Agriculture experts have identified dearth of irrigation systems, lack of political will, policy inconsistency and paucity of funds as some of the major factors militating against all-year round farming in Nigeria.
Mr Ike Ubaka, an agriculturist, says that Nigeria is endowed with vast arable lands, favourable weather as well as abundance of water and river basin resources that could stimulate and facilitate all-year round farming activities.
He, however, says that in spite of these advantages, the country predominantly engages in rain-fed agriculture and one seasonal farming period which, unfortunately, cannot satisfy the food needs of the citizenry.
“Lack of rain during the dry season hinders agricultural production, while the lack of water management systems across the country hinders the ability of farmers to engage in all-year round farming.
“If the irrigation systems and access roads in the country are improved, it will boost agricultural production and encourage mechanised farming,’’ he says.
Ubaka says the vital instruments that will promote all-year round farming are not in place because of the lack of political will to implement policies and the failure to adopt modern farming technologies to speed up crop multiplication.
“The challenges also include shortage of labourers, inadequate markets, natural disasters and ecological challenges such as desertification, among others,’’ he says.
He cites a report of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) which indicated that over 3.6 million hectares were seriously affected by desertification in about 100 countries, Nigeria inclusive.
Ubaka emphasises that desertification is having a negative impact on biological diversity, soil fertility, hydrological cycle and crop yield, as well as livestock production.
Ubaka says that the desertification has also increased pressures on land, while poverty is often aggravated by increasingly recurrent droughts.
He notes that the River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs), which are created by the Federal Government to harness Nigeria’s water resources and optimise its agricultural resources to attain food self-sufficiency, have all failed to lived up to their expectations.
Ubaka says that the 11 RBDAs, which were established on Aug 27, 1976 to promote fishery development, both commercial and small-scale, have also failed in that regard.
He says that the main goals behind the establishment of the RBDAs have largely remained unfulfilled 42 years after, as the units have not lived up to their expectations to contribute to the nation’s food security.
“Besides, the river basins have not reduced the country’s dependence on rain-fed agriculture to stimulate all-year round farming,’’ he says.
The RBDAs include Sokoto-Rima Basin, Sokoto; Hadejia-Jema’are Basin, Kano; the Lake Chad Basin, Maiduguri; the Upper Benue Basin, Yola; the Lower Benue Basin, Makurdi and the Cross River Basin, Calabar.
Others are the Anambra-Imo Basin, Owerri; the Niger Basin, Ilorin; the Niger Delta Basin, Port Harcourt; the Benin-Owena Basin, Benin City and the Oshun-Ogun Basin, Abeokuta.
Dr Adetunji Oredipe, the World Bank FADAMA Team Leader, underscores the need for Nigeria to engage in all-year round farming in order to feed its growing population.
He, nonetheless, says that efforts to improve all-year round agriculture in the country will require the adoption of long-term strategies and new methods of working with partners, private sector agencies and other stakeholders.
Oredipe also attributes the inability of the country to attain food security to the lack of good policies and comprehensive strategies for land management operations.
“The operations include efforts to strengthen policies and capacity to raise farm yields, promote market access among farmers and improve overall management of the country’s rapidly expanding agriculture industry.
“Nigeria has an enormous opportunity to promote a vibrant, competitive and technology-propelled agricultural sector, which today employs 70 per cent of its population,’’ he says.
Oredipe says that many of the basic amenities that will promote the development of agriculture are still lacking in Nigeria, thereby hampering the country’s agricultural development.
He notes that paucity of funds has also prevented most farmers from going into commercial agriculture and all-year round farming.
He emphasises that most banks often fail to consider the gestation periods of agricultural production when giving loans to farmers, adding that this had been a major impediment.
The FADAMA team leader also says that financial constraints like off-putting collateral for loans and high-digit interest rates on loans have forced many farmers to engage in a single round of farming every year.
He says that the lack of good access roads to farms has forced many farmers to be at the mercy of exploitative middlemen who choose to buy produce from the farmers at give-away prices.
Oredipe stresses that the surest way to guarantee the country’s food security is to encourage all-year round farming, while ensuring stability in food prices.
Dr Tunde Arosanyin, National Coordinator of Zero Hunger Commodities, says that the country’s Land Use Act is one of the factors militating against all-year round farming.
He says that most of the country’s crop growing ventures take place on small parcels of land which are cultivated by smallholder farmers who produce over 90 per cent of the country’s food output.
Arosanyin says that the smallholder farmers habitually adopt traditional manual methods of farming and have little or no means to invest in fertilisers, irrigation facilities or equipment that would facilitate their efforts to go into all-year round farming.
“The nation’s 50 million farmers have only around 30,000 tractors between them; they are, therefore, unable to produce enough food to feed Nigeria’s huge population,’’ he says.
Arosanyin also says that the consequences of climate change are a major challenge facing efforts to engage in all-year round crop growing.
He urges the government to collaborate with local and international agencies to come up with improved crop varieties that can fast-track efforts to boost the country’s food production and ensure its food security.
Arosanyin, however, insists that there so many gaps still exist between farmers, research institutes and extension workers.
An agricultural expert, Mr African-Farmer Mogaji, says that even though Nigeria has long been recognised for its two farming seasons, the government has yet to re-establish this and spur all-year round farming in the country.
He underscores the need for the government to invest in projects that are aimed at correcting the country’s infrastructural deficits in order to put in place an environment that is conducive to all-year round agriculture.
Mogaji, who is also an agricultural consultant, says that if the country’s infrastructural deficits are duly rectified, agriculture will become more attractive to the citizens, particularly the youth.
He adds that it will also encourage more people to develop interest in agriculture and value chain development projects.
“Government must develop value chain systems and institutions that can drive competitiveness and job creation in the agricultural sector by using a market development approach,’’ he says.
Another agricultural expert, Mr Obasanjo Fasunla, says that the problems of agriculture in Nigeria include soil infertility, paucity of infrastructure and reliance on imported foods, which causes strains on local farmers and discourages all-year round farming.
He says that the inability of most farmers to have sufficient funds to engage in farm expansion or mechanised farming projects has also affected agriculture and food production in the country.
He says that certain factors such as unstable power supply, inadequate farm machines and bad road networks are also affecting agricultural production i the country.
Fasunla urges the government and other stakeholders to take due advantage of the World Bank classification and report on commercial agriculture which categorised Nigeria as an agriculture-based country.
He also says that Nigeria has vast arable lands that can be cultivated to produce several kinds of crops throughout the year to feed its citizens, without any recourse to food imports.
“The Nigerian population is yet another factor that can help promote agriculture; if the country’s youths are encouraged to go into farming, it will be an added advantage.
“The country also has adequate rainfall and extensive coastal region that is highly rich in fish and other marine products.
“Agriculture is very vital to the country’s economy, as it provides livelihoods for a larger percentage of the citizenry.
“Agriculture has contributed a lot to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while providing 88 per cent of the country’s non-oil earnings,’’ he said.
By Hawa Lawal, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)