15 July 2009

Nigeria: Deep Roots of Food Crisis

It is widely accepted by the government, NGOs and private individuals that Nigeria is in a food crisis. It lacks food security despite numerous agricultural potentials.

This situation poses a big question as to what is responsible for the insecurity in food production, preservation and storage ,in a country that has fertile land and the potentials to feed not only itself, but even the entire African continent.

This is coming at a time when the country is said to have made huge financial investments in the agricultural sector. Successive administrations have come up with different programmes and policies with the aim of putting food on the table for its people. Yet, almost 50 years after independence, many Nigerians cannot afford three square meals .

It was in the light of this that the Senate, last year, unanimously adopted a motion sponsored by Senator Andrew Babalola, the Vice chairman of the Senate committee on Agriculture, to examine the Nigerian food crisis and the entire agricultural sector.

Senate President, David Mark, set up the committee with Senator Idriss A. Umar as the chairman. The committee went into action and called for memoranda from different stake holders and organized public hearings where so many startling revelations were made on the pathetic situation of the country, with regard to agricultural production and food security.

The committee, after concluding the public hearing, went round the country to study some of the claims made about different agricultural production projects, ranging from irrigation projects to silo construction.

Our reporter accompanied the committee on its tour of some of the projects in the North-Eastern part of the country, consisting of six states: Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Taraba, Gombe and Bauchi.

In Borno State, the major agricultural projects of the federal government is the South Chad Irrigation Project, the Baga Irrigation project, the Maiduguri Silo project and the Alo dam project, Gashua minor irrigation project, Michika minor irrigation project, Ngalda irrigation projects, among many others, all managed by the Chad Basin Development Authority.

The authority was established in 1973 by the General Yakubu Gowon administration under decree No. 32 following a severe drought in Northern Nigeria in 1972/73. The south Chad irrigation project, which is the largest of all, is located at about 120 kilometers North-East of Maiduguri. It is planned to irrigate 67,000 hectares of land. Water is drawn from Lake Chad through a 39 kilometer intake channel to the primary pumping stations at Kernowa.

The project is divided into 3 stages and was commissioned in 1979. If all the 67,000 hectares are put to use, according to the Managing Director of the Authority, the project has the capacity to feed the entire West African sub-region with the production of rice, millet, sorghum, sun flower, maize, wheat and vegetables like onions, lettuce, and will attract an income of about 50 billion naira annually to the farmers.

However, now only 700 hectares of land are being put to use by the farmers with assistance from the authority because, according to the MD, Dr. Garba Iliya, they need power supply to power the generators that will pump water from the lake into the intake canals. This is because the project was yet to be connected to the national grid since 1979, when it was supposed to have been connected.

Another potential that is being wasted is the capacity of the project to generate 30 mega watts of hydro-electricity from the power plant and turbines installed. This is enough to meet the power demand of both Borno and Yobe states, because the power need of the entire project is four mega watts.

A visit to the turbine, power plants, pumping stations and the intake canal from Lake Chad reveals a good, well intended and important national project, yet it has been abandoned.

The story is not different from that of Baga irrigation project, which is to cover 20,000 hectares of farm land. The irrigation projects could create 600,000 jobs.

The MD, Dr. Garba Iliya, said out of the N11billion naira that was required by the authority, only N4billion naira was released. "In order to get to the 7000 hectares production achieved in 1983, N15 billion naira is needed to connect the power stations to the national grid. This means an investment of N3 billion naira annually for a period of five years."

Another shocking revelation is that Maiduguri silo project, which was awarded in 1989 with the capacity of 25,000 metric tons at the sum of 1.9 million pounds for off-shore component, and N16 million naira for the on-shore component , the contractor was also paid 100 percent mobilization. It too has not been finished.

When the committee visited the project only the foundation of the supposed silo was seen. The contractor was on site, while an official of the agriculture ministry claimed that the work was 70 completed ,but was razed down by a rainstorm, after which people vandalized it. However, they said the contractor could not be reached by the ministry. Maiduguri's is less pathetic than that of the Port Harcourt Silo, which could not be located by the Senators, while officials of the agriculture ministry said that people have taken over the proposed land and built their houses on it, but the contractor was paid 100 percent mobilization.

The federal government, at the moment, has awarded another contract for the construction of a new silo in Maiduguri with 100,000 capacity, meaning that all the billions sunk into the old one were wasted.

In Yobe State, the only project of the federal ministry of agriculture is the Damaturu silo project of 25000 metric tons capacity. The project is far away from completion, while the contractor has been paid fully. At the moment, the case of the abandonment is in court.

The Upper Benue River Basin Authority is another laudable programme that was meant to boost agricultural production in the country. The basin manages irrigation projects in Adamawa, Bauchi and Taraba states. In Yola, there is the Chuchi Irrigation project, which was started in 1998 by the PTF, but was abandoned shortly after the PTF was scrapped in 1999 by the Obasanjo administration. The present administration re-awarded the contract for the project last year and engineers at the site said work has reached 52 percent completion. When completed about 1000 farmers will be engaged. But the question many will ask is that as laudable as a project such as this ,why should the federal government abandon it for ten years after it was awarded?

In Taraba state the story is not different because the Gasol irrigation project that was expected to deliver over 300 hectares of farm land was abandoned. Another 1000 hectares of irrigable land was abandoned at Bantaje.

A project that is meant to protect and save Nigeria from destruction as a result of flooding, is the Kashimbila Dam currently under construction in Taraba state. It came after a warning by the United Nations to the Nigerian government in 2005 on the need for Nigeria to have a buffer dam to contain the water as a result of possible breakage of lake Nyos in Cameroon in 5-10 years.

The lake was said have been formed 400 years ago as a result of volcanic eruptions. Presently, it has started breaking. When it breaks, water from the lake will wash away villages, farm lands and cities along the River Benue starting from Taraba, Benue and Kogi states, and will lead to the death of thousands of people.

The Kashimblia dam is meant to prevent this ugly situation. The dam is located at about 50km south-west of Takum in Taraba state. It is planned for hydro-power generation, irrigation and water supply to numerous towns and villages in Taraba and Benue states.

It is planned to treat 60,000m capacity of treated water per day. There are raw water and irrigation pumping stations, and about 5000 hectares of farm land will be developed for irrigation. On the power aspect, it will generate 18-20 mega watts of electricity.

The contract was awarded in 2006 at the sum of N42billion naira, but only N1billion naira was released to the contractor. The contractor was mobilized to site in July 2008. The project is expected to be completed in 3 years. To worsen the situation, the senators were told that the money allocated for the project in the 2009 budget was re-allocated somewhere. This implies that the contractor will not receive any thing this year.

Chairman of the Senate Ad-hoc committee on the Nigerian food crisis and the agricultural sector, Senator Idriss A. Umar, lamented the situation, saying, "This is a project that is very critical to this country, we need it in view of its importance. It is sad that only N1billion naira was released to them. We will discuss it with the minister and the leadership of the senate. If it means having special supplementary appropriation for the project ,we will do it to save our people from the danger posed by Lake Nyos."

This is the pathetic story of the Kashimbila dam. The same is the case with all other national food security programmes initiated by some administrations but neglected by other administrations.

Nigeria, a country that once depended solely on agriculture as its main source of foreign exchange is now wallowing in want. This and many reasons explain why Nigeria despite its agricultural potentials could not attain or achieve food security for its millions of citizens. Nigerians are eagerly waiting for the report of the senate ad-hoc committee.

"If the 670,000 hectares land is put under cultivation we are sure of feeding not only the nation, but the whole of West Africa. A farmer told us that he got 60 bags of wheat and at a conservative estimate of N10,000 naira per bag, we are talking about N600,000 for just a single farmer twice a year. You can imagine that if the total of 6500 farming families that are benefiting within the Chad Basin, if each of these farmers gets about N600,000 twice per annum you are talking about N36billionnaira. That is great money if it goes in to the economy of the country," said Dr. Garba Iliya, the Managing Director of the Chad Basin Development Authority.

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