Tackling the food crisis in South West Nigeria

by Church Times

Oyewole Sarumi Phd

The South Western region of Nigeria, once a symbol of agricultural prosperity, now faces a stark reality – a growing dependence on other regions for basic food supplies.
This essay serves as a wake-up call to policymakers, stakeholders, and farmers, urging a collective effort toward achieving self-sufficiency in food production.
We’ll draw on the region’s historical prowess and address present challenges to cultivate a vibrant agricultural sector that nourishes our people and fuels economic prosperity.

Historical Precedent: The Glory Days of Southwestern Agriculture

Before the oil boom of the 1970s, Southwestern Nigeria was the agricultural powerhouse of the nation. Renowned for its production of cocoa, palm oil, rubber, and other cash crops, the region generated substantial revenue that funded infrastructure development and social programmes.
This agricultural prowess wasn’t just about exports; it ensured food security for the people and fostered vibrant local economies. So, the question is, where did we miss it or get it wrong?

Why We Failed in Agriculture: A Sobering Analysis

The decline in Southwestern agriculture is a complex issue with several contributing factors:
Shifting Priorities: The discovery of oil led to a national shift in focus, with agriculture taking a backseat. Investment in research, extension services, and infrastructure for agriculture dwindled.
Urbanization and Land Use:  Rapid urbanization led to the conversion of fertile land into housing and commercial spaces, shrinking the available land for agriculture.
Aging Farmer Population: The younger generation, lured by the perceived glamour of urban life, abandoned farming, leading to an aging farmer population and a decline in agricultural expertise.
Climate Change: Erratic rainfall patterns and rising temperatures pose new challenges for traditional farming methods.
Insecurity: While the argument of insecurity in the South West is often overstated, some regions do face challenges that deter farming activities, but not that much in the South West.
Marketing and Distribution Inefficiencies: Inadequate storage facilities and poor transportation networks lead to post-harvest losses and hinder efficient distribution of produce.
In essence, the discovery of oil in the late 1960s marked a turning point. The allure of quick petrodollars led to a shift in focus away from agriculture. Investment dwindled, infrastructure decayed, and traditional farming practices waned. This neglect, coupled with a lack of strategic planning and market-oriented approaches, contributed to the decline of agricultural production.

Charting a New Course: Types of Agriculture to Pursue

To achieve self-sufficiency, the South West must strategically prioritize specific agricultural value chains. Here’s a potential roadmap:
– *Food Staples:* Focus on cassava (used for garri production), rice, maize, and yams – staples that form the bedrock of the Nigerian diet and reduce dependence on external suppliers.
– *Fruits and Vegetables:* Leverage the favorable climate for large-scale production of tomatoes, pepper, onions, and leafy greens (other high-value fruits and vegetables), catering to the immense demand in urban centers like Lagos while offering export opportunities.
– *Livestock:* Develop a robust ranching sector to meet the high demand for meat (beef, poultry) in the region. Integrating fish farming to provide a healthy protein source significantly improves protein intake and in addition, creates new income streams for farmers.

Challenges and How to Overcome Them:

The South West’s path to agricultural revival is not without hurdles:
Land Availability:  Developing a land use strategy that balances urbanization with the need for agricultural land is crucial. Fallowing lands can be revived, and peri-urban farming initiatives can be encouraged.
* **Modernization:**  Embracing technology and innovation is essential. This includes precision agriculture techniques, improved irrigation systems, and the use of drought-resistant crop varieties.
* *Limited Infrastructure:* Inadequate storage facilities, irrigation systems, and transportation networks create significant post-harvest losses and hinder the efficient distribution of produce.
* **Funding and Incentives:**  Increased government funding for agricultural research, extension services, and loan programs for farmers is vital.  Tax breaks and subsidies can incentivize investment in modern technologies.
* **Farmer Training and Education:**  Equipping farmers with the knowledge and skills needed for sustainable and profitable farming is critical.  Educational programs in modern farming techniques, soil management, and financial literacy are essential.
* *Youth Disengagement:* The perception of agriculture as a low-income occupation deters young people from entering the field. This “greying” of the farming population threatens long-term sustainability.
* *Climate Change:* Erratic rainfall patterns and extreme weather events pose a growing threat to crop yields, requiring adaptation strategies.

Modalities to Energize the Agricultural Revolution in the South West:

Government Leadership:  Governors and local authorities must prioritize agriculture in their development plans. This includes allocating adequate resources, creating conducive policies, and encouraging public-private partnerships.
Stakeholder Collaboration:  Collaboration between farmers’ associations, research institutions, agribusiness companies, and financial institutions is key for knowledge sharing, market access, and value chain development.
Community Mobilization: Engaging traditional rulers, community leaders, and youth groups can promote awareness about the importance of agriculture and encourage participation.

The Role of the Government:

Policy Reform:  Reviewing and revising land use policies to facilitate access to land for young farmers. Also, streamline land ownership processes to facilitate access for genuine investors and farmers.
Infrastructure Development:  Investing in rural infrastructure, such as roads, electricity, cold chain storage facilities, and irrigation systems, to improve connectivity and reduce post-harvest losses.
Research and Development:  Supporting research on climate-resilient crops, sustainable farming practices, and value-addition techniques.
Marketing and Distribution Systems:  Creating efficient marketing channels to connect farmers directly to consumers and reduce reliance on middlemen.
Investment in Agricultural Education and Research:* Develop a curriculum that equips farmers with modern techniques, builds capacity in sustainable practices, and promotes agripreneurship among young people.
Farmer Support Programs: Implement initiatives that provide subsidized inputs (seeds, fertilizers), extension services, and access to credit facilities to empower smallholder farmers.
Market Access Initiatives: Establish efficient marketing channels and storage facilities to minimize post-harvest losses, connect farmers directly to consumers, and ensure fair pricing.
Funding: Allocate adequate budgetary resources for agricultural development and create loan schemes with favorable interest rates for farmers.
Capacity Building: Provide training programs for farmers and extension workers on modern farming practices, financial literacy, and market access strategies.

The Role of Stakeholders:

Farmers’ Associations: Providing training programs for farmers, facilitating access to inputs and credit facilities, and advocating for their interests.
Traditional Leaders: Leverage their influence to encourage land allocation for agricultural purposes and promote community involvement in farming initiatives.
Research Institutions:  Developing new crop varieties, conducting research on soil health, and disseminating knowledge to farmers.
Agribusiness Companies:  Investing in contract farming models, providing technical assistance to farmers, and establishing processing and marketing facilities.
Financial Institutions: Developing innovative loan products tailored to the needs of small and medium-scale farmers, reducing collateral requirements, and offering flexible repayment schemes.
Civil Society Organizations: Raise awareness about the importance of agriculture, advocate for policy changes, and support farmer cooperatives.

Funding the Agricultural Revolution

A comprehensive financial strategy is essential to fuel the agricultural revolution in the South West. Here are some potential sources:
Government Budgetary Allocation:  A significant increase in budgetary allocation for agriculture, with a focus on infrastructure development, research, and farmer support programs.
Public-Private Partnerships (PPP):  Leveraging private sector investment through PPPs to co-finance infrastructure projects, processing facilities, and technology adoption initiatives.
Diaspora Investment: Encourage investment from the South Western diaspora by creating a conducive environment and offering attractive investment opportunities in the agricultural sector.
International Donor Funds: Exploring partnerships with international development agencies and foundations that support sustainable agriculture projects.
Agricultural Development Banks: Establishing a dedicated agricultural development bank or revitalizing existing ones to provide affordable loans and credit facilities to farmers and agribusinesses.
Commodity Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs):  Exploring the potential of commodity ETFs, which track the prices of agricultural products, as a potential source of investment capital.

Develop a Comprehensive Agricultural Development Plan: This plan should outline specific goals, strategies, and implementation timelines for each of the priority agricultural value chains identified earlier.

Here are some key components

Vision and Mission:* Clearly articulate the long-term vision for a food-secure and prosperous South West, anchored by a thriving agricultural sector. Define the mission statement outlining the core objectives of the plan.
Needs Assessment:  Conduct a thorough needs assessment to identify the specific challenges and opportunities within each value chain. This includes assessing land availability, existing infrastructure, farmer skills, and market demand.
Value Chain Analysis: Analyze the different agricultural value chains (staples, fruits & vegetables, livestock) to identify potential areas for investment and growth.
Goal Setting:  Establish clear and measurable goals for each value chain. These could include targets for increased production, reduction in post-harvest losses, and improved farmer income.
Strategic Interventions:  Develop a set of targeted strategies to address the identified challenges and achieve the set goals. Examples include:
Land Use Reforms: Streamlining land tenure processes to facilitate access for investors and farmers.
Infrastructure Development: Investing in irrigation systems, rural roads, storage facilities, and processing plants.
Technology Adoption:  Promoting the use of climate-smart technologies such as drought-resistant seeds, precision agriculture tools, and efficient irrigation systems.* **Extension Services:**  Strengthening extension services to provide farmers with training on modern farming practices, financial management, and market access strategies.
Market Access Initiatives: Establishing farmer cooperatives, linking farmers directly to consumers through online platforms and farmers’ markets, and improving market information systems.
Implementation Timeline: Develop a realistic timeline for implementing the identified strategies, with clear milestones and benchmarks for monitoring progress.
Monitoring and Evaluation: Establish a robust monitoring and evaluation framework to track progress, identify challenges, and make adjustments to the plan as needed.

Recommendations and a Call to Action

Southwestern Nigeria has the potential to reclaim its position as a leading agricultural force in Nigeria. Here are some key recommendations:

*Policy and Regulatory Reforms:
    * Streamline land tenure processes to facilitate access for genuine investors and farmers.
    * Consider issuing Certificates of Occupancy with clear ownership rights to incentivize long-term investment in agriculture.
*Invest in Human Capital:  Develop robust agricultural education programs at primary, secondary, and vocational training levels to attract and equip young people for careers in agriculture.
    * Offer training programs for farmers on modern farming techniques, sustainable practices, financial literacy, and market access strategies.
*Boost Public-Private Partnerships: Forge strategic partnerships between government, private investors, research institutions, and agricultural development agencies to accelerate technology adoption, infrastructure development, and access to financing for farmers.
Encourage private sector participation in the establishment and operation of agro-processing facilities to add value to agricultural produce and reduce post-harvest losses.
*Enhance Farmer Support Programs: Implement initiatives that provide subsidized inputs (seeds, fertilizers) and extension services to smallholder farmers.
  Establish loan schemes with favorable interest rates and flexible repayment plans to empower farmers to expand their operations.
  Promote the formation and strengthening of farmer cooperatives to facilitate knowledge sharing, bulk purchasing of inputs, and collective marketing of produce.
Prioritize Infrastructure Development: Increase investment in rural roads to improve access to farmlands and markets.
 Develop irrigation systems to mitigate the effects of erratic rainfall patterns and ensure consistent water availability for crops.
  Establish efficient cold-chain storage facilities to minimize post-harvest losses and extend the shelf life of perishable produce.
Embrace Innovation and Technology: Promote the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices like drought-resistant crop varieties and integrated pest management techniques.
 Invest in research and development of new technologies that can enhance productivity, efficiency, and sustainability in the agricultural sector.
   Encourage the use of digital tools for information dissemination, market access, and financial transactions to connect farmers with resources and opportunities.

A Call to Action:

This is not just a call to policymakers, it’s a call to all stakeholders in the South West.  Traditional leaders, financial institutions, research institutions, civil society organizations, and individual citizens all have a role to play.  By working together, we can transform the agricultural landscape of the South West. Let us:
Advocate for Change: Raise awareness about the importance of agriculture and advocate for policies that support its growth.
Invest in the Future: Invest in agricultural ventures, either directly or through innovative financing mechanisms.
Support Our Farmers:  Patronize local farmers’ markets, buy locally produced food, and encourage others to do the same.
Embrace Innovation: Be open to new technologies and practices that can revolutionize agriculture in the South West.
By taking these steps, we can rewrite the narrative of agriculture in the South West.  Let us reclaim our legacy as a food-secure and prosperous region, and ensure a bountiful future for generations to come.

Conclusion: A Call to Shared Responsibility

Resolving the food security crisis in the South West requires a collective effort from all stakeholders. By drawing inspiration from the region’s historical agricultural prowess, acknowledging present shortcomings, and implementing a comprehensive development plan, we can build a vibrant agricultural sector.
This will not only ensure food security but also create jobs, boost economic growth, and empower rural communities. Let us embrace this challenge with renewed commitment and collaboration. Together, we can transform the South West back into a land of agricultural abundance, nourishing our people and securing a food-secure future.

Dr. Oyewole Sarumi is a faculty member, at ICLED Business School Lekki, Lagos

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