In this interview, Hajia Halima Lawal, Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture, Kaduna State, talks about the threats posed to food security due to the banditry attacks on farming communities of Kaduna State, the impact of COVID-19 on farming and the efforts of government in tackling these issues.
Question: Before we go into the issue of food security, can you share your experience of the last two months being part of very senior Kaduna State Government officials that were deployed to monitor the entry points into Kaduna State?
Answer: Well, it was interesting helping to enforce the ban on interstate travel in an effort to minimize the spread or the transmission of the coronavirus from some unknown hotspots into the state, in strict compliance with the presidential directives to stop movement of persons across borders. We tried to minimize the movements except for essential travels and I think to a large extent that we succeeded and that’s why you can see that Kaduna is still doing very well in terms of the number of infected persons.
Question: What part of the State did you cover?
Answer: I covered the Kano border. And because we were on rotation I also covered the Katsina border. All borders had their peculiarities. But essentially people were desperate to travel and they resorted to all manners of tricks, treaking through the bushes, or the use of motorbikes, hiding in trucks that are transporting essential goods like food. It was a very interesting engagement, an eye-opener and I think we learnt a lot. Nigeria is very interesting.
Question: Do you agree that Kaduna State is very lucky to have Governor Nasir El-Rufai at the helm of affairs during these critical times. Has he provided Leadership?
Answer: I think Nigeria, not just Kaduna State is very lucky to have Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. He is an exemplary leader, very bold,courageous, honest, and he has integrity. We remain grateful to God that at a very critical time when Nigeria needed leadership,that he gave direction. And even when he came down with the virus he continued to provide guidance to the Task Force headed by the Deputy Governor. He is definitely foresighted, which explains why the COVID-19 Task Force had members drawn from all sectors, because the impact was beyond health.
He is a leader who leads by personal example,just after his discharge he was at the Kano border with Kaduna State. The picture of him climbing the back of the trailer says it all about him. The other quality about him that I admire is his capacity to consult with critical stakeholders. Don’t forget that he was constantly engaging with Kaduna State citizens by holding media briefings. So the answer is a big yes.
Question: So in a sense it was a team work and everyone contributed their quota in keeping the number of infected persons in Kaduna State very low?
Answer: We remain grateful to the Governor and the people of Kaduna State because without their support we wouldn’t have been able to make it.
Question: The issue of food security is critical, especially because Kaduna State is a leading producer in many crops. The Governor has been screaming about the threat posed by the banditry attacks. Where are we?
Answer: The security threats is a national issue, that is not peculiar to Kaduna State and the governor has continued to speak about it, first to raise awareness and to get the relevant authorities to act. He has correctly read the dangers particularly with the COVID-19 that has also worsened the situation. Even if it is one local government or one community that is affected, it affects us all. But sadly, it’s beyond that.
The problem is that the farmers are not be able to go to their farms. So if farmers cannot access their farms of course there will be reduction in production in the areas cultivated. Thankfully the Governor created the Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs and they have been helpful in addressing the issue.
Question:The Minister of Agriculture was here some days back. Did you raise the issue with him?
Answer: He did acknowledge it. And that’s very important because it’s a collective effort.The Governor mentioned it like has at every given opportunity and I think the Minister would take it back with him. He’s quite aware of what is happening but we have a duty to always remind everyone.
Question: According to the Kaduna State Agricultural Structure Survey carried out by the Bureau of Statistics about 1,322,226 families are engaged in farming in Kaduna State. Is this why the Kaduna State Government is taking the threats posed by banditry attacks very seriously. Is the State’s status as number one in the country in the production of maize, rice, guinea corn, soya beans, beans and tomatoes production threatened by these attacks?
Answer: We are also number one in ginger don’t forget that. Despite the security challenges and because it’s something that is international, national, and sub-national in nature, I think we will maintain our position because the threat is also affecting others. We have tried to put pressure in place to ensure that the threats posed are minimized. The Ministry of Internal Security is always available so that anytime there is an issue they can address it immediately and curb it.
Then we are coordinating with other agencies too. So we have been trying to protect the value chain because anything that affects these farming families would affect livelihood because agriculture is a major source of employment. And it can also lead to youth restiveness and affect incomes. It may affect our productivity but I don’t think it would affect our position because like I said production has not stopped.
Question: Now that we are talking about your position, will your Ministry as part of the strategy in terms of mitigating whatever has been lost encourage people to farm things like vegetables in their houses?
Answer: Definitely! We have been doing that and we will continue to encourage people to to use very available space, due to the interlocking tiles, people can use old sack bags, old buckets to grow spinach, Tomatoes, sweet corn, even Okra. It’s part of the nutrition improvement. We are working with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to deepen this.
Question:Do you foresee a situation where prices of foodstuffs will be high next year?
Answer: High prices of food stuffs is usually two ways. When our farmers harvest, are they going to attract good prices for their produce? Or are consumers going to be faced with price hikes? Prices at harvest would be generally lower because the produce will be available There will be surplus in the market. While that might be good for you, it will be bad for our farmers that have worked so hard. So we are making plans, even the Federal Government is working on buying produce from farmers at stabilized prices for two reasons, to make sure they command good price and for the strategic reserve.
Going back to that food security issue, because we don’t know what Post COVID-19 would look like, we can only make projections. But just in anticipation of the unlikely scenario that the borders are still closed because as you know there is a ban on importation, we hope that it would be maintained but for consumers because of our strategic food reserves, there might be some degree of changes in prices. I don’t foresee a hike that would be of too much concern. Well I hope and I pray because we can’t see tomorrow but from what we have seen in our projection there might be just about a slight price difference but hopefully they won’t be too negative.
Question: Still on this issue, farmers haven’t lost much time in terms of late rains, there were warnings about late rains…
Answer: Yes! You know NIMET brought out their Seasonal Rainfall Predictions (SRP) in January this year and we have tried to push that information out to our farmers and the research institute. No they haven’t lost time to be honest and even now some farmers have not started planting, which is good. We will continue to encourage them because this season, the rains will not last long. There will be shorter rains than last year.
The solution is for them to plant early maturing varieties. The agricultural institutes and other partners have tried to make them available. We have made the rain forecast available local government by local government. So, if you are in Kaduna North, you know when to plant. Sanga Local Government would have the longest period of rainfall. The rain would stop around November.
Question: That also brings us to the issue of dry season farming because it would be very critical in 2020.
Answer: We have absolutely no choice. Dry season farming is critical this year. We are already are making plans for the dry season farming especially for wheat, our upland rice, and then our vegetables. We will focus on two or three major crops that are good for dry season and concentrate on them. It would go a long way in supporting our food security policy.
Question: Would the Kaduna Produce Marketing Company play an active role in stabilizing prices or to be in a position to buy and ensure that the farmers get good prices for their products?
Answer: Yes! We expect them to be very active, they are part of the plans we are putting forward. But like you know it’s a private company and Kaduna State is just a shareholder. But we expect the company to participate actively in stabilizing prices for farmers. It’s part of the plan.
Question: The Kufana Dam; it’s like a waste in my opinion. What plans do you have to put it to use?
Answer: The Kufana Dam was developed by the State government. So, there is an irrigation project there and of course COVID-19 has made compulsory for us to fully take advantage of our assets. We do not have a choice. So, it’s all part of our plans for the dry season farming. We need to take full advantage of every dam that we have. Even the Federal Ministry of Agriculture is looking at their own projects that they can revamp.
The R-Grid Tree project which would through special mapping reveal the coordinates of all the body of waters in the state has been affected by the pandemic. We would have carried it out in June. It’s an important project that once things are clear,we will implement.