By Kayode Crown
Food, food everywhere but not enough for people to eat.
The original version of that is: water everywhere but not enough to drink. That gives a picture of those who live in the riverine areas surrounded by water bodies but the water is not suitable to drink.
Back to that first statement, it is a clear description of how a people can be surrounded by arable farm lands and many are still unable to feed well.
How that situation will change in Ondo State is the business of the Ministry of Agriculture under the leadership of Otunba Gboyega Adefarati, the son of late Governor Adebayo Adefarati.
The Promised Land is before him, the land that flows with milk and honey that the ministry should take us to.
He is the Moses and we are children of Israel. And where we are is not where we should be.
If food is not cheap, people will find it hard to eat, otherwise farmers may find it difficult to break even, so the challenge is to strike a balance.
But rather than “strike a balance,” what governments in the first world countries do is provide massive subsidy for agriculture, thereby “artificially” tilting the balance towards cheap food for the people, while protecting the farmers. So with one stone, they kill two birds.
That immediately gives their agricultural sector an edge.
They make it difficult for food exports from countries like Nigeria to find inroads into their markets because of their low prices.
And when the agricultural products from those climes are brought in here they destroy the local market.
So it is win win for their people if subsidies are given to farmers. Government should have this as its focus to enhance the agricultural sector.
Let this be clear, whatever effort of government in agriculture, not anchored on cheap and bountiful availability of food for everyone, is mere tokenism. And the situation will be as I have stated in the introduction.
So right from the point of conception, the issue of what will serve the highest good for the end users must take the front burner. Money for the pocket of the farmers should just be incidental and not frontal in a properly conceived agricultural initiative.
One thing that will enhance this is for the preservation of farm produce to be a priority.
Thinking that what is produced from the farm in one season should last for all seasons is to think preservation. And rather than wait for investors to come on board and show interest in this area, the government can create plans that would include adequate incentivisation to strategically attract investors.
The government should highlight and showcase the areas of food preservation needs of the state as investment opportunities.
What is produced in one planting season does not have to die with that season, waste away. Surplus would therefore be encouraged because there is provision to preserve them. So all year round, if the food item is in season or not, there won’t be a difference to the consumers.
There should be a department (or agency) for preservation focused on executing full blown initiative in that area. We know grains are preserved in silos but that is just a small percentage of the preservation need of the agricultural sector.
This needs to be expanded so that it does not matter what is produced in animal or farm produce they are all adequately covered. No complaints. What is “sauce” for maize grain is “sauce” for vegetables, and animal produce.
This is the era of technological advancement, these should be put to use for the purpose of preserving farm produce, regardless of the type and quantity.
The profit margin will increase when waste is curbed to the barest minimum. And the end consumers would have food available to them at reduced prices.
Food, water and shelter are the basic necessities for life in a modern society, if those voted into power are up and doing in these areas, all other things go on smoothly.
So when it comes to the matter of preservation of farm produce, eggheads should be brought on board to fashion out an action plan.
Nothing should be left to chance, which would mean leaving some harvest to rot in the field. Every mango that goes to waste should be painful, otherwise we are wasteful. And we cannot complain about lack when we condone waste.
When offering assistance to farmers in anyway, the government should spell it out clearly that it wants things translated to cheap food for the people, not just to swell farmers’ pocket.
Low price of food, because of the ubiquitous nature of food, tend to have a positive effect on other aspects of the economy.
If the percentage individuals expend on food is radically reduced, one cannot begin to imagine the effect that will have on other aspects of life.
The government that makes food cheap will be hailed as “saviour” by the people.
The mandate of government is to make life easy for the people. And doing the needful when it comes to the availability of food is the way to go.
And things start with agricultural input. Over the years, corruption has been the Achilles’ heel of the idea of government in the of inputs to farmers. The farmers sometimes complain that what is announced on the television or in press releases did not get to them.
What then is the solution? Definitely, it is to allow the farmers to determine what they get as input.
The government can hypothetically provide N50,000 as subsidy for the farmer per hectare of land and based on the farm produce in question.
Then the farmer will use the money to get whatever things he or she decides. The subsidy is not a loan but what the government should demand is to have the food available cheaply for the people. That should be made as clear as crystal to the benefiting farmers.
By trying to prevent the corruption on the end of the people who might collect the money and not use it as required, another vista of corruption and inducement becomes opened in sourcing for the inputs and later distribution to farmers.
What then is the soltoution? I believe the way to go is to provide the subsidy directly to the farmers. But not in the form of cash at hand but rather cash in the bank which the farmers would not be able to withdraw but can only transfer to different companies who supply the input.
The question is: what if the farmer then sells the farm input to someone else? e.g the fertilizer, or seedlings? If found out, such a farmer should be prosecuted to the hilt and allowed to face the full weight of the law and blacklisted for life from enjoying such an opportunity. That requires necessary political will.
When one to ten people have been made to face such a fate, others would sit tight.
The farmers would individually have signed a binding pact that they would not divert anything. So when the opposite happens, the culprit should be severely dealt with.
It is clear that whatever is centralised becomes an invitation to grand corruption to fester without hindrance; but allowing individual farmers to determine what they want is the way to go.