Honourable Minister, VFS members, Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,
I want to use this opportunity to thank all of you for participating and making today’s rally a huge success. I personally appreciate the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) for putting this wonderful event together in support of World Food Day and the Nigerian Farmers.
In the course of our individual endeavors, we sometimes forget that someone is responsible for making sure that (food) our source of energy is always available. The Nigerian farmers need to be celebrated because despite all odds, they still find a way to put foods on our tables. Many of us do not know or border about how the food we eat come by; however, personally, I am deeply honored to be part of this event because I care. Marching for food and fighting against hunger and starvation, walking for food security is quite prestigious, and I am glad I am here.
I was touched when I learnt that over 800 million people worldwide go to bed hungry, and that 13 million Nigerians suffer from acute hunger. Furthermore, that hunger kills more people than malaria, tuberculosis and HIV put together; and that 40 percent of infant deaths are caused by malnutrition and hunger. I am indeed amazed.
In January 2017, UNICEF warned that close to 200 hundred children in the North East are likely to die each day out of severe acute malnutrition if no action was taken; and that Nigeria spends over 1.3 trillion Naira annually on food importation despite having over 100 million farmers. It is also on record that close to 40 percent of the food produced in Nigeria is lost as a result of post-harvest carelessness. Therefore, issues regarding the agricultural sector and food production should be the concern of all of us as citizens and the major priority of government. I believe the issue of food should be treated as a human right!
Interestingly, Agriculture is recognized by government as the backbone of the Nigerian economy, contributing over 22 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employing over 80 percent of the population, while also supporting most of our industries. Therefore, Agriculture plays an important role in the development of the county. Nigeria is endowed with favorable climate, soil and human resource for food agricultural production. It is predictable that with increased productivity that comes through youth participation, mechanization and enhanced competitiveness of agricultural production, the core objectives of economic diversification, job creation of employment, food security and increase in incomes among farmers in the country will be achieved.
I am fully and wholeheartedly supporting this course as a way to change the negative perception the youths of today have about agriculture and farmers. They perceive farmers as uneducated, dirty, unskilled, physical labourers with extremely low economic return. I must tell you today that Modern agriculture is more than tilling the soil and rearing animals. The sector today offers career opportunities in research, environment, financial management, engineering and other technical areas for the youth to explore along variety of value chains. From today, I can personally be referred to as a farmer because I have discovered business opportunities in fish farming, yam exporting, cassava processing and cashew-nut export and I would want as many people as possible to join the farming business because it pays, yes, farming is lucrative.
In voicing our concerns about the agricultural sector; the Government has to ensure that they address the problems which discourage youth participation in agriculture:
Firstly, let me say that agriculture has an image problem; simply put, the agriculture we practice today is back-breaking without enough economic pay-off and little room for career advancement; that should change! Government has to invest in rural agro-infrastructure. Youths should have access to machines (tractors and related equipment), improved seeds, fertilizer and agro-chemicals to reduce the current labour-intensive nature of farming. The theme for this year’s World Food Day is “change the future of migration-invest in food security and rural development”. The availability of rural infrastructure will reduce or stabilize the rate at which youths migrate from the rural areas to urban areas in search of greener pastures. You would agree with me that many of our teeming youth end their lives in the oceans as they try to swim across and enter Europe in search of better lives. There has to be increased access to education and new forms of agriculture-based enterprises. I believe young people can transform the agricultural sector by applying new technologies and new thinking.
Secondly, agriculture is not adequately funded through public investment; in the 2017 national budget, the share of the agricultural sector to the total budget is 1.7 percent as against the Malabo Declaration benchmark of 10 percent. In so many States as well, funding to the sector is abysmally low. For Nigeria to show that there is great commitment to diversifying the economy through agriculture there should be increased investment in the agricultural sector in terms of quantity and quality of funding. In the same vein, the consequences of climate change are obvious, the available arable lands are lost as a result of desert encroachment and erosions including massive flooding that has set in of late. Therefore, quality funding to agriculture must also address the issues of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Permit me to conclude by touching on a few more issues:
- Micro-credit and rural agro-based infrastructure: The majority of Nigeria’s agricultural workforces are women. They face several challenges, including lack of access to land and control over productive resources. The Nigerian women farmers need to be empowered – a little micro-credit can change their fortunes and livelihoods, and draw them out of the poverty line. The agricultural financing initiatives of government such as NIRSAL and the Anchor Borrowers Scheme including the facilities created through the Bank of Industry have to be flexible to the women farmers. The Nigerian farmers cannot continue to be producers of food without value addition. It is only when value is added to raw materials that such commands higher price. It has been informed that close to 40 percent of agricultural produces is lost as waste. This is essentially because the power sector is not working efficiently to support storage and processing. More so, the rural communities must be linked to the urban markets given that most rural areas do not have accessible road networks.
- Irrigation, Extension Service Delivery and the Farmers-Herdsmen Crises: Nigerian farmers depend solely on the rains in order to cultivate while we have enough water bodies that can serve as sources of water for irrigated agriculture. We therefore solicit that the nation’s capital budget should focus more on the provision of such irrigation infrastructure in strategic places to assist farmers cultivate more than once a year. Similarly, the extension service systems must be revitalized to support farmers with current innovations in the sector. The continuous farmers/herdsmen crisis has continued to leave many Nigerian citizens homeless and many children at the risk of hunger and malnutrition. Government must find a lasting solution to this crisis.
Honourable Minister and colleagues, the problem of the sector is not something that will be exhausted in one day; however, we will continue to add our voices to support the government in her efforts to promote the sector while seriously advocating for their efforts to be useful and impactful to Nigerian farmers. We are mobilizing one million voices to join the supporter base of the Voices of Food Security campaign for improved policies and to end hunger in Nigeria.
Therefore, I Kanayo O. Kanayo (the renowned Professor John Bull) have joined in the fight against hunger and poverty in Nigeria, and indeed, I hereby present myself as the face for the Campaign. I want YOU all to join and support the course.
Download full copy : Speech by Kanayo O Kanayo at the WFD Rally