area, which shares borders with Benin Republic, lacks motorable roads.
“I do rent donkeys as a means of transportation to the market area. The government should help us and consider our suffering,” he added.
The Arugungu fish farmers also bemoaned poor access roads to their farms and fishing ponds. Issa Arugungu said in addition to fishing, he cultivates rice, but moving the paddies to the market or home after harvest is a serious challenge.
PRESIDENT of the Cocoa Association of Nigeria, Mr Sayina Rima, proffering solutions to the backwardness in rural areas and its affect on the number of farmers holding on to production, how it affects transportation and cost of food items, said, “attracting the Nigerian youths to farm can be done only when we have infrastructure such as stable electricity and constant water flow. With these, we can definitely attract the youth.”
He also suggested building internet facilities and rural telephone networks in the rural areas, saying, “The youth will be highly attracted to stay if these facilities are being provided.”
Riman postulated that with the large population of educated youths in Nigeria, development of the rural or semi-urban areas would help reduce the unemployment rate among the graduates in Nigeria.
Condemning empty pronouncements and lip services of the government in the agricultural sector, the cocoa association leader said potentialities in agriculture, as often emphasised, would not translate to food sufficiency and security, employment and wealth creation if the basics required for their actualisation are not provided.
“We can sit here forever and just talk about the potential without really harnessing the potential. So, I strongly believe that the Bank of Agriculture has to tell us what it intends to do in terms of youth employment,” Riman said.
Oke, Lagos AFAN boss, suggested, as one of the steps forward, that, “…we are asking that an average of a bulldozer should be given to AFAN in each state to be paid for gradually and maintained by the association. This will help us to grade the rural farm roads and clear the land for farm mechanisation.”
Olatoye the palm producer advised that if Nigeria is serious, it will start building infrastructure in the rural areas. “For example in Europe, everything you find in the city is averagely available in their rural areas. So, the government should try to increase development speed in the rural areas,” he said.