Insecurity: How urban farming can boost food production

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Owing to the level of insecurity arising from kidnapping and banditry, farming has almost become impossible in some parts of the country, but stakeholders are calling for an alternative with a view to overcoming the problem; ELEOJO IDACHABA reports.

Lately, it has been a concern for all Nigerians about the ability of the country to feed itself without recourse to importation of food. This is more so as recent reports of poisoned food or food laced with poisonous substances now flood the markets. A recent example is indomie noodles that NAFDAC banned not too long ago because Of certain suspicious materials found in it.

Of serious concern too is the fact that bandits, kidnappers and criminals have taken over the available bushes such that farming has become practically impossible in those places. In some places especially in states like Kebbi, Niger, Zamfara, there were reports of farmers being disallowed to enter their farms. In other places where however crops are planted, farmers are denied harvesting their crops until ransom of varying amounts is paid. Although the government has tried to checkmate this, the effort has yielded little or nothing as the trend continues.

This has greatly affected food security despite claims by the government that it has been able to revolutionise agriculture. It is on this premise that the move/call by concerned stakeholders for the encouragement of urban farming in most cities in Nigeria is worthy of commendation.

A few days ago, experts and stakeholders in agro-allied industry while gathering in Lagos called for urban farming in order to boost agriculture.  They therefore identified urban farming as the new solution to the recent high cost of food items and scarcity in the country. Their stand was made known at the 2023 AgriQuest Africa Network (AQAN) Food System Summit which was on the theme: Rethinking Sustainable Food System in Nigeria: Current Trends & Pathways.

Shared thoughts

While making his submission, the managing consultants of Bdellium Consult, one of the partners of the summit, Dr. Adelaja Adesina, said farming in urban areas has the capacity to increase food production and reduce cost of food and in the process help to make them available in the market.

He charged residents of urban cities to grow some food crops in the confines of their homes and compound as according to him, this was one of the current trends and the pathways to sustainable food production that could feed Nigeria’s growing population reputed to be largest in Africa. He said Nigeria’s population growth rate is estimated to be 2.4 per cent per annum and projected to increase from about 220 million in 2023 to 400 million people in 2050.

Meanwhile, it is projected by the United Nations that Nigeria’s population will reach about 401.31 million by 2050; therefore, there is a need to be some steps ahead in the need for food security as the days and years go by.

On his part, the chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Lagos state chapter, Dr. Olufemi Oke, said the essence of famers coming together was for the rethinking and sustainability of food systems in the country considering the alarming report by the UN coupled with heightened insecurity in the country.

“We are also collaborating with AQAN and we are also thinking of how we can improve our food systems. We believe that if this can be done by the new administration that is coming on board, then the price of food commodities in markets would reduce and Nigeria would be judged capable of feeding her citizens,” he said.

Wastes

Also speaking, the executive secretary, AgriQuest African Network, Abiodun Olaniyi, took a different stand as he noted that the increase in the price of food items was due to the alarming rate of wastage of farm produce. This he said is common in every part of the country.

Blueprint Weekend’s investigations revealed that every conceivable crop is wasted at the point of harvesting. The most affected are fruits like mangoes, cashew and oranges which are cultivated in large expanses of lands, but wasted in states like Benue, Kogi, FCT, Nasarawa and parts of Niger states instead of being harnessed into usable forms for human consumption.

According to Olaniyi, the convener of AQAN Food System Summit, Nigerian farmers produce enough food to feed the nation, but the high level of wastage had contributed to the artificial scarcity and subsequent high cost of food items.

He said there was the need to curb wastages of farm produce for farmers to enjoy more profit from their sweat.

“The problem we have in Nigeria is not that we are not producing enough food; the problem is that the majority of food we produce gets wasted. For example, 30 per cent of grains we produce are destroyed by insects. About 50 per cent of the fruits and vegetables we produce are wasted during transportation. If these wastages can be reduced, prices of food items will be more affordable as farmers will have more money,” he said.

He also said farmers were entrepreneurs, noting that when a farmer loses some percentages of farm produce, the normal practice would be to increase the price of available produce in order to cover up the losses incurred and in the process, there would be artificial scarcity.

Consequently, he said the essence of the summit for up-coming farmers was to deepen their knowledge, practice and networking among the food systems practitioners and stakeholders in Nigeria while expressing his belief that by 2030, farmers in the country should be able to put up a strong market for Africa in terms of agribusiness, having overcome the challenge of meeting local demands.

He was of the opinion that the essence of the summit was to increase food production looking at the business of agriculture, and not necessarily the culture of agriculture even as he urged the in-coming administration to take the issue of food security further from where the out-going administration would stop. He also urged the new administration to work more on increasing food production, food security and food safety for the country’s farmers.

“We want the government to focus more on food production, food security and food safety. These are very paramount because when we have independence of food then that is number one independence for the people,” he said.

Expert’s admonition

Speaking on the matter, Dr. Austin Maduka, a former deputy national chairman of the Nigeria Cassava Growers Association (NCGA), advised owners of empty space to convert such into farming rather than allow them to fallow.

“Urban farming is the new way out of the incessant harassment from bandits and kidnappers, but that is only when one lives in an urban centre. For those in rural areas, they are still victims of banditry and kidnappers who even ask for ransom before farmers can harvest their crops. If however anyone lives in cities like Abuja, I will advise that they should embark on farming around their neighbourhood. By that, you save money from buying vital food ingredients like pepper, tomato, vegetables and even grains instead of buying them. Besides that, you get them fresh from the soil,” he said.

Many parts of the country, especially Benue and Niger, noted for food supplies can no longer boast of bumper harvest any longer because the able-bodied men who cultivate the farms have abandoned it for fear of being killed by rampaging herders or bandits. This has greatly affected food supplies in the country. Dr. Maduka, therefore, appealed to owners of plots in the FCT and authorities of the territory to allow certain undeveloped plots to be used for farming pending when owners of such plots would be ready to develop them.

“Food items or crops generally that are harvested from a nearby farm can serve the neighbourhood in unprecedented ways; therefore my appeal is for the FCT authorities and governments of various states to allow inbuilt places within the cities to be temporarily used for farming so that residents of the neighborhood can benefit from those farms after all there is a saying that you can use what you have to get what you want. Of what importance is an unused space to the owner when crops can be grown on that plot pending when the place can be developed?”

If, therefore, the idea of food for all and food security are still sacrosanct, urban farming can come as a way out of the banditry-related problems that have prevented farmers from assessing their farms of late.