The sudden increase in the prices of some food items in Port Harcourt, days after the Moslem fasting began, is an indication that government and people of the southern part of Nigeria need to pay more attention to agriculture.
In some markets in Port Harcourt like Mile One Market, slaughter market, fruit garden, D/line and others, prices of commodities like meat, beans, tomatoes, pepper, yam and others have risen tremendously and the traders attributed the increase to the Ramadan period being observed by Moslem faithfuls, particularly those from the North.
“Hausa people don start fasting, they no dey go farm again, and they no dey bring down food here as before, na im make things dey cost,” one trader said.
Another one, a meat seller said, “ the fear of Boko Haram no gree us go North go buy cow and as Hausa people dey fast, many of them no dey bring cow for us to buy, na im make u no see meat buy”.
The question then is, for how long shall the South depend on the North for her daily food supply?
Many States in the South are blessed with fertile land and good climate for the production of different types of food. From Rivers to Bayelsa, Cross River to Akwa Ibom, Delta to Edo and down to the South East and South West states, there is enough fertile land and population that can produce enough food for the whole of Nigeria and beyond.
Until the discovery of oil in Nigeria in 1958, agriculture was the country’s mainstay of the economy with difference regions boasting of different cash crops like groundnut, cocoa, rubber, palm oil produce and many more. Then, the country was a net exporter of food and earned most of its foreign exchange from agricultural produce.
Today, with the expanse land and over 160 million people, Nigeria cannot feed its citizens not to talk of exporting to other lands, with the worse hit being the southern states.
Let me just repeat a popular opinion that the high rate of unemployment in the country, the increasing social vices, rise in crime rates and security challenges are results of poor attention to agriculture.
Some stakeholders in the agricultural sector have argued that with over 79 million hectares of arable land, diversified ecological conditions, abundant water resources and adequate rainfall, there is no reason for Nigerians to be jobless.
Both past and present administrations at both federal and state levels have claimed to be investing in agriculture with little or no improvement to show for it.
A major disturbing development is the dwindling population of farmers in the country, as farming has become largely unattractive to the youth because of certain socio-economic considerations.
It is therefore imperative that different levels of government should institute pragmatic plans to make farming more appealing, particularly to the youth, as part of their efforts to transform agriculture and boost food production in the country.
Government should encourage farming by providing modern farming implements to farmers to boost their production. A situation where most farmers still rely on crude farming implements like hoes and cutlasses is most discouraging.
Farmers who are willing to expand their farms often complain of lack of support from banks. Unless this problem is solved and provision of soft loans to farmer is made possible, our dream of having a thriving agricultural sector may not be realised.
Provision of power, accessible roads and good transport system is also paramount. Many farm products perish in villages due to non-availability of access roads and transport system to bring them to the cities for the consumers. And yet, there is no storage facilities.
Some people have also argued that unless government enforces the ban on importation of certain farm produce, all efforts towards improving agriculture in Nigeria will almost be a waste.
There is indeed need for federal, State and local governments, as well as individuals to show more commitment to agriculture if the looming food crisis is to be averted. Many of our citizens have forgotten that foods are produced by human beings and would one day be scarce if we continue to neglect food production.
For there to be adequate food in the country, particularly in the South, individuals, cooperative societies, clubs and other stakeholders should invest in agriculture. This will not only assure adequate food supply in the region, but will also create jobs for our unemployed youths and make our society peaceful and secured.