Abeni Aso-Oke

State of Emergency: Agricultural Potential, Challenges, and Way Forward II. By Prof. MK Othman


Last week, I commended President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for declaring a state of emergency on food security and for being the only President who had gone the extra mile to demonstrate his seriousness in tackling the monster of hunger. It is the hope and expectation of Nigerians that President Tinubu walks his talk to avoid the catastrophic consequences of food insecurity. I must also commend President Tinubu for answering the call I made two years ago in my column of 9th June 2021. I said “Nigeria must declare a state of emergency in Agriculture; the government at various levels (Fed, State, and LGA) must invest heavily in agriculture, if possible, through legislation to galvanize agricultural revolution through the use of improved technologies, equipment, and expertise”. Now the first part has been done and the second part is the complement of the “state of emergency”. What are the challenges and the way forward to achieving food security in Nigeria?
There are two major categories of challenges militating against agricultural development in Nigeria. These are technical and security challenges. The technical challenges involve lack of access to improved food production, processing, and handling technologies. Others are low public and private investments in agriculture, poor and inadequate rural infrastructure, and poor and ineffective support to producers, processors, and other food value-chain actors. Low investment in agricultural education at both secondary and tertiary levels is another technical challenge against agricultural development.
On the technical challenges, Nigeria as a nation can resolve the issues by increasing our level of effective and quality investment. We must first consider agriculture as the livewire of our nation, which when disconnected will be akin to disconnecting the oxygen supply to a patient in an intensive care unit, death will be a matter of seconds to such a patient. Therefore, can we raise our level of agricultural investment? Yes, fortunately, the immediate past President, Muhammadu Buhari signed the National Agricultural Development Fund (NADF) Act in October 2022. The NADF establishment Law has nine functions aimed at giving critical financial support to facilitate rapid and sustainable growth in various aspects of the Nigerian agricultural sector for the benefit of all Nigerians. NADF is to be funded from the derivation of 0.5% of the natural development resources fund and five percent of the duty levied on the import of rice, wheat, sugar, milk, poultry, and fish. The NADF bill took painstakingly several years of debate, counter-debate, and distortions before transforming into an Extant law ten months ago. Although the Executive Secretary of the Fund and the Board members were appointed on 25th May 2023, the last minutes of Buhari’s tenure, the Fund is still jumping the bureaucratic hurdles before fruiting to bear the expected impacts. This is an area needing Tinubu’s speedy action.

Additionally, states and National Assemblies with the support of the executive arm of government need to formulate similar legislation for an increase of budgetary allocation to the level of Mobuto declaration of 10% of the annual budget.
Furthermore, the component of extension service provision in agriculture can receive special treatment. This is because while agriculture is the livewire of our society, the provision of agricultural extension services is the “blood” of agriculture. Agricultural extension entails knowledge transfer, utilization and feedback, market intelligence, skill acquisition and perfection, and productivity enhancement along the value chain of agricultural commodities (crops and livestock).
In April 2023, Buhari’s Government approved the new policy on Agricultural Extension Service, to make the practice of agriculture in the country technology-driven and aid food and nutrition security. Like NADF, the National Extension Policy went through tortuous long years of development from around 2014. At one point, I was privileged to be part of the team that “finalized” the draft policy document in 2020. The development of the policy was a painstaking national assignment that was done by several agricultural experts, technocrats, and academics. Then, the draft policy contained ready-made and holistic solutions to the challenges against agricultural extension service delivery. It considered what to be done to modernize agriculture holistically. Fortunately, the structure of the agricultural extension system at the grassroots level, the Agricultural Development Program (ADP), developed between the 1970s and 1980s with the support of the World Bank is still in place and robust but ineffective due to gross underfunding. The draft policy took good care of how to source alternative and sustainable funds to support and develop an agricultural extension system in the country. Was the approved policy document different from the 2020 draft? What happened to the aspect of the document requiring legislation, which was in the draft? After the FEC approval, what is the next line of action? Are the states buying-in the approved Extension Policy? This is another area needing speedy action to have a vibrant, holistic, and problem-solving extension policy with sustainable funding for the nation to be guided. Tinubu should focus his attention on the effective extension services. This is the only way to increase agricultural productivity involving both crops and livestock farming with positive implications on the livelihoods of the farmers and herders.

Abeni Aso-Oke
Abeni Aso-Oke

On the security challenge, the cattle herders, Fulani are majorly accused of banditry and kidnapping, the deadliest insecurity challenge nationwide. The root cause of this challenge could be traced to a hitherto perennial conflict between farmers and herders over agricultural resource utilization. As the minor conflict, but left unmanaged over time, added to other socio-economic factors such as low literacy level and dwindling poor agricultural productivity, exacerbated by demographic issues, the conflict blossomed into the current national calamity. The calamity has become fatal, risky, and catastrophe to all and sundry, no one sleeps with both eyes closed either in the rural or urban areas.
So, increasing effective investment in agriculture will not only address the technical challenges against productivity enhancement but also partially address the insecurity challenge. Cattle herders, the Fulani pastoralists will learn and adopt modern livestock farming. This is a highly productive venture with a cow producing 6-10 liters of milk against 0.5-1 liter being produced under current nomadic practice. Yes, with excellent livestock extension services in place, modern livestock production, highly profitable with much less drudgery will replace the current practice and gradually eliminate nomadism – stock and people movement, which is a cheap source of conflict. Hopefully, kidnapping and banditry will be drastically reduced, as herders will be settled in their choice places and be generating tremendous incomes for themselves and the nation.
To eliminate the security challenges, the concept of community policing with the capacity building of the locals must be introduced. Corruption among security personnel must be squarely addressed, otherwise it will be effort in vain. A compromised security system is most deadliest at all times. These will complement the increase of investment in agriculture and will transform Nigeria into Eldorado with the capability of producing enough food to feed the whole of Africa. This way the state of emergency on food security can be meaningful. May God see us through, amen.

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