In this report, JULIANA AGBO takes a cursory look at the federal government’s commitment to empowering youths across the country through agriculture as a way of addressing unemployment and insecurity in Nigeria
It is no news that many Nigerians struggle to feed following decades of over-reliance on oil as a major revenue earner and subsequent collapse of the global oil price.
As part of efforts to address food shortages, unemployment, insecurity and make agri-businesses attractive and beneficial to Nigerians, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government singled out agriculture as a viable alternative to oil.
It is worthy of note that previous efforts by successive administrations to boost the nation’s agricultural extension feats of the 60s-70s and reduce the over-reliance on imports have not been very successful.
Aside the fact that agriculture employs a sizeable percentage of the country’s labour force, there has been an upsurge in agri-processing and greater involvement of the private sector in agricultural sector financing, leading to the emergence of agripreneurs (agricultural entrepreneurs). This is because no government can single-handedly ensure food security for its citizens.
Despite efforts by the present administration to revamp the agricultural sector, farmers in the agrarian communities of most states have abandoned their farmlands and fled to safer climes due to herdsmen attacks. They are today living as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at various IDP camps in their states.
Currently, farmers in most of the affected states who have been displaced from their farms and homes by the herdsmen are recounting their ordeals. Their lamentations are not only pathetic, but also tragic.
So worrisome is the fact that despite government’s assurances of tackling the ugly situation, herdsmen are still having a field day. Their temerity and brazen mode of unperturbed operation has led to many questioning the country’s security apparatus. It is also very unfortunate that the killings are taking place at the peak of harvest for farmers in the affected areas. A situation many believe may cause food scarcity in the country, if not properly and quickly addressed.
To put permanent end to this feud, the federal government recently began a fresh move to end the lingering crisis between farmers and herdsmen, as they commenced the distribution of farm machines to farmers across the country.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, while distributing the machines at Oja village, Okpomaju in Otukpo Local government area of Benue State at the weekend, said the machines which can chop grain stalks to feed animals especially cattle, would be operated by youths which will be a source of income to them.
LEADERSHIP Weekend reports that the machines which include, rice threshers, reapers and Cattle Feed Mill will be used by the rice farmer to process rice and also process feed that the farmers can sell to the herdsmen.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Weekend, the minister noted that the government did make the move not only to end farmer/herders clash but also to create more employment opportunities for youths and encourage them to go into agriculture.
He stated that the equipment would be given to youth farmers to handle on credit and at discounted rates.
Explaining how the machines work, Chief Ogbeh said “we have reapers which cut the rice, and send them to the thresher, take out the seeds, then put them in the bag, there is cleaner which is coming to take out all other impurities apart from the rice seeds, this way you do not allow stones to get into the rice in the first instance, thereafter, you take the residue to a tank to mix with molasses or concentrates, and pack them in bags, and build pyramids where the cattle are going to be kept in ranches, and you feed them.
“We believe that as harvesting is beginning, between now and the end of the year, we would have harvested quite a lot of residue and provided enough feed for the cattle in different parts of the country with the machines, by the time we are done, we will succeed in eliminating completely any further conflict.
“We asked the traditional ruler to get young men and women of character who can work together, so they form cooperatives, their registration will be done shortly. This is just a trial, and you will be surprised how much money they can make each year. So the machines are given to them on credit, they will pay back.”
While lamenting the poor milk yield of cattle in Nigeria due to stress of roaming, Chief Ogbeh said soon the machines will be distributed to other parts of the country where rice is grown.
He said: “To begin, we don’t want the cows moving too much, because as they move, their yield of milk is reduced, we have the lowest yield of milk per cow in the world, 1 liter of milk per day, in East Africa or Botswana, these cows do 30 liters of milk, in Europe its 50 liters of milk per day, I have seen a cow at Agric Show in England which produces 67 liters of milk per day, our cows don’t yield well, first they don’t have enough water and they don’t feed well. Cows don’t really like to walk, they just like to feed and sit there, imagine a cow marching from Yola to Lagos, 40 per cent of his weight is lost before it gets down here.”
The minister said cow requires two main things, at least 10kg of feed per day and 30 liters of water, and the herdsmen need one more thing, protection from rustlers, “which we are going to provide using the Agro Rangers, this in summary is the programme that we have, and we are starting early, between now and the end of the year, and early January when the conflicts begin, we would have gone very far, the good news is that these machines are all built in Nigeria,” the minister said.
“In the next few weeks you will see us distributing these machines, I came here specifically because the farmer has 27 hectares and requested federal government’s support. It will be spread all over North, East, West, South.”
Commending government’s continuous efforts in putting permanent end to the lingering crisis between farmers and herders, the traditional ruler of Otukpo, Chief John Eyimonye thanked the federal government for the equipment.
Eyimonye noted that with the assistance from government, farmers will be encouraged to go into large farming without regret.
He however, appealed to the government to provide feeder roads and dams that would facilitate the movement of agricultural goods from farms to the markets and boost production of food.
Explaining the capacity of the thresher, the fabricator of the machines, Charles Frimpong said the thresher has the capacity to thresh 2 to 2.5 tons of rice paddy per hour, adding that the machines are durable and affordable.
Frimpong who is also the Managing Director of Hanigha Nigeria Limited, said the company would collaborate with other local fabricators of agricultural equipment to produce more of the machines for distribution to other states.
Speaking on what inspired him to fabricate the machines, Frimpong said: “We all know what has been happening, the herdsmen always want feed for their cows, how do they get it? They have to go to the farm, after the farmers are done with the harvesting, they would go to eat the stalks and in the process, a lot of damages are done, this creates problems.
“We also brought in a separate individual crop waste chopper. For instance, after harvesting maize what do you do with the stalk, after harvesting various grains, what do you do with the stalk, the stalk will now have to pass through the crop waste chopper, to chop them in various sizes depending on the kind of animal you want to feed, you can adjust it and it comes out in very small particle that the animals enjoy eating.
“We decided to come up with the idea that if farmers have to farm and they have the stalk of grains and they do not know what to do with it, the herdsmen also want it, so the best we had to do was to bring out a mobile machine which will be taken to these farm areas, process them, bag them in smaller sizes, transport them to wherever these cattle are. For that reason you won’t have to allow the cattle into the farm to cause any problem, we have tried it in some areas and we have found out that it has really helped, that is why we decided to upgrade by making it on commercial capacity, it is mobile.”
The youth leader of the community, Agaba Inalegwu, who commended the federal government for the initiative, called for the creation of agro-hubs in rural places where youths can raise nurseries, provide agro-services, such as pesticides applications, grafting, among others, as a source of income.
He noted that by supporting youths in agriculture to access the right tools and technology, the government can make significant gains toward ending extreme poverty and hunger.