Stakeholders in the agriculture value chain from the South-Wesh have attributed preference for production of cash crops by farmers to high profit, challenges of storage, access to finance, and inadequate security.
Speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), they also identified lack of motorable roads from rural farm settlements to markets and activities of middlemen, as disincentives to cultivation of food crops.
A senior lecturer in the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ibadan, Dr Idris Badiru, says farmers are in the business to make profit, so they should not be blamed for being rational.
“People will always do what profit them, the government can only make the condition more conducive by subsidising production and providing the infrastructure to enable farmers reduce wastages and access market with ease,” Badiru said.
He said that hoarding of food might continue as long as farmers’ access to the market was impeded by infrastructure.
“Hoarding, in my view, is the cost we are paying for the past neglect of our basic infrastructure.
“Let the government invest more on farm to market roads, as well as other major roads and, the monopolistic tendencies of the hoarders will be drastically reduced,” Badiru said.
In his own view, a Crop Scientist with the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, Ibadan, Dr Julius Olasoji, said he did not see the need for farmers abandoning food crops for cash crops such as kola, oil palm, coconut, tea and coffee in the South-West.
Olasoji said the government should make farming a profitable business to the youth by providing incentives and making policies that would make farming attractive.
“The average age of farmers in Nigeria now is about 60 years. For the country to be self sufficient in food, government at all levels need to support agriculture holistically not politically.
“The Anchor Borrowers’ Programme of the government has been hijacked by cabals. The cabals are now the ones buying back the harvested food crops, which they hoard in their different warehouses without allowing it to get to the consumers,” he alleged.
The crop scientist urged the government to open the various dams across the country and invest massively on irrigation systems.
Also, Mr Samuel Akinade, Chairman, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, Oyo State branch, said price instability is one of the reasons why farmers engage in cash crop production.
Akinade added that insecurity and lack of storage facilities discourage farmers from engaging in food crop production while forcing them to sell immediately after harvest, thereby not allowing them to make profit.
“No farmer is sure that he will be the one to harvest his crop at maturity. It is either the herdsmen will come and graze all or the hoodlums will come with vehicles to harvest all,” he lamented.
Meanwhile, in Ekiti, the state government says persuasive efforts, backed with necessary incentives are on, to make farmers in the state engage effectively in both food and cash crops farming.
Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr Ezekiel Olabode said it is the priority and vision of the present government to make Ekiti a financial haven for farmers in the agriculture value chain.
Olabode said that government had created employment through agriculture, adding that 50 per cent of the state’s internally generated revenue is from agricultural activities.
He said that most of the agricultural programmes put in place by the state government are now yielding the desired results
Olabode said this was responsible for why the government budgeted N3.7 billion for agriculture and rural development in the year 2020 budget.
Some farmers in Ekiti North, who spoke with NAN at Otun-Ekiti, said they focused on cultivation of cash crops because of the financial benefits.
They attributed lack of access to loans as a major constraint preventing them from cultivation of food crops.
One of the farmers, Mr Ayodele Ibitoye, who is also the Chairman, National Production for Food Security in Moba Local Government Area, said most of the farmers are no longer committed to cultivating food crops because of low financial returns and high cost of investment.
Ibitoye said that the present day farmers, are more comfortable in cultivating cash crops such as cocoa, coffee, oil palm, rubber and cashew nuts because they are the most popular ones that fetch quick and huge profit for them.
According to him, the situation would have been different if famers had access to financial support from both private organisations and government.
In his own contribution, Chairman of Farmers Association in Ido-Ekiti, Mr Babatope Aboluje, said most of the farmers deliberately invested in the cultivation of cash crops because government had abandoned them.
Aboluje said that the popular cash crops produced by the farmers are cocoa, coffee and cotton adding that they are making huge money from them.
He asserted that he and his colleagues could not afford to invest in food crops because of the financial implications.
Also speaking, an agronomist, Mr Samuel Adebiyi, explained that farming is all about profit, “and before farmers choose to invest in any area of farming, what they consider first is cost.
“For existing farmers, they consider cost of inputs, labour, land and compare it with their gains. If it is not profitable, they will reconsider.
“That alone can be a reason for leaving food crops for cash crops. What about market availability? If they have a ready market for cash crops without them perishing, they will decide to grow them.
“It can be personal preference of a farmer who is more knowledgeable about the gains and it is true that cash crops brings more money, even foreign exchange earnings.
“Most food crops are perishable and if not quickly preserved or sold off, the market value and returns will depreciate,” Adebiyi said.
He noted that a lot could still be achieved if farmers cooperative societies could help in sourcing for needed funds to serve as encouragement.
Alhaji Sulaimon Araokanmi, the Chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) in Osun, said that farmers in the state are now abandoning food crops for cash crops due to exploitation by middlemen .
Araokanmi said that many farmers had been recording losses due to exploitation by middlemen, adding that farmers did not have complete access to direct markets, where they could sell the produce without the help of middlemen.
The AFAN chairman said that recently farmers in the state had resorted to mechanised farming and now sell their produce directly to agro-allied and manufacturing companies, without the interefence of middlemen.
“We have pleaded with government on several occasions to create farmers markets, as it is obtainable in neighbouring states.
“Middlemen usually buy farm produce from farmers at very ridiculous prices and sell the same at very expensive prices in the market.
“Farmers have been operating at a loss with this system but they are now making profit with the planting of cash crops, which they sell directly without the involvement of middlemen,” Araokanmi said.
He said farmers now cultivate cash crops like cocoa, kolanut, cassava and rice, in large quantities and are making profit.
Mrs Adegbemisola Fayoyin, the Coordinating Director, Osun Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, said the state government had created platform for farmers, where they sell their cash crops directly to manufacturing companies like Cadbury, Nestle, Flour Mills and others in commercial quantities.
Fayoyin said through the platform, farmers were given specifications by the companies of the kind of cash crops seeds they wanted them to plant and sometimes they gave them money to cultivate it.
The coordinating director said government is also partnering with farmers to revive the cotton industry.
Fayoyin added that farmers are presently assisted to get loans through the Anchor Borrowers’ Programne, as such, they are doing better now in their operations.
However, Mr Muyiwa Ogungbe, Chairman, National Cotton Association of Nigeria, Ondo State branch, said that farmers in the state have not abandoned food crop production.
According to Ogungbe, the farmers now grow arable crops alongside cash crops.
The chairman, who is also the treasurer of the South – West branch of the association, explained that he is into rice farming as well as cotton production.
“We started rice when nobody was ready to develop rice. I was harvesting over 100 tonnes at a time, but we faced a lot of problems before we could market our rice then.
“When cotton production came, we saw the potential in cotton and saw that developed countries such as China and India, used cotton to develop their economy.