Arc. Kabir Ibrahim is the National President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, in this exclusive chat with Linus Aleke, Ibrahim said that the famine alarm by federal government is unfounded and unnecessary. He also spoke on other sundry issues.
The federal government had accused farmers in the country of trying to orchestrate famine in the coming year by exporting grains to other countries instead of selling locally, how valid is this alarm?
Well, let me correct one wrong impression, it is not the farmers that are exporting grains to other countries as been alleged by the government but the agriculture merchants. There is different between farmers and merchants, so let us that information straight. Secondly, I do not want to believe that Nigeria is exporting grain to foreign countries because from time immemorial, neighboring countries like Ghana, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin Republic and other smaller countries within the ECOWAS contiguous region had always depended on Nigeria for food supply. Therefore I do not see that as exporting food made for local consumption to foreign market. We can only panic or raise alarm of impending famine as a nation when we begin to export grain to advance country like France, USA, China etc and not nations that had always depended on us for supply. Now let me ask you, if you are a business man and you know that a bag of grain is going for ten naira in market A and twenty naira in market B, will you go to market A to sell or market B? So the government officials raising the alarm are bereaved of ideas, what are they doing to discourage agric-merchants from taking agricultural produce to neighboring countries where the price is appreciable instead of raising unnecessary false alarm of impending food crisis. It is only now that farmers in Nigeria are getting real value for their effort and toil for the first time in decades. If you have been following events in the sector very well, NIMET predicted that there would be less rainfall last season but by God grace we even had flood in certain areas in the country and that led to a bumper harvest. Another important factor is that Nigerians are developing appetite for home grown rice now; therefore a typical Nigerian farmer is selling his produce to the highest bidder. A buyer come from Chad or Niger and is competing to buy the produce with domestic buyers. To that end, farmers are getting real value from their produce unlike before that they toil and sell at a giveaway price. So the current happening in the agriculture sub sector of the nation’s economy is making many farmers to begin to view farming as a business and a vocation to provide food for the family need alone. But I can assure you that there would not be any famine this year or in the coming year because the same God that prevented insufficient rainfall as forecasted by NIMET in the previous year would also avert food shortage in our land. The most annoying fact in all of this unnecessary alarm of impending food scarcity is that it is not based on any verifiable or scientific data or information. Therefore, it is nonsensical and of course the Minister of Agriculture had come out to disown such claim. The fact that officials of government are contradicting themselves on this same issue nullifies such ill fated alarm. Also, in my capacity as the National President of AFAN, I am telling you that there would not be anything like food shortage in the country. Meanwhile, what government need to do in this circumstance instead of instigating panic amongst its citizens is to buy these grains from farmers and stock pile them in silos across the country so that in an event of food crisis, government can then fall back on the storage and sell to citizens at controlled price. Many years ago, the United States’ government has to dump grains in the ocean so as to create market for farmers in America in order not to discourage them from continuing in farm business. That was because all their storage facilities was occupied and if they release it to the market in order to create space for new storage, the prices of food would crash in the market and the farmers would be discouraged from continuing in farm business so they have to empty the silos into the ocean in a determined effort to encourage the farmers by buying from them at good prices to restock the emptied silos.
In the past there was a body known as a market board, what happened to it?
Well, the demise of market board is part of the negative effect of policy summersault in this part of the world. Policy often starts and ends with an administration, market board was a good initiative that encourages farming business because they are suppose to buy up certain percentage of the total production of food in the country and store them in silos in case of any emergencies or even war situation. In 2008/09, Nigeria deliberately increased the capacity of the storage facilities to 1.5 million metric tons but if you check the silos today, we do not have up to 6000 metric tons even when our capacity is 1.5 million metric tons. But the fact remains that we need to store as a country in case of unforeseen circumstances so that we can feed our people. In the past, we use to buy foreign rice to attend to emergency situations in North East and Niger Delta regions but now we are buying local rice. Definitely, we would be self sufficient in food production but not by raising this kind of alarm but by providing good atmosphere to enable the farmers to contribute adequately to the feeding of the ever growing population and also export to other advanced countries of the world. Look, come 2050, the population of the world would be over 9 billion and the whole global community is looking up to Africa to be able to feed the world and Nigeria is a giant in Africa. Therefore, we should be able to play a key role to help feed the world otherwise; there would be terrible famine in the world not only in Nigeria. so any suggestions that what is happening in the food market in Nigeria is not good for the country’s economy is reductive and a very poor and shallow appraisal of the true situation of Nigerian agricultural sector. Nigerian agriculture is taking a foot hold to become the alternative to oil. Nigerians should be able to farm because they can make money from it, because it is attractive and because they can solve their problems through their chosen vocation.
Is government doing enough to support agriculture in the country?
Well, with the right policies in the sector, sky would be the limit of Nigerian farmers but the unfortunate things is that major stakeholders like us are not even consulted to make into government policy on agriculture before it is announced. Secondly the policy on fertilizer is just on paper because it does not get to the real farmers, once it is released, the government contractors would hijack it and sell to farmers at unaffordable prices. If fertilizer is sold like coca cola in the market, the real farmers would be able to go to the market to buy and improve their yields but that is not the case as government contractors are the one enjoying the so called subsidy of government on fertilizer. Secondly, if government can be faithful in dedicating 20 per cent of the nation’s budget to agriculture for just two years running, Nigerians would begin to de-emphasize the oil because agriculture would replace oil. Brazil economy is thriving on only agriculture so we can also do it after all in the 60s/70s Nigerian economy was largely dependent on agriculture so we can go back to those glorious days.