Tuesday, 20 October 2015

How local governments can boost food production

• Farmers at a cassava factory.
With growing population, increasing local food production capacity has become a major challenge for governments at various levels. One critical level of government, stakeholders feel should address the food security issue, are local government councils. Experts believe local governments can change the game if they create an enabling environment for the local food production food system, DANIEL ESSIET reports.

There  have been so much talks about boosting food production across the country. The reason for this is not far- fetched – any nation that is not able to feed its citizens cannot claim to have security. Aside this,  there is need to prune down the huge foreign exchange depleted yearly on food importation, espaecially when Nigeria has vast arable land.

Increasing local food production has become a major challenge for governments at various levels, but experts say grass root planning of food production should be encouraged. They said the 774 local government areas in the country should be encouraged to boost production.

To this end, farming will strive when the elected bodies charged with administrative and executive duties in matters at the local government levels take farming seriously. Of the 774 local government areas, 700 are  based in the rural areas. This implies that a larger percentage of the populace lives in the rural areas and therefore depends solely on agriculture for sustenance. However, experts have expressed concern over the poor state of agriculture within the local government councils.
Observers agree that with the poor attention to agriculture developmentin the local councils,  growth in the foreseeable future could be threatened.

Project Director, Cassava Adding to Africa (CAVA), Prof Kola Adebayo, has expressed concern over the absence of strategic plans in the agric sector to ensure that local government chairmen commit efforts and resources towards implementing agric projects and programmes.
He said local councils could help  to boost food security if they outline a strategic sector plan for agriculture and implement them. Like the state governments, he said local government, though inadequately funded, should be able to give a clear picture of where  they  want agriculture to be in the long term.

For this to happen, he said local  government councils need action plans, key performance indicators, service delivery standards, monitoring and evaluation systems and time lines in order to realise the integrated strategic plan. This will also require them to do things differently—with greater speed and urgency and in partnership with farmers, agribusiness, non-governmental organisation (NGOs), and other government departments.

He lamented that inadequate funding still remains the main impediment to successful implementation of agricultural  programmes, adding that  it is  responsible for lack of delivery and implementation of a wide range of government policies, regulations and programmes undertaken at the local government levels.

If properly funded and given sdirection, Adebayo said a local government council’s agric department level, should be able to provide farming inputs, technical assistance and value addition. He said the quality and efficiency of services delivered by local government councils’ agric department is important in achieving competitiveness in the sector.

For this reason, he said a new service delivery guideline should be drafted in order to increase the responsiveness and accountability of local government councils’ agric department to farmers’ and agribusinesses’ needs.

He also decried the lack of infrastructure in the rural areas. This, he said has resulted in these areas not being attractive for investment. to address this, he called for measures that will lead to briging the infrastructure gaps, adding that attention should be given to rural towns and agric service centres.
A Consultant to the World Bank, Prof Abel Ogunwale, said local population needs more and better roads to improve their lives and help give a much-needed boost to the farming industry. He decried the trauma farmers go through when it rains, adding that there were instances trucks get stucked in the mud due to poor rural road network.

Ogunwale said the bad state of the roads across farming communities is a national problem that takes its toll on vehicles conveying produce from the farms. Deterioration of the roads in the rural areas, he noted, has stood in the way of agricultural production, adding that it has hampered plans to expand food production nationwide. He urged local government councils to resolve roads and transportation problems.

According to him, the agriculture sector, if well harnessed, could be key engine of economic growth. Not only does it put food on the table of Nigerian families at affordable prices and provide raw material for a range of vital purposes, it also supports millions of jobs and is a key economic driver in many rural communities. All measures to increase productivity, he noted, would require increasing yields, diversification to higher value crops, and developing value chains to reduce marketing costs.

He said localisation of food production, processing and consumption was important in the transformation agenda. One area that the local government councils can provide succour is farm land, which is a major barrier to agriculture. Access to land, according to him, remains one of the greatest challenges to new farmers. A lot of farmers have had to grapple with the challenge of limited land.  As a result of this development, there is pressure on farmlands as they are now selling at a market value which is equivalent to land used for residential and industrial uses.

Most people are selling their farms for building and industrial development. The picture paints many challenges for farmers who increasingly believe that local food is integral to the health and wellbeing of residents, and the economic and social vibrancy of their communities but face the challenge of acquiring prime agriculture land for food production.

While people believe that government protect farmlands from development, there is concern that it does little to ensure that the land is actually farmed or accessible to farmers. According to experts, assisting farmers to access farmlands should be part of a broader strategic response plan which aims to build the resilience of rural livelihoods and local food and nutrition security systems.
While there are efforts to promote agro-industrialisation nationwide, the Provost, Federal College of Agriculture (FECA), Akure, Ondo State, Dr Samson Odedina said much could be achieved if the councils are supported to create community level  food chain with  efficient infrastructure in place to get food from fields to markets.

This is because a lot of small and medium-size farms who operate outside the industrial system often lack the  tools necessary to gather, store, and transport food on a scale larger than a farmers’ market.
He said community-linked food hub will occupy the middle ground between the small scale of a farmers’ market or a community-supported agriculture project and the behemoth of the industrial food system, which pumps massive quantities of processed substances into the pipeline of institutional purchasers.

With dwindling oil earnings, he urged the various tiers of government to take a more comprehensive approach to food system planning and addressing many challenges that agriculture faces.The provost said the little effort made by the academic institution is helping communities around the school.
For instance, since setting up the point of sale, Odedina said the college has supported the growth of the food and farming zone in the area. Because of the school, he said some areas of the state are home to safe, high-quality and affordable food grown, harvested and made within the communities, for all to enjoy.

The college is working to unleash food entrepreneurs, bringing together researchers, farmers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers so they could improve productivity and spark new ideas along the supply chain from farm to fork, from lab to lunch. This, notwithstanding, he said food enterprise zone are needed there, including artisanal food village to sustain a cluster of local artisan food producers around the area.

Food enterprise zone, according to him, makes it easier for businesses to grow and bring different parts of the food supply chain together, and  ensure greater collaboration between rural businesses, kick-start local food economies and help people develop new skills. Recognising this, he said the college has launched a multi-pronged local food strategy to encourage students and agro entrepreneurs to grow foods within the local areas.

This, according to him, is to use the students on graduation to support the establishment of food hubs to drive a rural food revolution. According to him, a network of food hubs, supported by the college graduates would create jobs nationwide in the food and farming industry, attract investment and add millions to the rural economy.

Notwithstanding, he said a partnership between farmers and local government councils is win-win, because it allows for technical know-how to be deployed to support the investments that the communities so very much need.


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