TEMITOPE MUSOWO writes on a new concept of reducing rural poverty in the face of worrisome rapidly increasing population of the country, without proportionate increase in food production, due to the current threat to food security across the country, resulting from the incessant herders/farmers’ clash
Discovery of oil
It is no longer news that before the discovery of oil at Oloibiri, Bayelsa in 1956, agriculture was the mainstay of Nigerian economy. But after the discovery of oil, the groundnut pyramid in the northern part of the country, cocoa plantation in the West and palm oil in the South parts, respectively, once boasted of now exist in our history book.
Focus on oil as the major source of revenue to the Nigerian government, took attention away from the agricultural sector. And to make things worse for the country, there is a gradual shift away from oil all over the world, probably to mitigate the effects of climate change. What this means is that a new reality confronting the world had set in- attention is gradually shifting from oil to renewable sources of energy. Of course, this accounts for the dwindling oil price at the international market, even when there were rise in oil price as is the case now, the federal revenue accruing through sales from oil do not really trickle down to the grassroots, hence the pervasive rural poverty.
Pervasive rural poverty
On the sudden realisation that building national economy based on oil revenue in this century would not guarantee a sustainable economy, the renewed effort towards the agricultural sector which cannot produce immediate result, because revamping our moribund cocoa industries, our oil mills, textile industries and other agricultural industries would not happen overnight, becomes necessary.
Feeding 195 million Nigerians and looming hunger
According to the latest United Nations estimate as at Wednesday, July 4, 2018, the current population of Nigeria is 195,851,811, making it 2.57 percent of the total world population.
It is very worrisome that as the country’s population increases rapidly, there is no proportionate increase in food production. As a matter of fact, there are indications that food production in Nigeria is certainly nose diving.
Unfortunately, most Nigerian farmers merely engage in subsistent farming to provide food for their families while very little is made available for sale in the market. This corroborates the fact that majority of these people who engage in farming in Nigeria don’t have access to modern implement.
Local farmers’ challenge
These local farmers who still rely on their crude implements are largely dependent upon to feed both the rural and urban population. This is made worse by the large number of young farmers who are fast migrating to the urban centres in search of greener pasture leaving the aged farmers with hoes and cutlasses on the farm to feed the nation.
Unlike in the past, farmers today are confronted with sudden collapse of government services such as input supply, credit provision and purchase of output, little intervention from government to support these local farmers through the Bank of Agriculture, Bank of Industries and other programmes end up in the hand of political farmers who do not have even a garden in their backyard, little wonder government’s claims on agricultural supports and interventions do not add up.
Frequent farmers/ herdsmen clash threat to food security
More worrisome is the new challenge the nation has to grapple with- the frequent clash between farmers and herdsmen, which has made many farmers left their farm land. This is experienced particularly in Benue state which is regarded as the Food Basket of the nation, other agrarian communities in the country are not also spared in the herders’ attacks. These are clear threat to food security, foster by the dry Lake Chad region and the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, the horizon is fast becoming ominous.
Combating rural poverty through agriculture
Agriculture in Nigeria has a potential to contribute to poverty reduction and economic development. Agriculture contributes up to 20 percent of Nigerian total GDP. In 1990, it was speculated that about 82 million hectares out of Nigerian’s total land area of 91 million hectares were found to be arable, and merely 42 percent of this was farmed, this depict the agricultural potential of the country.
However, growth in the agricultural sector has persistently been lower than the levels required to reduce poverty significantly and to improve the livelihoods as well as living standards of the majority of the population.
Over 60 percent of Nigerian population still live in the rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. However, for agriculture to become a tool for economic development, a revolution in smallholder productivity is necessary.
Majority of Nigerian farmers are smallholders who cultivate less than three acres of land, these people are faced with numerous challenges, ranging from poor land tenure system, lack of modern implements, lack of credit facilities, inadequate farm inputs, improved seedling to lack of access to market among other challenges.
Any government or organisation keen on reducing rural poverty must focus on agriculture and how to combat these challenges confronting the smallholder farmers who form a larger percentage of the agricultural sector.
Developing agriculture via innovation platform
However, having established the fact that majority of Nigerian farmers are smallholders who are confronted with challenges which still impede their production and economic growth, it is appropriate at this juncture to point out that one of the ways to resolving these challenges is through the innovation platform.
But the question is: What is an innovation platform?
An innovation platform is a group of individuals with different backgrounds and interests: farmers, agricultural input suppliers, traders, food processors, researchers, government officials, among others, who come together to identify a common problem, proffer solution to them, develop a common vision and find ways to achieving their goals.
Problem solving approach
The problem solving approach brings all the stakeholders in the value chain together on a platform, the smallholder producers under their farmers association/groups, the lead buyers/off takers, processors, exporters, input suppliers, financial institutions and all others who are involve in a particular agricultural value chain.
It is a business platform through which stakeholders come together to plan ahead of the planting season, production are done base on market specifications, the farmers and buyers dialogue through pre- season meeting and find out the need in the produce market which will enable them know the input required, the quality/variety and quantity to produce, the financial requirement and so on, all these based on market specification.
At the end of the planting season, all the farmer producer groups bring together their produce through their farmers association and sell to the big buyers collectively.
This model saves the farmers of unnecessary cost of transport, storage, looking for buyers all around, it also saves the buyers, processors, off-takers the overhead cost of looking for produce from individual farmers around as well.
It is pertinent to note that this is an approach developed to improve agricultural productivity and as well improve the income of the farmers through improved market opportunities and increased value addition.
Improved access to markets and information
This will ultimately result to increased incomes of the smallholder producers. The benefits will primarily result to: improved access to markets and information; reduced transaction costs, reduced post-harvest losses, enhanced food safety, improved product quality and increased producer (farm gate) prices, increased output and productivity, and improved economies of scale among other benefits.
Of course, all stakeholders and governments must do the needful to reduce rural poverty.