Hardship: Nigeria should have no business with hunger (2)

How can we triple or quadruple the current irrigable land? This question was posed in the first part of this piece last week. In 1998, out of Nigeria’s 320,000 hectares planned for irrigation, only 97,000 hectares were developed, and only 70,000 hectares were used for irrigation under the public irrigation system. 

Twenty years later, not much was achieved; available information from the work of Ocheja indicates the existence of 92 irrigation schemes, with 57 in the north and 35 in the south.

The 92 irrigation schemes have 413,394 hectares of irrigable land, but only 100,300 ha were developed, with 35,127 ha under irrigation, indicating 35.02 percent capacity utilization. In addition to public irrigation schemes, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated a total irrigation potential at 2.0 million ha under fadama (floodplain areas) nationwide. 

However, less than 25 percent of the potential is developed under a farmer-managed fadama irrigation system. Crop production under irrigation has a higher yield than under rainfed conditions because all production factors are under a farmer’s control compared to rainfed conditions, where rainfall is beyond the farmer’s control. So, tripling irrigable areas entails quadrupling yield and increasing land intensification and productivity. It will help farmers cultivate crops two to three times a year and mitigate the impact of droughts.

Tripling irrigable land requires massive investment in rural and irrigation infrastructure. Rural infrastructure development includes roads, electricity, and water supply to facilitate the transportation of agricultural inputs and products. Irrigation infrastructure includes canal and drainage networks, developing and maintaining water reservoirs, and a network of access roads. The development of irrigation farming will also improve rural living conditions and attract young people to engage in agriculture because of its high profitability.

Support for increasing irrigation farming frequency and area coverage should be part of Nigeria’s medium-term strategy for fighting hunger. This support coincides with the minister’s policy statement when he briefed the press on Nigeria’s pathway to achieving food security. 

As reported in this column four months ago, the African Development Bank-funded National Agricultural Growth Scheme and Agro Pocket recorded initial success with the wheat production initiative in 107 irrigation clusters across 15 states.

The initial target of 70,000 hectares for wheat production was increased to 123,000 hectares across the selected states. The wheat production season in Nigeria starts on November 15 of each year. Leveraging the use of ICT, wheat farmers were fully mobilized, and subsidized input supports were provided. At the end of the first phase of the dry season, the agro-pocket program has achieved 96.5% success with 118,670 ha.  

The Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Senator Abubakar Kyari, launched the second phase two months ago, announcing that 150,000 hectares of rice would be cultivated during the second phase and noting that 300,000 genuine farmers are targeted for this. The farmers, he said, would benefit from the government’s subsidized interventions, such as fertilizers, herbicides, and micronutrients, among others. 

According to him, the farmers would get three bags of these agro-inputs for free after purchasing half of the bags. In addition, he said, 30,000 hectares of maize would be cultivated across the 36 states of the federation. 

The minister expressed optimism, noting that some state governors were interested in the scheme. So far, the federal government’s initiatives to achieve food security are commendable but must be evaluated to identify the grey areas.

The feelers from the field indicate agro-dealers shortchanging the farmers by giving them cash in place of inputs, the political farmers camouflaging as genuine farmers, thereby hijacking the subsidies, the extension services are still ineffective, and many farmers are not aware of the program, among others. 

What are the initiatives of the state and local governments with their huge statutory allocations? Fighting against hunger is a precarious ailment that defies treatment, but it is not a hopeless case. It requires persistent, diligent, and collective action to make Nigeria a hunger-free country. Now, what is the long-term strategy?

The long-term strategy involves strengthening policy and governance through stakeholders’ engagement. Policies should be developed and implemented through inclusiveness to support agricultural development, ensure land tenure security, and protect farmers’ rights. Support and strengthen institutions responsible for agricultural planning, monitoring, and regulation. Promote transparency and accountability in the agricultural sector.

Investment in agricultural research and development should support and strengthen institutions. Nigeria has 17 National Agricultural Research Institutes with various mandates to enhance agricultural innovations in the farming system. 

Allocate adequate funds for agricultural research and development to develop new technologies, improve crop yields, and address pests, diseases, and climate change challenges. Collaborate with research institutions and universities to promote innovation in the agricultural sector.

A policy should be made to promote sustainable farming practices. These practices should conserve soil fertility, minimize water usage, promote organic farming, and reduce the reliance on chemical inputs.

Another area is improving access to finance and markets. The strategy should include establishing financial mechanisms and institutions that provide farmers with affordable credit and insurance services. Enhance market linkages by improving transportation infrastructure, storage facilities, and market information systems. Encourage the formation of farmer cooperatives and support value chain development to ensure fair prices for farmers.

Strengthening agricultural extension services is sine qua non to increase agricultural productivity in a developing country like Nigeria. The country is lucky to have a unique institute, National Agricultural Extensions and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), located at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. This Institute should be strengthened and supported to execute its mandates using traditional and electronic channels. It will expand and strengthen agricultural extension services to provide farmers with technical knowledge, training, and information on best practices.

It will help farmers adopt new technologies and improve their farming techniques. The Institute will support smallholder farmers who play a significant role in food production. It will establish farmer support programs that provide smallholder farmers training, capacity building, and financial assistance through the ADPs across the 36 states and FCT.

Similarly, the country has the National Store Product Research Institute (NISPRI) in Ilorin. It has a catalog of post-harvest technologies for various agricultural commodities for preservation, storage, and handling. The strategy should involve developing and promoting post-harvest technologies, including proper storage, processing, and value-added techniques to reduce post-harvest losses.

The government should incentivise the private sector to invest in cold storage facilities, food processing units, and packaging infrastructure to improve the shelf life of agricultural products. By implementing these strategies, Nigeria can improve its agricultural productivity, enhance food production, and achieve food security for its population.

As said last week, with a high level of seriousness, we can drive down the cost of rice to 40k and below in eight months. Likewise, the prices of other food items can come down, chasing hunger out of Nigeria. All hands must be on deck to chase hunger out of Nigeria. May God guide us, amen.