The factional National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kabir Ibrahim, talks about the recent rise in food prices and the effect of the recession on food security in the country.
Nigerians have been groaning over the rising cost of food items in the country. What would you say contributed to the current problem?
There are many reasons why we have that. Our production was interfered with by COVID-19, pandemic, the flooding that we had in some parts of northern Nigeria, especially the food basket states, and insecurity in some areas in the North-West and North-East also contributed. Generally, we can say that the insufficiency sprouted from there.
I am from a region where onions are produced. We noticed that the price increased. So, the rise is everywhere. In the Lagos area, because the onions and vegetables are just coming out, prices are very high now. But in a few months, there will be plenty of harvest. Prices might come down a little. But generally speaking, you must look at the economy. The overall economy necessitates that these things will cost more because the purchasing power of the currency is low.
The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on many sectors of the Nigerian economy. How has it affected farmers?
Just like everybody else, farmers were locked down and couldn’t go to their farms. It was after we complained that the President addressed the nation and allowed the free movement of goods. We were categorised as people on essential duties and allowed to go to our farms but we had to observe all the COVID-19 protocols and you know what that means. So, that definitely affected production. Even when we were allowed to go out, other people were not allowed. So, there were certain services that we needed that we couldn’t get.
Many states have come under attacks by bandits, with farms destroyed. How are farmers coping with this challenge?
I come from the southern part of Kaduna State, the border between Kaduna and Zamfara states, and that is the epicentre of banditry. You couldn’t go to your farm one kilometre outside my local government headquarters. Even now, those people who are able to farm cannot even harvest their crops. Farmers are not immune to banditry, kidnapping and other crimes. The farms are in the bush, so this is very difficult for people (farmers) to operate. So, it definitely contributed to the scarcity and non-availability of products.
Do you also receive reports about attacks on your members in the southern region of the country?
In the South-South, yes, there have been problems there. In fact, they have had their own special problems. But, of course, you know also they suffer some drought, whereas, we suffer from flooding here and there. There was also drought in the South-West. It was reported.
Can you quantify how much farmers have lost to banditry in the last one year?
I am an architect; I am from the exact science. There is no way we can guess; it would be foolish for me to mention anything that is not really quantified. But the loss is colossal. I cannot put figures. Anybody who puts figures on it is only just guessing.
But generally, we are advising our farmers now to take insurance because that is the only sustainable way of mitigating the loss because you cannot have budgetary allocation from the government on that. But when you buy insurance, let’s say 30 million farmers take insurance of N10 million, you would know that there is a lot of money in the hands of insurance companies. And if anybody (farmer) gets into trouble, they would be able to compensate them adequately so that they would be able to go back into farming again.
What is the association doing to encourage more farmers to embrace insurance?
That is something that we are working on. We are working with the Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation. That will solve the problems, I think. One of our chairmen’s plantation was growing and, suddenly, there was flooding and everything was affected. What he saw on his large expanse of land was sand. And then, when you look at Kebbi State, about 270 kilometres of rice plantation was completely lost to flooding. In Jigawa State, up till a month after the flood, people were still working inside water.
So, it is not as if farmers would willingly put themselves in harm’s way. The farmers will buy into any possibility of mitigating the losses. We are talking with them and none of them is showing any resistance. But of course, you know they are poor and that is why we are approaching NAIC so there would be subsidy. But there are other possibilities, other insurance that come inform of loans. Even the Anchor Borrower (scheme) from the Central Bank of Nigeria, they insist that the loans have to be insured but the insurance should come entrenched in agriculture, just like other businesses. We are doing a lot of advocacy to encourage farmers to take it (insurance). Just like anything new, there may be some pockets of resistance. But it is in their larger interest to take it.
What other things do farmers need to upscale production?
There are many things farmers need to upscale production: mechanization, veritable seeds, veritable inputs, science and technology. A lot of research has to come to the fore. The government should create a farther enabling environment, coming out of the CBN. But it should come out from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture as well, so that they can work together. The business of agriculture is for the Ministry of Agriculture.
The intervention of the CBN is not sustainable. So to make it sustainable, you rejig the food system, so that you will have a food security council that has a directorate solely in charge of food administration. The government should also ensure security. Once that is done, the people can find their way in their efforts of care for themselves.
What impact will the current recession have on the availability and prices of food in Nigeria?
The recession is another matter entirely because it affects all spectra of the economy. So, what will happen is left to be seen but the government is putting efforts. I saw the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, saying that they are making some efforts to mitigate the effects of the recession. But generally speaking, many things will come into play and, God forbid, if the recession takes a longer period, we might get into big trouble.
There is the tendency that there will be hunger in the country. We are praying very hard and encouraging our farmers to do dry season farming. The government is also making promises that it will provide them with good seeds and input to help them with the dry season. If you plant rice, maize and other crops when the water has receded, you will have a lot of gains to augment what you already have. If they can do it (plant) twice, they will be very happy.
We have advised the government to encourage the Ministry of Water Resources to finish all the irrigation schemes they have had in recent times, increase the number of dams and desilt the dams and others so that people will do irrigation all year round. That is what happens in the first world countries. That’s why they have food security.
There have been unending calls for the diversification of Nigeria’s economy. Do you think agriculture can become the country’s new ‘crude oil’?
That is our prayer. I am an advocate of value addition. I was the president of the poultry association between 2008 and 2012 and I have seen the value you can add to an egg. Do you know that powdered egg is imported from South Africa and other places? So, in Nigeria, we must learn how to add value to our eggs. Let us be able to produce powdered egg so that it will have a long shelf life and people can use it. Also, the cocoa exported to
The Netherlands comes back to us as chocolate and we pay a lot for chocolate. Make the chocolate here and you will add value to cocoa. How do you add value? You need processing? How do you process, you need power. So, there are many things we have to work on. We have to work on power. We have to work on science and technology to be able to get there. Also, we must get rid of corruption because corruption is the bane of development in Nigeria. There was a time in this country when we got a lot of money from crude oil. But very few people stole it and now, we have a problem.