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Adefuye, who is the current Head of Department of Sociology, Texas College, USA, spoke with Tribune Agriculture on why the problems confronting the nation’s agricultural sector persist, and highlighted strategies and approaches which he said would lead Nigeria out of the woods. Excerpts:
You left the shores of this country when you discovered that you were not comfortable with the myriads of problems facing the nation’s agricultural sectors despite several efforts by experts to tackle them. Do you have the feelings that things have started changing or have changed for good since you left Nigeria for USA?
Well, we could say that things are getting better or changing considering several developmental programmes on ground, but I would also say that if concerted efforts were applied to solve the problems, Nigeria has the potential to be a very great nation in the world. But my observation is that we are still paying lip service to the development of agriculture.
Do you think the present government could fix or get rid of the obstacles on the path of the nation becoming a giant agricultural nation.?
Well, we now have a Minister of Agriculture whom I regarded as a serious expert/technocrat. Likewise, the state minister. If they could do the right thing, I want to believe they would take the nation to a greater height. But my advice is that they should not be ministers of fertiliser procurement and distribution alone, neither should the present minister and Federal Government pay lip service to the sector like some previous ministers did.
Do you have practicable solutions to Nigeria’s agricultural problems judging from your experience as a respected technocrat and teacher in USA, especially as a don in a popular university like Texas College, USA?
I have what could be described as a small but precise, practicable, comprehensive recommendation for the Nigeria government. If the present government would embrace and adopt them, I believe our problems would be solved. The recommendations are highlighted below:
*The government should think outside the box What do I mean by this? Agricultural development should be seen as a process and not a project.
For the concept of stakeholders, every Nigerian should be seen and trusted as a stakeholder in Nigeria’s agricultural development and food security programme.
“The fact that some people or sectors are being left out or excluded from the process of finding solutions to a myriad of agricultural problems meant that whatever solution there is would not enjoy widespread support across board, “he stated.
There should be hegemonic relationship between governmental agencies and farmers. Governmental agencies, it should be noted, often treat farmers as junior partners in agricultural development.
I have also observed that access to farmers’ willingness to obey fully or partially the dictates of the suppliers (governmental agencies) of the inputs. The interests of the sponsors of agricultural programmes (governmental agencies) are paramount and are being pushed without opportunities for competing ideas.
If any farmer desires access to inputs like fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides, tractors, loans, etc, the farmer must be willing to play along and do whatever he has been told. Instead of assisting farmers to do whatever they wish to do well, governmental agencies in the country often tell them what to do which may not be in the farmers’ best interest.
And for the food security programme of the government to become a reality, the don asked, whose food security are we actually talking about? The Federal Government has her food security agenda, the same is true of individual farmers. But as long as there are divergencies in the definition and meaning of food security, national food security cannot be achieved. Our leaders failed to realise that private/individual investment in agriculture is influenced by the planning horizon of individual farmer (compared to a thirty-five year old) may not invest in any new product, process, or idea if the payback period for return on investment is 25 to 30.
Food Security II (individual circumstances) — Individual circumstances, it should be understood, play important roles in farmers’ decision to plant certain crops. Whatever the demand of the governmental agencies, farmer are still obligated to feed their families the way they see fit. They will only comply with the demands of governmental agencies to enable them access to needed inputs. Majority of Nigerian farmers are not monocultural in term of agricultural production and attempts to change them may not meet their full approval.
Food Security III (Economic realities) — Every farmer, like everyone else, tries to hedge against the vagaries of the local, regional, and international economic conditions. Thus, farmers would plant crops that would sustain or stabilise them during tough economic times, i.e. according to their own forecast (understanding of the economic climate) the issue of national food security not withstanding.
Adoption of policies/innovations without adaptation — This is another problem confronting our agricultural sector thus, cementing our development. Professor Adefuye explained that our farmers have been told to adapt innovations, adding that we must be willing to assist the farmers to adapt technologies from other fields to meet their needs. For example, riding lawn mowers, grass trimmers, etc.
Need for importation of used tractors —Tractors (whether new or used) according to the expert, are in short supply in the country. A lot of vehicle importers bring in used vehicles but not used tractors or implements.
“But I would advise the government to make it compulsory or mandate the importers to make sure that they import tractors at a certain percentage (say five per cent) of their total import in order to make tractors available in the country for farmers’ use.
Moreover, small scale farmers produced the bulk of food consumed in Nigeria. The focus, however, should be on helping the small-scale farmers do whatever they do more efficiently by providing good farm-to-market roads, tax breaks from agricultural produce haulers especially on farm-to-market roads, establishment of more produce markets, making scales, produce preservation technologies, etc, more affordable.
There is also the need for small garden tillers and other tools that are well-suited for small scale production.
Land consolidation — Small farm size is a major problem in an attempt to mechanised agriculture in Nigeria especially in the South-West axis of the country.
State government should therefore endeavour to purchase small farms outright and consolidate them into larger farms that can support mechanised agriculture.
Professor Adefuye also suggested that this should be a gradual process so as not to produce large-scale unemployment. In his words, “as an alternative, total holding of a farmer or family should be consolidated into one location within the local government area with consideration for types of crops being raised.
Moreover, this should not be used as an opportunity for land speculators, government officials, or other influential citizens to grab and dispossess local farmers of their lands, ”he advised.
In conclusion, the don wanted gardeners and part-time farmers to be given the opportunities to participate in agricultural production especially in the urban and near-urban environments.