Alhaji Sulaimon Araokanmi is the Chairman of the State of Osun Chapter of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), in this interview with OSUN DEFENDER, he speaks on the need for government to mobilise farmers in the state to prevent famine after COVID-19 crisis.
What do you think the aftermath of COVID-19 ravaging the world would bring usher in for the state?
The likelihood of famine cannot be shoved aside. It is not a prediction of doom; but it is what should be expected, not only in Osun but in the entire nation. The farmers in Osun could nt work much because they were constrained. The little farming we did last year can still feed us till November this year. After that, there will be no food for us till December next year. So we cannot afford to miss planting for this raining period. Without our farmers going all-out to farm, we will all go hungry in the state.
The situation will be worsened by the dwindling price of crude oil. And we all have ourselves to blame for it because of our over-dependence on oil. Look at our flag vividly; the green colour signifies fertile land and the white signifies peace. But we deviated; we neglected agriculture which used to be the mainstay of our economy for crude oil and relied too much on the downstream sub-sector. Look at the price of crude oil now, from over a $100 per barrel, it has plunged to an all-time low $10 per barrel. And nations of the world are no longer buying. All the states of the federation depend on the money we make from crude oil. How then will they pay salaries and do other things expected of a government? To avert the looming famine, we should mobilise people to go back to agriculture. Besides, many states will be able to shore up their revenue and pay workers’ salaries.
What do you think can be done to prevent the looming famine?
It is not only agriculture. We need government and well-meaning individuals to invest in agro-allied business. We have gone past the era where you can only invest in agriculture. If you try that now, it will amount to waste of efforts and resources. In agro-business, we talk about processing farm produce, creating a hub where they can be easily sold. For instance, the waste we have been getting from cassava is too much. The price of cassava now is N3, 000 for 200. Subtract the money for clearing your farm which you can’t get less than N1000 and those who will make the heaps will charge nothing less than N1, 500, you will also weed it. When it yields, you will be the one to harvest it for your buyers. Tell me how much the farmer stands to gain with all what I have said. We need farmers’ market; if not in all the local governments, we can have it in major towns where we can take our produces to, to process or sell. It will save wastage and farmers will be motivated to cultivate more. For instance, farmers dealing in tomatoes should have a place where their produce can be taken to sell in the state. That spot will be the market for tomatoes. This is what was done at Shasa in Ibadan. There is no market for farmers in Osun. All the markets built by the government are not for farmers. We need ours (farmers’ market) separately and there should be processing machines installed there. By then, we can even encourage our children to join us. Seeing us go through what we are passing through will not encourage the youths to farm. However, in our own little way, we have been trying to process farm produces like cassava, banana, potatoes and the rest, in a bid to add value to them. Although, the government has been of such great assistance that we must appreciate, we need more support, aid and assistance. We also need to mechanise the kind of farming we do. I am aware that the Governor of Osun is trying to provide tractors for us; if he can do that, it will be on course to rapid development. As a rice farmer, I must confess that the tractor will help me a great deal. Rice can be harvested four months after planting; this can be done two times a year if you have the wherewithal.
Irrigation system is also needed. We do not have any irrigation system in place in the South-West. Of all geopolitical zones, I pity the South-West the most. The looming famine will have a huge toll on us and it will start from Osun. Go to the Northern region, they have good irrigation system and what have you. In fact, the kind of investments their governments make in agriculture and farmers are massive. If we can get half of it, we will do better than them. Our land is more fertile than theirs and farming is part of our culture and in history, it was our major source of revenue, yet our governments care less about us. Governors in South-West must ensure they prioritise agriculture. Enough is enough for empty promises on agriculture by the government. They should ensure that farmers are in charge of anything that has to do with agriculture and farmers’ welfare. We have to start getting things right as soon as possible so that the adverse effects of the imminent famine will not be hard on us.
What other things do you think can be done to ensure food security for the citizenry?
I will advise that we should specify on the produce and channel our resources and efforts on them. It can be cassava, rice and plantain and we should ensure values are added to these agricultural produces. Let us see if we do that, maybe there won’t be difference in what we have now. I am pleading with the government to please listen to our yearnings, they are no doubt doing all they can but we need more attention and commitment from them. This is for no reason but the impending food insecurity ahead.
There have been allegations that farmers in the state are defaulting in the repayment of loans given to them by government, don’t you think this a cog in the wheel of going forward?
You are right. That is one of the biggest issues with our farmers. Many of them see the loans given to them as another form of largesse from the government. That is one of the reasons we are suffering and not that the government is not trying. Loans accessed by farmers must be paid back so that others can get it in turns. Timely repayment will enable government to have such monies used for other members to benefit from.
How can this be addressed?
My administration has been trying to get things right. We are working to ensure that we recover the loans taken by farmers. And one thing I can guarantee is that if we can get that kind of fund again, it will be well monitored. Those who have taken and defaulted will not be given again. Everyone will benefit and be able to access the loan. We will ensure that some of the things we are always calling the government for will reduce.
It is planting season already, what are the preparations of farmers for this period?
We have anticipated this period and are well prepared. This the period we can plant a lot of crops and we are aware of that. We also have the Nigeria Meteorological Agency’s prediction on rainfall and that will guide us to a large extent. And with the food insecurity ahead, we are doing all we can to salvage things. I have held meetings with the heads of the different farmers and I make bold to say we all are ready. We have however, mapped out some programmes which I will not like to disclose.
With each state trying to secure it borders due to the pandemic spreading across the country, what effect does border closure has on the state farmers and businessmen and women?
Most of these farm produces are being imported into the state. This includes beans, tomatoes and the likes. I can tell you for a fact that our tomato farmers are working very hard to ensure we can rely on what is being planted here. Last week, we gave the tomato farmers some fund for them to go and plant but they were being harassed and detained by security agents enforcing the lockdown order. I cried out and I am grateful that the government ordered their release. As I speak with you, they are in their farms. The truth is that we can’t feed ourselves in the state except some things are put in place. Like I earlier said, we need farmers’ market as fast as possible.
Why did you say we can’t feed ourselves, do you mean we don’t have enough farmers to plant what will be enough for our consumption?
The farmers we have can plant what will feed us, but they lack the needed equipment. Most of us still use cutlasses and hoes; how far can that go in commercial farming? Many of us are struggling and lack the needed fund to practise mechanised farming. Our farms are also not close by; many of us go on bare foot, while others go on their rickety motorcycles. The government must give us priority and ensure they empower farmers. It will be very easy for our farmers to feed us all in the state. Under my leadership, we have data of farmers. Farmers in the state were allowed to choose heads in all the local governments for easy identification and communication in case the government decides to help. It will be easy that way to get to every registered farmer in the state.
Some people are not patronising locally-grown food items because of the perceived low quantity; such prefer imported foodstuffs, what is AFAN doing to up the standard of locally-grown farm produce?
It is nothing but lies. For instance, when you talk of rice, the two best types are FARO 44 and Ofada rice. I just pity us with the way we demean our products. Did the farmers overseas plant their rice on computers? Is it not the same land we plant on? We enjoy deceiving ourselves in this country and that is why some people will come with mind-blowing proposals and sweep us off our feet. At our end, we are planning to work on re-branding our rice. We plan to have it in different sizes and it will be packaged the way the Uncle Benz rice was done. We have a lot of plans and we hope we are supported with the needed machines to make them materialise.