I recall that between January 1984 and August 1985, the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) of the President Muhammadu Buhari junta integrated an aspect that encouraged youths who drifted to urban centres due to the ever elusive lures of cities to return to their villages and engage in agriculture.
At the time I was the Zone A Chief Correspondent of the Daily Times of Nigeria based in Kaduna. My responsibility included ensuring that the newspaper’s reporters and correspondents in the zone, which comprised the Federal Capital Territory, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara states, sourced and filed news items that should be regarded as scoops or just topical and relevant enough to make readers of the Daily Times in those states feel and believe that it cared about issues and activities concerning them sufficiently enough to give such publicity.
Reports on agriculture and food security formed a large chunk of our collective effort at the time.
One of the important stories of the time, which the Daily Times scooped others by breaking it, was on the impact made by the administration’s campaign to encourage the youths to go back to their villages from the cities and embrace agriculture.
Millions of youths and even people outside the age bracket of the youths, heeded the call, went back home, and indeed, tilled the land on a massive scale. The outcome was a bumper harvest.
And as President Buhari recently testified to the bounties of the 2016 and 2017 wet seasons in terms of the divine blessings of sufficient rainfalls leading to bumper harvest, the 1984-85 harvest season was one of the most bountiful in this country.
The 1984-85 harvest season was so bountiful farmers all over the country have filled up their granaries with staple foods and had surplus to take to the market. The prices for grains such as maize, millet, sorghum and cowpea crashed to the extent that in some states and local government areas, corn stalk used in construction and feeding animals fetched more money for the farmers than grains. The Daily Times described the situation as Burden of Bumper Harvest.
In the 2016 and 2017 wet seasons, President Buhari and many of those familiar with the agriculture sector in Nigeria, have rightly acknowledged that the encouragement given to Nigerians to engage in agriculture, adequate rainfall and the availability and accessibility to agro-inputs by farmers at the right time and at reasonable prices, combined to lead to bumper harvests in the two seasons consecutively.
The big effort in rice production, for instance, especially through the N45 billion Anchor Borrowers Scheme which facilitated access to credit for rice farmers in 30 states, the rehabilitation and expansion of irrigation facilities and the gradual revival of extension services, have boosted food production in general and caused a gradual, but surely, steady downward slide in the price of rice, a politically-sensitive, otherwise inferior, cereal.
Even though the prices of foodstuff, including all grains, legumes and roots and tubers did not fall drastically at the peak of the harvest period as was the case in 1984-85 harvest season, their availability in the market and affordability are not in doubt. Thus, the consumers have what they need and the farmers receive near-appropriate prices for their wares.
The Buhari effect on agriculture has simultaneously fostered happiness both among farmers and consumers. Each side is getting its fair share of value: appropriate prices for wholesome commodities and affordable prices of home-grown commodities of high quality, respectively.
The Buhari effect has other dimensions too: at the political level the president is certainly no longer pondering on which country to go on “exile” on account of failed wet seasons and consequential food scarcity in the country.
It has equally reduced our food dependency on other nations and narrow the country’s balance of trade gap. A government agency recently announced that more than N250 billion which would have been spent on the importation of rice has been saved as Nigerians prefer local rice, which floods the market, to imported foreign, probably expired rice.
The Lagos state government has given the strongest testimonial to this with the LAKE rice which Lagosians purchase in their droves whenever it is on offer. The rice is largely from Kabbi state where 78,000 rice farmers are cultivating about 100,000 hectares of rice farms.
The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, recently announced that the quantity and value of rice imported into Nigeria from Thailand has fallen by 99 per cent from 1.2 million metric tonnes in 2012 to only 784 metric tonnes in 2016, with a saving of over US$600 million on rice imports from that country alone.
In fact, rice importation has fallen to the extent that Nigeria’s foreign rice suppliers are feeling the effect. And the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, is so upbeat that he has envisaged a time under the watch of the Buhari administration when a 50-kilogramme bag of rice would be available for N6,000 to consumers.
Indeed, the target of N6,000 per 50kg bag of parboiled rice envisaged by Ogbeh is feasible as the CBN is forming partnership with agricultural commodity associations to expand the Anchor Barrowers programme.
“These strategic partnerships have already started yielding results with the commencement of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) Anchor Borrowers programme where about 300,000 rice farmers across 20 states will be supported under the upcoming dry season cultivation. An additional 2,000, 000 metric tonnes of paddy rice is expected to be produced under the RIFAN Anchor Borrowers programme,” the CBN governor said.
In short, no effort should be spared in sustaining the trend to ensure that the Buhari effect on Nigerian agriculture of recording bumper harvest becomes a permanent feature in our country.
Dambatta is a federal director of information