Africa

Nigeria: The Fertile Land of a Starving Country

Every region in Nigeria has a particular type of soil good for producing certain cash and food crops yearly, irrespective of the season.

The extreme north, characterized by dryness and dustiness, is noted for its resourceful horticultural activities to produce onions, varieties of pepper, tomatoes and other vegetables that serve the nation for over eighteen months.

Over the decades, it has diverted attention to the extraction of crude oil in only one state where years of extractive activities has rendered the inhabitants jobless and unproductive in terms of agriculture. Consequently, there is increasing rural-urban drift and establishment of small scale businesses.

“Abundant land is lying in the villages while those who cultivate it come from the cities,” said one Abubakar Sani a trader in fabrics at Mararaba market in Nasarawa State.

“There is no state in Nigeria where the land is completely barren all year round. Therefore, application of fertilizer in farming is not a do-or-die affair in all parts of the country.” he said.

In Kaduna State, Mr Sani Umar, a farmer who diverted to petty trading in the dry season, observed that the land is produces produces yam, maize, millet, beans and other leguminous crops during the dry season.

Similarly, Mr Wakala Muhammad Isah, a farmer resident in also in Kaduna State, maintained that the frustrating government agricultural policies have rendered all-year-round farming impossible, which is why he, therefore, returns to his village to farm during the rainy season only.

The problem farmers face is not directly from the federal government but from state and local governments which contract bags of NPK 4 fertilizer to traders who sell them at exhorbitant prices.

Speaking on the price-per-bag of fertilizer, Mr Muhammad Shehu, a trader in Mobil filling station market, Minna, Niger State, said no one can tell the price until the item arrives from the line of contractors. In time of allocation he said farmers who harvest between 50 and 100 bags of maize have problems with the local government authorities when the fertiliser finally arrive because they go into different directions into hands of individuals contracted to sell it to the poor farmers at dictated exorbitant prices. This seasonal manoeuvrings of government policies on agriculture discourages those willing to take to the fields as a permanent occupation.

“Last year, I bought a bag of fertilizer for N4,000. I buy a ton for ten hectares every year. This is enough but after harvest, the profit negligible when I put into consideration other expenses like hired labour, hired tractor and transportation before and after harvest.

Mr Chuks Obinna, a trader in Wuse Zone 3 market, said in Anambra State the dry season is not characterized by lack of activities in agriculture because the land is fertile and produces yam tubers and other food crops in large quantities during the rainy season while the dry season witnesses low productivity. He opined, therefore, that the supply of fertilizer should be free to farmers in disadvantaged areas to serve as an encouragement, not a commodity to be sold with a view to making huge unaccountable profits for the local government coffers.

“In my own case, I chose business in order to cope with the uncontrolled galloping inflation in the country. How many bags of grains and tubers would a farmer sell to produce a university graduate?” he queried.

Another farmer based in Abia State, who decided to supplement his living with trading, said farming is thriving for him in the state. He said fertilizer is not farmers’ problem in the state because fertility of the land is an encouragement. But occasionally, he followed his friends to urban centres to explore avenues for white-colour trades because the attitude of the government to farming is not encouraging. Nevertheless, during the dry season, he cultivated large farm-lands of rice, yams, other root crops and orchards favoured by weather in seven different places.

“Fertilizer is not our problem in Abia State because the land is fertile. If the policy of the government had been monitored to encourage farmers, I should find applying for a tractor an easy thing, but the problem I encountered with the local government in 1998 made me buy my own tractor. If my business thrives in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), I will invest in housing and leave farming to my children when I am aging,” he said.

In the FCT many people took to alternative jobs due to tentative deteriorating weather in the eastern part of the country. Joseph Onyeka, a sales agent in the FCT, said in Awka North in Anambra State, the land produces rice, maize, cassava and coco-yam in large quantities, irrespective of the dry season and they harvest rice twice yearly.

“As a seasoned farmer, I have other farms in Yola for the cultivation of beans, rice, groundnuts, millet, sugar-cane and pepper during the dry season,” he said.

The land in Sokoto, a region characterized by dryness, has been confirmed by one Abubakar Sani to be good for the cultivation of onions, tomatoes and varieties of pepper planted and harvested during and after the dry season.

Mr Usman Umar, another trader, testified that in Kaduna State, the land is more productive than what is obtained far north during the dry season.

In this part of the country, yam, maize, guinea-corn, millet, some quantities of onions, carrots, lettuce, sugar-cane, beans and other food crops are grown.

The federal government seems unable to monitor the approval of funds to rural dwellers to invest heavily in agriculture for the survival of the entire country.

Mr Umar Usman, an indigene of Sokoto State, who shifted from farming to petty trading, said the factors that discourage many from farming are numerous.

Finance, according to Umar, constitutes the major problem to farming in Nigeria.

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