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