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30.01.2012 Feature Article


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A lot has been said about agriculture being the next mainstay of the Nigerian economy. All sorts of economic pontificates on agriculture have inundated the nations' economic space and yet the common man spends a large percentage of his income on food. A family of five spends average of N15000 of his N18000 minimum wage on food and the food must have more of carbohydrates than proteins and vegetables minus meat. That is why there is so much hunger and anger on the streets of Nigeria. The case is not so with the developed economies. Food is ridiculously cheap in Europe, America and North Africa. The naira equivalent of what would feed a family of five for a month in Tunisia cannot feed the same in Nigeria for a week. Even in South Africa food is cheap and affordable. The imperative of making basic food supply affordable to the masses is the prerequisite of every responsible government. It is so basic that inability to address it could trigger social upheavals.

Governments all over the climes where the peoples interest is paramount pays a sort of agricultural subsidies to farmers and those in the agricultural business. This is a way of supplementing farmers' income and maintaining price stability. In 2010 the European Union spent over E39billion Euros on direct subsidies to farmers while the United States spent $20billion dollars on farm income stabilization subsidies to farmers. All these are attempts to make food produce affordable and available.

In Nigeria the major problem is not the supply but the affordability. Nigeria presently has enough food to feed the populace, the problem is the middleman. The middleman is the bridge between the farmer and the market place. In the Nigerian context it is the businessman who goes to the hinterland to purchase the agricultural products from the farmer in the village market and transports same to the markets where the final consumer gets it. The middleman have made the cost of food beyond the reach of the common man . Staple crops like rice, beans, maize , millet, cassava are very cheap in the north. Yam, cassava, plantain and others are cheap in some parts of the south and middle belt regions of Nigeria. In the areas of primary production it is ridiculously cheap while in the areas of primary consumption it is very costly.

Basket of onion bought by a middleman at Shinkafi market in Zamfara state costs N600 naira. By the time it gets to Onitsha in Anambra State the price isN6000. This is 1000% increase. Goat is sold for N5000 in Sabon –Birni market in Sokoto state but it gets to Lagos and is sold for N16,000 ,that is 320% increase. Basket of tomato goes for N300 in Kano and is sold for N2000 in Abuja that is 667% increase. Between the farmer and the market trader the final cost to the consumer is skyrocketed. I have observed this trend for years and hoped endlessly that the concerned authorities would do something about the greedy middleman and all we hear is usual pontificate about agriculture and the new economic base of Nigeria. If the middleman will reduce his margin on agricultural produce the price of foodstuff will become cheaper and affordable.

The second tyranny of the middleman is that he pays peanuts to farmers. The poor farmer toils all year round and all he gets for a bag of beans is about N3,000 naira and the struggle continues. The compensation is not enough to meet other basic needs of live and the farmer continues in poverty until their ward refuses to take to the vocation of the farmer and rushes to the city in search of what doesn't exist. Any year there is bumper harvest, the farmer is poorest and as such local farmers do not wish for bumper harvest. They prefer moderate harvest because the excess supply during bumper periods further drives down their economic rewards.

The third tyranny of the middleman is the lack of provision of storage facilities. Some of these middlemen are big time multimillionaires and they can never offer advice or assistance to the poor farmer on how to preserve their agricultural products. Tomatoes for instance could be cheap during its season the price goes up during off season. If the middleman could research, assist, advice or help the farmer with community based infrastructure, technique and science of food preservation, there will be price stability all year round. The poor farmer would be assured of steady and stable price. The middleman will have none of these, during harvest period he buys very cheap and during off season he still buys cheap, either way he wins.

The middleman has his own tales to tell. He blames the deplorable condition of roads from the hinterland to the originating cities and then to the final destinations as reasons for the cost inflation. The deplorable road conditions constantly damages the vehicles and at times the haulage spends days on a one-day journey. The need to bribe the security agencies on various check points throughout the journey. From kano to Port Harcourt there are about 100 police check points and the transporter will part with N200 on most of them , if they are stopped by Road Safety Officials or Vehicle Inspectors they will cough out N1000 to continue. The State Veterinary Task Force or more appropriately task force touts will collect N1000 at each boundary. Then they keep aside some money in case they meet armed robbers on the road. The middleman attributes these risks as part of the reason for the exploitation of the farmer.

The flagrant importation of parboiled rice has not helped the local food industry. There are enough rice farms in Abakaliki, Adani in Ebonyi and Anambra States respectively that all they need is infrastructure for sieving stones out of the rice and they could in alliance with other rice producing states feed the nation feed the nation.

In 2003, President Obasanjo inaugurated the cassava revolution, this same theory President Goodluck have recycled. Billions of naira was spent on the cassava campaign. There was no plan on how to store the cassava, no marketing strategy, no export strategy, nothing except go and plant cassava. A lot of farmers invested thousands, millions and hundreds of millions in the cassava theory and the following year their loss was innumerable because the harvest outstripped the demands. Some of these cassava investors are still hiding from the financial institutions that offered them credit facilities till date. This new agricultural jamboree is not the problem of food affordability in Nigeria , it is the middleman. The federal government should address the middleman and the risks faced by the middleman and before we know it the farmer, the middleman and the final consumer will become equal beneficiaries of affordable food supply in Nigeria.

In 2010 the Federal Government introduced N200 billion naira Consumer Agric Credit Scheme. The farmers couldn't access the funds. The part disbursed was given to politicians with the collusion of bank officials. Politicians used the diverted funds to build emergency estates all over the country while others used theirs for other businesses. If the federal government could set up bodies to ensure that loans are given to farmers and not politicians, and offers scientific assistance, marketing and storage assistance to farmers as well as checkmate the middleman then food supply in the nation will equally become affordable.

Obinna Akukwe
Financial/IT consultant.

Obinna Akukwe
Obinna Akukwe, © 2012

The author has 180 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: ObinnaAkukwe

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