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What Buhari still does not understand about farming

Buhari denies choosing successor

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What Buhari still does not understand about farming

President Muhammadu Buhari appealed to Nigerian farmers in his Sunday (May 24) Eid message to grow more food because the country can no longer bridge shortage with imports.

What he’s saying: “I wish the farmers could go and stay in their farms so that we can produce what we need sufficiently so that we don’t have to import. In any case, we don’t have money to import so we must produce what we have to eat,” Buhari said, referencing the country’s dire economic situation.

  • “I wish them the best of luck…I hope the rainy season will be bountiful, to get a lot of food.”

What the president does not get: Best wishes and luck do not matter.

  • He makes the problem of low productivity in Nigeria’s agric sector a matter of hard work and desire on the part of the farmers when in reality, their efforts are undone by underinvestment in the sector.

Making the case: The President’s wish for ‘bountiful rainfalls’ reflects the crudeness of agriculture in Nigeria and the heavy reliance on natural elements in spite of technological innovations.

  • Only 1 percent of Nigeria’s cropland is reportedly irrigated. The situation forces farmers to cultivate their farmlands only during the rainy season and rely on the elements [that is unpredictable] for a good harvest.
  • A day after the President’s message, news of a pest attack on tomato farms in the country emerged. The pest, Tuta absoluta, destroyed harvests back in 2016 and caused a shortage that spiked the price of the vegetable.
  • Per the claims of the National President of Tomato Out Growers Association of Nigeria (TOGAN), Abdulahi Ringim, the supply of pesticides by the government to combat the pest has been traditionally slow and inadequate. This year, despite reports, the Ministry of Agriculture is yet to offer any help.
  • Nearly 90% of farmers in Nigeria are smallholders who have limited access to lands and security. Clashes between herders and farmers over land usage in the country’s middle belt have claimed lives.
  • Worse still, poor [and in many cases, non-existent] storage and processing facilities leads to harvest wastage especially for growers of food and other perishable crops.
  • President Buhari’s administration has invested heavily in the local production of rice, a common staple, through the Anchors Borrowers Programme.
  • The goal is to reduce reliance on rice imports and address the problem of affordability. It can point at rising levels of production as some sort of success but the scheme has been bedeviled by corruption while prices remain high and out of reach of the poor it sought to help.

Bottom line: The President’s appeal tried to shift the responsibility of improved productivity to the farmers but they are victims of systemic problems which only a thinking government can provide solutions to. Productivity will be low. It doesn’t matter if they spend all day on their farms or are offered the best of wishes from Aso Rock.

Peter Adeshina is a journalist who reports politics, policy and governance.

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