Food is one of the people’s basic necessities of life and government’s recognition of this fact informs its strenuous efforts to always ensure that foods are available at affordable costs to the populace.
It was not surprising, therefore, that the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua incorporated Food Security in his Seven-Point Agenda for the nation.
Pesident Goodluck Jonathan, who succeeded Yar’ Adua, has sustained the programme to ensure the production of sufficient foods for domestic and export purposes .
Part of this programme is to ensure that a wide variety of crops are cultivated across the country to satisfy a variety of needs and tastes.
However, experts say that despite Nigeria’s rich agricultural resources and endowments, its agricultural growth rate is relatively low.
As a result, the country spends over 2.8 billion U.S. dollars (about N420 billion) annually on foods import, so as to satisfy local consumption needs.
Towards redressing the ugly trend, the Federal Government had launched the Cocoyam Rebirth Initiative, through the instrumentality of the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRl), Umudike, Abia State.
Officials say that the initiative aims at boosting the cultivation of cocoyam, fondly called” ‘the giant crop”, in order to make it a major foreign exchange earner.
Kenneth Nwosu, Executive Director of NRCRl, says that Nigeria is the leading producer of cocoyam in the whole world, with an annual production of 4.5 million metric tonnes.
According to him, cocoyam is a big delicacy to many households, within and outside the country, especially as it is eaten by low income earners.
At a stakeholders’ forum recently, where the crops’ growers, NRCRl officials and other agriculturists brainstormed on cocoyam’ s development, it came to light that a disease threatened its continuous cultivation in the country.
Experts expressed alarm that the crop was on the verge of extinction because of the outbreak of cocoyam leaf blight, which could entirely wipe out the crop in the country, if not urgently checked.
Nwosu told the stunned audience that the pandemic had caught up with a number of farms in Abia, Imo, Enugu and Benue States, adding that countries like Togo, Ghana and Cameroon had been affected as well.
He said that the pandemic had turned into a sub-regional problem, which needed effective collaboration of countries in the West African sub-region and beyond to tackle.
“We are in for a big challenge; the crop is on the verge of extinction following the outbreak of cocoyam leaf blight. If unchecked, the disease could lead to a 100 per cent loss to the crop’s growers.
“Cocoyam is a veritable source of income to our rural farmers but it is on the verge of extinction,” he said.
Nwosu said that the Cameroonian authorities had written to Nigeria, complaining about the outbreak of this disease in their farms, adding that the development hastened NRCRI to convene the stakeholders’ meeting.
Even though this disease is peculiar to cocoyam now, it can affect other crops if not properly checked and that is why we have to do something fast to avert the situation.
“If we are talking of food security, all food crops need to be brought into view because when the pressure is on cocoyam, other food crops could also be affected,” he said.
Joseph Onyeka, Head of the Pathology Unit of NRCRI, identified the fungus, Phytophthora . colocasiae, as the causal agent of the ravaging disease.
He said it would take less than a fortnight for an entire cocoyam field to be completely ravaged, thus leading to massive defoliation and death of the crops.
Onyeka said that the major challenge facing NRCRI was how to verify if the disease was restricted to Colocasiae, all genotypes, or to only one species of Colocasiae.
He stressed that a viable control measure was to generate new breeds of cocoyam and distribute them to the farmers.
Onyeka, however, admitted that the crop was difficult to breed, as “we do not have cocoyam breeders at the moment”.
He aid that the situation posed a problem for now, as the use of excessive fungicides to check the spread of the disease could cause the organisms to mutate, just as they could pose danger to the environment.
“If we apply ‘roughing’, which means uprooting and destroying the affected crops; that could wipe out the entire crops,” Onyeka said.
Mr. Godwin Chukwu, Coordinator of the Cocoyam Research Programme, moaned that the disease attacked the most cherished species of cocoyam.
“This NCe 001, otherwise known as the Coco India, can be eaten in any form but NRCRI, in collaboration with Kolping Society of Nigeria, attempted to salvage the situation by spraying some cocoyam fields in Arochukwu and Ohafia in Abia State; and Isiala Mbano in Imo state.
“We equally planted the species in the dry season to see if planting between December and January will solve the problem.
“We also applied a recommended dose of ‘Super Gro’, which is an organic liquid fertilizer with versatility of uses; yet, there was no positive result,” he said.
Nwosu stressed that the situation called for urgent intervention by the Federal Government, so as to prevent the obliteration of the NCe 001 species of cocoyam that was mostly affected.
Furthermore, he called on the Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs) in the respective states to be alive to their responsibilities by collaborating with NRCRI to enable us “to transfer the new technologies needed to address the problem.
“Thelong-term measure will be to avail them materials with high resistance to the disease and that is expensive, as it involves bio-technology,” Nwosu said.
Damilola Eniaiyeju, the Deputy Director (Crop Production), Federal Ministry of Agriculture, said that the Federal Government was concerned about the prevalence of the cocoyam disease, as it was threatening crops’ production in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.
He commended NRCRI for the steps so far taken to curtail the disease and expressed hope that a mal solution would soon be found.
“We are looking forward to long and short-term solutions, all within the next three years, so as to put smiles on the faces of our farmers,” Eniaiyeju said.
I said and done, the Cocoyam Rebirth Initiative is on the way of boosting food security in the country. metheless, the challenges currently facing the initiative should be decisively addressed by all stakeholders in the agricultural sector, so” as to ensure continued production of the cocoyam in Nigeria.
Acha writes for NAN
IITA Develops New Potato Variety
Empowering, Novel, Agri-Business Led, Employment, Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (ENABLE TAAT) has recently developed Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) species to tackle malnutrition and reduce diabetes in Africa.
The ENABLE TAAT Field Trainer of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Mr Murtalab Adedamola, made this known in Ibadan yesterday.
He said that the development of the potato species was one of the plans of IITA, aimed at combating malnutrition and attaining food security in Africa. Adedamola said that OFSP was different from the Irish potato, adding that it contained a lot of water, Vitamin A, high carotene and low level of sugar. “It has two varieties – King J and Mothers’ Delight, and it can be used for baking cake, snacks and bread.
“It is stress-free, its cultivation cycle is within three months; it is not a tuber but a root and it does not go deep into the soil like cassava.
“The growth continues even after harvesting, it is good for children and diabetic patients because of its low level of sugar. Farmers can plant a hectare with just 500kg. vines of OFSP, which multiplies.
“They should cut the vines together, bundle them together, weigh them and then plant them. Farmers can plant at a depth of 20 or 25 cm and at an angle of 45 degrees because the spacing can determine the yield,” he said. Adedamola advised farmers to always apply MPK fertiliser to the crop after two weeks of planting, as the exercise would go a long way to improve the yield if the crop had access to water. The field trainer said that the maintenance of an OFSP farm would not require much weeding, adding that the soil would crack while its flowers would shoot out to signal the appropriate time for harvesting. He, however, warned that the King J variety of OFSP was better grown in the northern parts of the country, while the cultivation of the Mothers’ Delight type would thrive in the South.
“In Cameroon, we have four varieties of OFSP and in Cote d’Ivoire, there are six varieties. Farmers are planting it already but the produce lacks market because people are not aware of its numerous benefits. “When people learn about its benefits, they will start patronising the farmers well; we will definitely have more varieties of it in Nigeria because it is a crop that can transform the livelihood of potato farmers perfectly,’’ he added.
Assembly Approves N1.5bn Agric Loan
The Niger State House of Assembly has passed a resolution granting approval to the state government to access a N1.5bn facility for the implementation of the Accelerated Agricultural Development Scheme (AADS).
The House passed the resolution yesterday following the presentation of the report of Joint Committees on Finance and Agriculture.
Presenting the report, Chairman of the Joint Committee, Alhaji Abdullahi Mammagi, said it interfaced with relevant stakeholders to ascertain the justification for the request made.
Mammagi noted that the facility was being offered at an interest rate of nine per cent per annum and 60 months repayment period by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“From the interface held, the committee found that the Federal Government had offered a window of facility to states to support implementation of AADS in states.
“The CBN, through Zenith Bank has offered to provide the of N1.5bn. The facility is offered for a period of 60 months, at an interest rate of nine per cent per annum.
“This is deemed to be highly competitive in terms of what obtains in the banking industry.
“Niger State has keyed into the programme as its implementation would stimulate and support socio-economic development in the state,” he added.
According to him, the repayment cost was manageable, adding that it would not be too much burden on the monthly cash flow of the state.
Similarly, the House commenced debate on the 2019 budget by the governor.
NGO Urges FG To Increase Agric Financing
The Fresh and Young Brains Development Initiative (FBIN), an NGO, has appealed to the Federal Government to increase its funding on agriculture, especially for women and youth farmers to increase their yields.
The Founder of the initiative, Mrs Nkiruka Nnaemego, made the call on Monday in Abuja at the Yfarm National Colloquium on Attracting Public Financing in Sustainable Agriculture for Youth and Women Small Scale Farmers.
Nnaemego said that the Nigerian government had committed to the 2014 Malabo Principles of ensuring increase in public funding to at least 10 per cent of the national budget to the agricultural sector.
According to her, this will enable the countries effectively implement their programmes to reduce hunger and increase productivity among in Africa.
She said that this commitment had not been achieved and it was affecting the productivity of small scale farmers, who consisted of about 70 per cent of the country’s farming population.
“This colloquium provides a unique platform for stakeholders in agriculture to brainstorm on innovative models and approaches for attracting public financing and government involvement in agriculture.
“From the Malabo declaration, which African Heads of State agreed to commit 10 per cent of their countries’ budgets to agriculture, it is unfortunately that Nigeria is still below three per cent.
“Agriculture is the way to go now since the country is looking for other options aside oil. We need to increase finance in agriculture.
“Although the Federal Government is trying, but it should try harder,” she said.
She explained that Yfarm project’s goal was to promote a youth/women-led agribusiness society by reducing poverty, thereby increasing active youth/women participation in sustainable agriculture by 2020.
She said that Yfarm Project had been at the forefront of policy advocacy, media engagement, capacity building and mentoring of rural and vulnerable youth/women in some parts of Africa.
“We celebrate outstanding youths and women, provide access to markets and business networking through our National and African Youth Agric Festivals and Concerts,” she stated.
The Project Coordinator, Food and Agriculture, Actionaid Nigeria, Mr Azubike Nwokoye appealed to the Federal Government to create an enabling environment to attract private investment. He further urged government at all levels to do their parts by increasing public financing on agriculture across all areas with comparative advantages.
”That is a failure in its own already.”
Soni appealed to the government to make available inputs by January not in April and May when such inputs were not needed.
The Programme Officer, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Mr Alphonsus Onwuemeka said that agriculture was in the concurrent list and urged the state governments to play their parts to lessen the burden on the Federal Government.
He acknowledged the Federal Government’s support to agriculture and urged women to take advantage of the gender unit created by government at the Ministry of Agriculture to handle women challenges.
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