UCHENNA INYA writes on the target by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and governors of six states of the federation to achieve food sufficiency through the Zero Hunger Programme of the Federal Government
To achieve food sufficiency in Nigeria, a team identified as Zero Hunger was constituted by the Federal Government. The team has former President Olusegun Obasanjo as its leader. Six states were chosen as pilot states. The states are Benue, Ebonyi, Borno, Sokoto, Kebbi, Ogun and Ondo.
The team had its first meeting in Benue State with a target to achieve food security by 2030. Last week, the team held its second quarterly forum in Abakaliki the Ebonyi State capital with over 1,000 participants in attendance.
At the meeting, which held at the Akanu Ibiam International Conference Centre, Abakaliki , were Obasanjo, the host governor, Engr. David Umahi; Governors Samuel Ortom (Benue), Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), Abubakar Bagudu (Kebbi); Deputy Governor of Borno State, Maman Usman and the Chairman, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Senator Abdullahi Adamu. Participants from donor agencies and the international community included Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture; Dr. Chiji Ojukwu, Director (Agriculture) of the African Development Bank; Dr. Abiodun Oladipo, World Food Program; Dr. Abraham Shaibu, AfricaRice Centre and Dr. Tawanda Muzhingi, International Potato Centre (CIP). Also present were members of Ebonyi State Executive Council, officials of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the academia, private sector players, farmers’ groups as well as traditional rulers.
Participants at the meeting listened and observed with a view to understanding the efforts being put in place by Ebonyi State towards the attainment of food security. An important component of the meeting was the baseline report on the food security situation of Ebonyi State, which was presented by Dr. Kenton Dashiell. A field visit was conducted by the Nigeria Zero Hunger Forum team to appraise efforts by the state towards achieving food security.
Places visited where the show room, government farm/mushroom site, Ezillo Farm, Dr. Sam Egwu’s farm at Umuebe, Waste to Wealth plant and bags, Hatchery, Rice Cluster Old Mill, Fertilizer plant, Ikwo Rice Mill, Ebonyi Rice Mill and the Biomass Plant at Ikwo. The team under the leadership of Chief Obasanjo also commissioned the Ebonyi State University Green House.
The former president, while speaking at the forum, called for concerted efforts to achieve food security in the country. His words: “I was approached and agreed that we should work out plans, programmes and strategies to achieve zero hunger by the year 2030 in Nigeria. We wrote a report and we said that this time around, we don’t want those typical things that used to happen with reports. Reports are beautifully written, beautifully packaged and put in the shelves and they continue to gather dust and nothing more.
“This time, we want to see implementation. So, we formed ourselves into a committee on hunger forum to see the implementation of zero hunger report. We then decided that zero hunger is for all Nigerians but we want to start to bite little by little by working on a few states to start with and Ebonyi happens to be one of the six states.
“The aim of zero hunger is to make sure that the policy that are required and programmes that will take us to promise land are implemented by all concerned – federal government, state governments, local governments, communities, farmers, private sectors, NGOs and international organisations. We are looking for agricultural programmes to implement and to help the state at every area it may need help.”
Governor Umahi, in his remarks, described agriculture as the only alternative to the dwindling oil revenue in the country. He said the Zero Hunger Programme will achieve permanent food security and called for total support. According to him, with the drastic fall in oil revenue and its consequent impact on the income of the nation, achieving Zero Hunger Status and driving the economy forward can only be possible if Nigerians change their attitude and approach, and work towards economic diversification. Umahi said zero Hunger Strategic Review as encapsulated in the Synthesis Report identifies key development and humanitarian challenges confronting the people on the path to achieving the aspirations of Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2), which includes: discussing the role of the private sector in achieving Zero Hunger; proposing actionable areas as well as recommending milestones; key actions and partnership for National Road Map in achieving Zero Hunger Status.
He said: “Today, we are happy to have the forum examine our modest efforts in bringing hunger to zero in Ebonyi State in particular and Nigeria in general, achieving permanent food security, improving recommended nutritional value especially for children, and promoting sustainable agriculture in line with SDG2 aspirations. “Our psychology has for far too long been infected by the lazy dependence on the free flow of petrodollars for nearly half a century.
The negative impact that this has had on the manufacturing and agricultural sectors is visible to everyone today. The initiatives being taken through the leadership of global statesmen such as our former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, to whom we owe this current drive to bring hunger to zero in our country, is to be highly applauded.
“The leadership of the Nigeria Zero Hunger Forum has its work cut out. Anyone who underestimates the threat of hunger in our nation only needs to see the tragedy unfolding in the North-East zone of the country to pause and reflect.
My brother governors from that zone, particularly Governor Kashim Shettima, have shown extraordinary courage and resilience in meeting both the security and food crises in that region. But for their courage and relentless push, the situation would undoubtedly have been much worse than what we are dealing with today. “His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, has paid the greatest attention and demonstrated exemplary passion for agriculture.
Regardless of political affiliations, he has taken practical steps to advance the cause of economic diversification, with positively obsessive focus on agriculture and food security – lending unprecedented support to Ebonyi State. Let me put it on record that without Mr. President’s support, our story in Ebonyi State today would not have been one of celebration and quiet optimism; instead, we would have been lamenting the current economic crunch because it would have hit us the hardest.”
He explained that his administration in collaboration with local and international partners have provided needed resources and technical know-how for accelerated agricultural programmes in the state. “We have been running a programme of youth, women and widows empowerment for two years.
Thousands of these categories of our people have benefited from grants of up to N250,000 to support their small scale enterprises. This is because we strongly believe in the philosophy that the strongest challenge you could mount against hunger in any society is to make such society’s women and young people as economically productive as possible, through self-drive and self-reliance.
“Additional N4 billion investment fund is also separately created with the Bank of Industry (BoI), specifically and exclusively dedicated to the benefit of civil servants, who are willing and able to embark on agriculture. It is designed in such a way that a small percentage of the salary of each beneficiary is deducted on a monthly basis towards repayment of the facility. What makes these facilities very attractive is that the interest rate is at a single digit, and the burdensome obligation of providing collaterals is absent.
“Last year, we borrowed the sum of N2 billion from the Central Bank of Nigeria Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS) and disbursed to our farmers. It went a long way in driving and expanding our highly successful policy of one-manone hectare.
Unfortunately, however, recovery of the loans from farmers has been an uphill task. As at today, less than two per cent of the fund has been recovered. Currently, there are six integrated rice mills in the state, while government plans to replicate it in the 13 local government areas of the state in the months and years to come.”
The Ebonyi governor identified challenges against increased food production in the state to include lack of functional irrigation facility for all-season farming, modern combine harvesters and other mechanized equipment for large scale commercial agriculture. Umahi noted that the forum has enabled the government and farmers in the state to gain new knowledge that will improve the agricultural sector of the state.
Benue state governor, Samuel Ortom, in his remarks, commended Ebonyi State for its agricultural programmes, which he said will achieve food security “I have learnt more from Ebonyi State.
I want to appreciate Chief Obasanjo for this programme, Benue State was given the privileged to pioneer this programme and the benefits are enormous. There is new vigour, strength, determination and desire to push to ensure we achieve zero hunger.”
The forum at the end of the two-day meeting, issued a 16-point communiqué. It commended Ebonyi State government for its comprehensive agricultural programmes aimed at inclusive growth and attracting the youth, women and civil servants through the provision of special funding widows.
It also gave kudos to the federal government for its non-partisan approach in supporting agricultural programmes in the states. It called on the Federal Government to support the production of genuinely-certified seeds to farmers and to check the distribution of fake seeds.
It expressed worry over the influx of adulterated herbicides in Nigerian market and called on the Federal Government to step up the regulation of the herbicides and input market. The communiqué raised alarm over the high interest rates charged by Banks for agriculture and called on the Central Bank of Nigeria to intervene and make interest rates to be given to farmers at single-digit interest rate.
It observed the deficit in rural infrastructure and called on states to discuss the possibility of the African Development Bank and other development partners to create a special investment vehicle that would address rural infrastructure and called for deliberate implementation of pro-youth programs that will accelerate the involvement of youth in agriculture and create jobs and wealth. This according to the forum is because neglecting the youth is akin to sitting on a time bomb waiting to explode.
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