Back to land as elixir for Buhari’s food security agenda


Moments after President Muhammadu Buhari’s latest address to the nation on the cumulative lockdown order of Lagos and Ogun states as well as the Federal Capital Territory,  the media went into a frenzy, with discussions centered on how farmers and agricultural extension professionals can jointly and collaboratively ensure that the nation’s food supply chain is not altered as the nation continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic. 
At the heart of President Buhari’s speech is how our farmers can safely plant and harvest in this raining season to ensure the nation’s food supply is not compromised. This position was further reinforced by a follow-up press release by the presidency, restating the importance of safely transporting food items from rural production areas to industrial processing zones and ultimately to key consumption centres.
Specifically, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu,Tuesday afternoon echoed Buhari’s directive that restrictions of movement as a result of COVID-19 19 pandemic do not apply to vehicles transporting essential commodities such as food. Other essential items that can be transported despite the ban on movement as prescribed by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) include agro chemicals and agricultural machinery.
The speed with which two pieces of official communication emanating from Nigeria’s seat power travelled within a space of 24 hours underscores the importance of farmers and agricultural extension to the survival of our dear nation, since, as the presidential press release noted, COVID-19 or No COVID-19, Nigerians need to eat.
However, there is an urgent need to amplify further the message from President Buhari’s broadcast and his follow up directive. All points to the urgency on the need to ensure that food security is not compromised, this is a challenge to role that extension professionals would play to ensure the call by Mr President is carried out by all agencies of government without further delay.
It is significant to state that a large chunk of the problems that currently confront the agricultural sector were caused by the collapse of agricultural extension and the neglect of agricultural extension professionals who have been known to superintend the harnessing of the rich resources of our rural communities that bear the nation’s food resources as well as raw materials for industrial processes.
The status of the rural people is further buttressed by the fact that 75% of the Nigeria population resides in the rural areas and their livelihoods are predominantly agricultural production, especially, crop production and processing. Unfortunately, over the years, the rural dwellers have not been accorded the due recognition in terms of provision of basic infrastructural facilities. The deplorable health situation in the rural communities is a confirmation of the fact that the rural communities deserve equal attention or more like their urban counterparts. We therefore must recognize the present administration’s deliberate attempts through various intervention initiatives particularly Rural Mobility Project (RAMP), CBN – NIRSAL COVID 19 interventions among others.
Hence, it very paramount to focus the required attention needed for robust and sustainable improvement in the rural communities. The duty of improving the rural life, especially the rural health sector, which is largely the role of the three tiers of government with the support of other relevant stakeholders, is very crucial at this time that the world is battling the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
From the foregoing, one important responsibility that the government must as a matter of urgency carry out is the comprehensive protection of the rural communities from contracting and or spreading the Pandemic Covid-19 within and beyond the communities by preventing and or curtailing the spread of Covid-19 in the rural areas.

Therefore, it is recommended that the government should quickly set-up a high-powered committee dedicated to rural areas that should include agricultural extension experts from diverse institutional backgrounds such as the University, Agricultural Development Programme (ADP), Agricultural Extension Society of Nigeria (AESON) and Nigeria Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (NIFAAS) as obtained in other climes among others. The involvement of the agricultural extension experts is key because no other professionals are eminently and experienced to understand the dynamics and workings of the rural environment and its dwellers than the agricultural extension experts. Mainly, the terms of reference of the committee should be to actively engage the rural communities on the awareness and strict adherence to the preventive measures of the virus.

Also, there is need for the PTF to work in sync with the rural people through the community heads. Communities should as a matter of urgency, be provided with adequate sensitization and awareness campaigns on the coronavirus in local languages. This should be followed up with rehabilitation of health centers, which could be used as places for testing and isolation centers.
The approach of deploying personnel from the NCDC to the affected states is plausible, but may become overwhelming when the number of cases increases in a state or with the situation where almost have documented cases already in the country. Hence, strengthening the state capacity through training of foci people who could go ahead to train other healthcare workers could go a long to assist rural communities from the urban centres of the state. This training should take place during the window of opportunity when there is no new confirmed case besides the index case or as some states are recording few numbers of cases.
Information dissemination through the diverse mass mediated and indigenous media especially folk musicians in all states should be mandated to do what they do for politicians and other interest groups at the grassroots levels. Also, engaging mass media channels (radio and television stations) to focus on the rural populace is crucial at this time. It’s expected that considering these steps will ensure calmness; avoid unnecessary panic in the face of the global threat and curtail the spread of fake news. For example, few days after the confirmation of the index case in Nigeria, false information regarding the index case dominated the media and it took the relevant agencies a couple of hours to refute the information. This is more reason why the PTF should incorporate and carry along, representatives from the rural climes as part of its team. These steps are necessary to ensure that the pandemic does not spread to the rural areas, which constitute the nation’s food basket.

It is imperative to say that the effect of the neglect of the rural areas in this period of this pandemic could complicate successful fight to finish. Therefore, government should be mindful of the rural-urban interaction and various dimensions of the possible devastating effects if the pandemic Covid-19 spreading in the rural communities.

Firstly, Mr. President should bring back the historic package of Back to Land programme where Nigerians should be encouraged to massively go back to agriculture at individual levels in both urban and exotic environments. President Buhari’s Back to Land programme during his first coming marked an important epoch in the nation’s history which should provide the template for subsequent sets of leaders in their quest to develop the agricultural sector. The initiative, which was spearheaded by the president himself in 1984, implemented a policy that encouraged massive agricultural food production and also alleviated poverty. A cursory look around the length and breadth of the country today bears testimony that the Back to Land programme was a huge success. So, drawing from the experience of the past, our urban elite should take garden packages and hydroponic technology to produce vegetables and other immediate domestic needs. This will reduce the possibility of devastating deprivations that will impact on the urban centres from the inadequacy of crop produce or raw food materials and also, possible decline in the volume of industrial products from the urban areas to the rural communities.

Secondly, if the rural dwellers are finding their rural territory unsafe health wise, the incidence of the unfortunate and avertable high level of rural-urban drift will increase exponentially, especially among youth that should be encouraged to stay and even return to embark on modern agricultural production, processing and marketing.

In conclusion, we must commend Mr President for providing leadership and inspiration in the fight against the Corona virus pandemic, all philanthropist, development partners and donors, the Presidential Task Force for the patriotic display since the first index case was recorded in Nigeria and by extension the governors for defending the constitution and upholding their oath of office in their respective states. Also we must salute our dogged professionals in the forefront of this war against the novel enemy of humanity (COVID 19).

Finally, it is necessary to accord the rural areas and dwellers and Agricultural Extension professionals their due recognition in the scheme of things in the national development to avert the possible deleterious effects of the pandemic Covid-19 on urban dwellers and the collective national economic development especially in the agricultural sector, which is a vibrant component of the diversification agenda of the government. The achievement of Covid-19 free rural environment is highly needed this time and in the future too with involvement of agricultural experts in the fight to prevent and curtail the virus in the rural areas as we all go back to land once again.

Yahaya is a Professor of Agricultural Extension and Development Communication at the University of Ibadan.

Leave a Reply