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Ogbeh’s timely warning

THE warning of the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, that Nigerians risk starvation by 2050 if nothing is done to ensure all-year-round farming has once again brought to the front burner the urgent need to improve our farming practices to achieve higher productivity. The minister, during his defence of the Agriculture Ministry’s 2016 budget proposals, said that the present mode of farming in the country is incapable of sustaining our increasing population and ensuring food security.

He called on all stakeholders in the agricultural sector to work towards im­proving mechanized farming and irriga­tion, to ensure that farming goes on all-year in the country.
The minister’s warning is timely and worth taking to heart. It is important that we mechanize agriculture and also invest in massive irrigation so that farming activities are not limited by the vagaries of the seasons.
The alarm raised by the minister has highlighted some of the things that the nation needs to do to avoid a food cri­sis. However, the responsibility to do these things falls squarely within the purview of the Ministry of Agricul­ture. The ministry needs to establish a framework for the promotion of mecha­nized agriculture and the profitable marketing of farm products. It needs to educate farmers on good farming prac­tices such as shifting cultivation and ir­rigation. It must also work towards im­proved funding of the sector, if the goal of commercial and mechanized farming is to be achieved.
The Agriculture Ministry should go back to the template with which Ni­geria recorded huge successes in the time of the regional governments. The Western Region, at that time recorded huge successes in the production of co­coa; the Eastern Region had palm oil as revenue earner, while the Northern Region had its groundnut pyramids. Together, these agricultural products sustained the economies of each region and the entire country. A return to this template and massive investments in the mechanized farming of both food and cash crops will ensure food secu­rity and make Nigeria a major exporter of agricultural products.
It is sad that the prices of virtually all food items are on the rise in the coun­try. This is happening at a time when the crash in the price of crude oil in the international market is seriously buf­feting our economy and has reduced our ability to invest in sectors such as agriculture to boost our economic for­tunes.
We must, however, not allow the au­guries of these times to shift our focus from food production. Since we can no longer rely on oil as main revenue earner, it is necessary that we do every­thing that is required to boost agricul­tural production. The way to do this is through large scale mechanized farm­ing. We need to begin to view agricul­ture as a serious business. Relevant government agencies should be com­mitted to supporting farming projects while financial institutions are en­couraged to make the necessary credit available to the sector.
Relevant research institutes, univer­sities and other tertiary institutions should step up research that can boost food production. They should develop and introduce new species to improve farm yield. The effort to boost food production should be a collective one that should attract the interest and support of all Nigerians.
Good enough, the Agriculture Minis­ter who raised this alarm on impend­ing starvation is no novice in the sec­tor. It is good that he has realised the enormity of the challenge ahead of the country and we urge him to do what is needful to make sure that the star­vation or food scarcity which he has warned the nation about does not hap­pen now or in 2050.
We enjoin him to use his good office to develop both short-term and long-term strategies to prevent the pre­dicted food shortages. He should lead the effort to move Nigeria from the current prevalent subsistence farming to big-time all-year-round agricultural production. He should also do whatev­er is required to link agriculture to the industries so that value can be added to the products. The industrial sector should be brought in to help with the preservation of food crops to stop the endless circle of waste during harvest seasons. This will go a long way in cre­ating more jobs in the agricultural and industrial value-chain. It will also help to reduce rural poverty.
Ultimately, what is required in the agricultural sector now is not talk, but prompt action to bring the laud­able ideas on agriculture that have been bandied around the country for ages, into reality. Let the government immediately kick-start its programme for the sector and get the cooperation of all stakeholders to boost produc­tion. The warning on the likelihood of Nigerians starving to death in 2050 in the event of the country’s failure to boost food production with all-year-round farming should be taken with all the seriousness it deserves.