Agricultural professionals have warned the Federal Government and state to avert food crisis in 2021 by making inputs, enabling environment and credit facilities, among others, available to farmers now.
It is time for clearing, stump removal, ploughing, harrowing and ridging of farmland in predominantly rain-fed agriculture (which takes about 98 per cent of agriculture in the country).
But the world is locked down, and so are the activities heralding rain-fed farming. The situation, experts believe, could imply under-cultivation, low productivity and poor yields, as farm operations are time-bound in an irrigation-deficient farming system.
Reports have indicated that less than five per cent of Nigeria’s arable land is irrigated, pointing to how heavily rainfall-dependent the country is in cultivation.
Corroborating the foregoing, Prof. Samuel Olakojo, a grain seed breeder at the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Moore Plantation, Ibadan, admitted that there is no doubt that COVID-19 is already posing a serious threat to agriculture and food production, for two weeks or a month of delayed farming activities would have a greater impact on the timing of cultivation, and by extension, the productivity of farmers.
“But for now,” he said while proffering solutions, “farmers should by now be preparing the land, sourcing for genuine but quality inputs, planning what to grow, when and where to grow them. They should be meeting with the off-takers of their produce and seal the agreement,” the researcher said.
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He advised that farmers should also be putting finishing touches to their credit facilities if they operate large-scale farming enterprises. Those that are involved in the government intervention programmes such as anchor borrower’s scheme should be planning to start planting now, he added.
On the part of the government, Prof. Olakojo advised that all desk officers working on one agricultural project or the other should be exempted from lockdown so as to attend to the real assignments on farming, inputs and extension because the time for wet season farming is now.
“Procurement of seeds and other inputs the government is planning to distribute is now since agricultural operations and activities are time-bound.
“Distributing such inputs after May 2020 is as good as not purchasing it, because only about 35 per cent of such will be useful this year, especially for farmers in the Northern region. The Federal Government should also be meeting with grain aggregators for storage in the grain reserves and not waiting till December during harvesting. Agreement should be drafted, signed and sealed now,” Olakojo said.
Similarly, a former National President of the Catfish and Allied Fish Farmers Association of Nigeria (CAFFAN), Mr Rotimi Oloye, was of the view that Nigeria has always failed to plan.
The fish farmer said, “this period or season might probably be our turning point if we start doing things the way those countries that prosper did.”
Oloye argued that all segments of the economy would be negatively affected, and in aquaculture, the efforts of the private sector that had been filling the gap in fish production might not be able to achieve much unless the regulatory agencies changed their non-encouraging attitude towards local fish production and self-sufficiency.
“There will be crisis all over the sectors,” Oloye said, sounding pessimistic, “but the government that is already at work now will always have edges over those sleeping at the moment,” calling on the government to be more proactive about agriculture.
He added that if farmers had an enabling environment, they would always produce to meet demand. Such an environment includes farmer-friendly loans with tolerable interest rates at single digits, encouragement of new fish farming investors with possible tax holiday and subsidy on inputs. These would contribute to improved fish farming, he explained. “Ease of setting up the fish value chain will create more jobs and wealth.”
From another perspective, Prof. Sanni Lateef, a former Deputy Vice-Chancellor and lecturer at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State, said the COVID-19 stress would affect the planting of various agricultural commodities during this raining season, and that if precautions are not taken, could lead to food challenges in 2020.
He added that “If we are lucky to have total cooperation of Nigerians to flatten the curve and reduce the pandemic gestation period, then we can gain from planting in the third to fourth quarter of 2020. Otherwise, there will be serious food insecurity in 2021.”
To avoid food crisis, therefore, Prof Sanni said farmers should use their platforms such as All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Agbekoyas and the Cassava Growers Association, among others, to create awareness for everybody to sit at home for the next two weeks.
“Also, our farmers and other stakeholders should desist from hiking prices of commodities. This has started and may cause other negative actions by the affected souls,” he warned.
“Our emerging seed and SMEs entrepreneurs need to be financially supported with funds and logistics to provide food for the masses. This will reduce cost of basic food crops. We need to avert the likely famine facing us, soon.”
Meanwhile, a researcher with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Dr Richardson Okechukwu, said the government and research institutes should be ready for a quick supply of seeds as soon as the disease spread is controlled.
He said immediately after the stay-at-home period, activities around farming could be revved up to recover the lost tempo in farming activities.
In the same vein, Prof. Damian Chickwendu, who is the Team Lead of Cultivating New Frontier in Agriculture (CNFA), an international non-profit food agency, said “Just as the government is ensuring that all the necessary things and conditions needed to halt the spread of COVID-19 are in place, they should also ensure that all inputs needed for the fast-approaching farming season are in place.
“The usual plans to ensure input availability (including agricultural credit) at the right time should continue.”
Mr Faleye Tope, Chief Agricultural Engineer at the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM) Ilorin, Kwara State, said farmers should be encouraged to go to farm in earnest, “just as Minister of Interior said on TVC yesterday during PTF briefing on Covid 19.
“To start land preparation, security men should not be too harsh on people going towards their farms because there are a lot of barricades on the exit of each town now. It is same for every stakeholder. Movement of tractors on roads should not be disturbed as well as those transporting agrochemicals.”
Again, the Executive Director of Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI), Dr Olufemi Oladunni, said that “farmers are not stopped to go to their farms. They must go to the farm if we will not have a food crisis next year. I’ve been to the farm today. Agricultural activities must be on essential duties that must not be restricted at all. We must aid farmers to be on the farm cultivating.”
Prof. Shehu Garba Ado, Vice-Chancellor of Al-Qalam University, Katsina, said the government should ensure provision of timely, adequate quality inputs such as seeds, fertiliser and pesticides.
“Agricultural loans,” he added, “should be disbursed early. Extension of agricultural technologies to farmers is necessary to avert food crisis. We hope farmers will be secure to farm and the weather is suitable, especially in terms of rainfall distribution and duration.”