Food: Of State of Emergency and availability of fertiliser

Among all the essentials of life, food is number one. From southernmost to the core northern, Nigeria is blessed with arable land, rivers and climate conducive enough for the nation to have enough to feed its estimated 200 million citizens and spare some for export.

However, this appears not to be the case as the country has, in recent years, struggled to meet the food needs of its citizens. A multitude of factors are responsible for this unfortunate situation.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in an October 2022 report painted a grim picture saying that about 25.3 million Nigerians will face food insecurity between June and August 2023.

The specialised agency of the UN in a statement, therefore, urged concerted actions to avert the crisis adding that already 4.4 million people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States were at risk.

In the nutrition analysis, the UN food agency said about 17 million people in the country were already facing food crisis.

One of the leading causes of food shortage in the country is insecurity, particularly in the north central part of the nation which hitherto was the food basket of the nation.

The farmers-herders crisis has made it almost impossible for farmers to operate at their best, while in some instances farmlands are destroyed by herds of cow.

The situation is compounded by bandits that operate in the northwest, like in the north central, their activities have minimised farming activities.

This is similar to what obtains in the northeast where the fear of Boko Haram insurgents has forced many residents to shun farming, while others are still stranded in Internally Displaced Persons camps.

Previous administrations, particularly the immediate past one, made spirited efforts to curb the food shortage menace but unfortunately their efforts did not make the needed impact.

Worried by the situation, the incumbent government of President Bola Tinubu has decided to take the bull by the horn declaring a state of emergency on food security.

Special Adviser to the President on Special Duties, Communication and Strategy, Mr Dele Alake, told newsmen after a meeting of stakeholders in agriculture and food production value-chain in Abuja that food security was a priority to Tinubu.

Giving details of the presidential intervention on food security, food pricing and sustainability, Alake said measures in the action plan would include an immediate release of fertilisers and grains to farmers and households.

Realising the place of water in agriculture, Tinubu also approved that all matters pertaining to food and water availability and affordability, as essential livelihood items, be included within the purview of the National Security Council.

Already the military is fired up to contribute its quota by ensuring that the country is rid of kidnappers and insurgents, a development that no doubt will make farmers to return to farm.

A farmer applying fertiliser

The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Maj.- Gen. Christopher Musa who led Service Chiefs to a meeting with senior personnel of Ministry of Defence vowed to end insecurity and restore peace in the country.

“We want to tell you and Nigerians that you can rely on us. We are committed; and God being on our side we’ll achieve success”, Musa told his audience.

While the military and politicians fine-tune their strategies to confront food insecurity there is one factor that cannot be brushed aside – Fertiliser.

The Chairman of the Grassroots Farmers Association of Niger-Delta, Edo Chapter, Chief Emmanuel Odigie, told NAN that his members had yet to receive fertiliser from either the State or Federal Government midway into the 2023 farming season.

According to Odigie, farmers are currently buying fertilisers in the market at high prices.

He said in the past, the Federal Government used to distribute fertilisers to farmers latest towards the end of June for free.

“But this year, we have not seen or heard from the state or federal government,” he said.

Mr Cement Obayuwana, the Secretary, Orhionmwon Farmers Association, disclosed that, some farmers including his association got one bag of NPK 20: 10: 10 each from the state government.

According to Obayuwana, majority of farmers buy NPK 20: 10:10 from the market at the cost of N22,000,

“The last time farmers benefitted massively from fertiliser distribution by the federal government was under the Growth Enhancement Scheme of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

“Since then, if it comes, it does not go round every farmer it is usually given to selected farmers. So we buy from the market,” he said.

Similarly, the Chairman, Rural Farmers Association, Bayelsa chapter, Mr Owen Azibapu, said though the use of fertiliser had assisted their members to record bumper harvest in the past, regrettably the product had become too expensive for the local farmers.

“Currently, 50kg of NPK fertiliser sells for N23,000; Urea, N30,000 while a liter of organic fertiliser goes for N10,000.

“Though Bayelsa has fertile land to grow any kind of crop, we still need the fertiliser to increase and boost our farm produce,” he said.

He expressed the fears that the federal government’s food security plan remained threatened by rising cost of farming materials, including fertiliser.

Fertilisers application

A farmer based in Elebele community, Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa, Mr Emmanuel Agum, said “though we are blessed with fertile land here in Bayelsa and our crops are growing well, our fear is the predicted flooding”.

Chief Sylvanus Ejezie, Delta State Chairman, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), said the high cost of fertilisers had continued to make it difficult for farmers to perform at their optimum

“Aside the cost of fertilisers, cost of rice seedlings has risen from N400 per kg to N600 per kg. All inputs including fertilisers are very costly now.

“Most times, fertilisers are not readily available and also not affordable; and this is why farmers cannot get expected yield,” he said.

Mr Richard Asenime, the State All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), said 25 farmers from each of the 25 local government areas of Delta got about three bottles of different liquid fertilisers free from the federal government.

He said “the state government also made provisions for farmers who can afford the cost of fertilisers to buy from stores located at various places across the 25 LGAs of the state.’’

He said that the farmers could access the liquid fertilisers at the cost of N4,000 per liter.

However, Asenime said it was unfortunate that most farmers could not afford the product this year to support the cultivation of their crops.

Farm produce

As at the federal level, Edo government said it was ready to contribute its quota towards food security in the country and called on the federal government to help in making this a reality by making fertiliser affordable to farmers,

For instance, Mr Iwanegbe Iguosade, Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Edo, told NAN that the ministry was yet to receive fertilisers from the headquarters.

“But before now, the ministry used to distribute fertilisers to farmers at the beginning of every farming season.

“For this season, we have not received any fertiliser consignment from our headquarters. We are expecting them, when they arrive, we will distribute to the farmers,” he said.

However, Mr John Onovroke, State Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Delta, said it is not about gloom and doom.

According to him, the federal government had distributed fertilisers to various clusters and association of farmers free to support the 2023 farming season.

“We distributed the fertilisers to registered farmers through AFAN, RIFAN and other rice farmers clusters in Owene River Basin, at Ngegwu, Illah; Patani clusters, others in Delta,” Onovroke said.

Given Nigeria’s leadership role in Africa, the international community is waiting with bated breath for how it will match words with actions and conquer its food security challenges. Nigeria’s template can serve as a model for other developing countries.

Source: News Agency of Nigeria