By UbongAbasi Ise
“There is no humiliation more than abusive hunger” – Pranab Mukherjee
The rising scale of hunger ravaging the land has not only peaked misery, it has also helped in confirming the age-long conclusion that food is the most basic of all human needs. It shows that without food in the stomach, every other thing else could wait. When a man is in the clutch of severe starvation, then his head loses its balance, and his thoughts decline to the plane akin to lower animals whose yearning for survival is conditioned solely by sheer wants of food. With food cravings, a man’s socio-political activities are slowed down, or outrightly put off till his desire for food is satiated. In this respect, what mass hunger could do to a society is to gradually recede its civilization to Thomas Hobbes’s original state of nature in Leviathan where life was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
There is, unarguably, food crisis across Nigeria in varying degree. No place in the country is probably free from the threat of food insecurity to say the least. In Akwa Ibom State, the situation is worse. Hunger becomes alarming and cruel. Staple food as common as garri is no longer within the reach of the common people. In Uyo, between two to three cups of garri are being sold at N200 as against eight cups that used to be sold at that same rate in less than two years ago. Today, breadwinners are exasperated as it becomes complete ‘Labours of Hercules’ to feed their families with garri and other related cassava food items. Recently, when I was carrying out a market survey on the cost of food items at Akpan Andem Market for our weekend magazine, I stumbled on a middle-aged man who stared dejectedly at a nylon bag containing garri which, to his reckoning, did not deserve the price he paid for. With eight children and a wife under his belt, the man confided in me that he, more often than not, would starve himself in order to make food go round in his household. He said sometimes he would feel like fleeing the family, but for the fear of God, he has to endure with the hope that things would return to normalcy. I found this man belonging to thousands of families that are in a fix of food crisis, facing the horror of survival each day. Indeed, most families manage to eat out of blind luck. Given the crisis proportions food shortage has assumed, no one could tell how many breadwinners have already abandoned their families and bail.
In Akwa Ibom State, there is increase proclivity to heist and beggary. Common people are suffering greatly. The situation is pathetic.
But right now, people are instinctively recoiling from deleterious touch of hunger. Once again, people are returning to farms in droves. Out of hunger, they are planting for the hell of it. Lessons have been learnt, and people have stopped looking up to government for economic recovery. Our landscapes are now dotted with cassava and yam mounds coupled with tendrils and pumpkin vines. Meeting recently with Prof. Trenchard Ibia, former Commissioner for Agriculture and erstwhile Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Administration) in University of Uyo, he noted that this year’s planting is overwhelming. He had visited his hometown lately, and was impressed with the increase in farming activities. But from his interaction with the farmers, Prof. Ibia said their unequivocal response was that they have nothing to gain from the government, and that they are on their own. The erudite professor further confessed that at Abak, few days ago, he had stumbled upon heaps of cassava cuttings and he was begging the owners to spare him some, but they were reluctantly giving him one each. This shows how serious the business of agriculture has fast become. It shows that Akwa Ibom people have keyed into the spirit of Dakkada in agriculture ahead of the very government that propagated the philosophy.
If the government of Akwa Ibom state under Mr. Udom Emmanuel is earnest about agriculture, then why is it that a common man now pays N200 to 3 cups of garri? Why are the prices of staple food items skyrocketed to alarming high levels, beyond the reach of the poor people? Why is the much talked about agriculture revolution not concretized in the lives of the common masses? If the government has really emphasized food sufficiency, and the masses see no result, then what is that missing link?
It is absolutely regrettable that Akwa Ibom with favourable soil and climatic requirements for cassava cultivation is picking crumbs from other states to feed her citizens. Akwa Ibom soil texture is largely friable, and the temperature is ranging from 210c to 350c, while average rainfall stands between 150cm to 200cm. With this statistics, Akwa Ibom State has all its takes to comfortably produce cassava that are sufficient to feed all the people within its geographical confines, and still become a net exporter of cassava produce.
One thumb cannot squeeze a louse. Since people have let go their recreant attitude to agriculture, the time is apt for government to follow with sound agricultural policy. Government officials should note that sententious remarks on agriculture at different fora are becoming platitudinous and insipid. Government agricultural programmes, over time, have been cleverly, but sadly manipulated to suit the interest of those who control the system. At the recent sensitization workshop held at University of Uyo by South South Zone of Nigerian Soil Health Consortium, Mr. David Bassey, an agro Input Services Dealer, stressed that up till now no government policy has been decided on agriculture. If government actually lacks clear-cut policy to direct agricultural activities in the state, then agro output would continue to remain in erratic motion.
There is glimmer of hope anyway. The state Technical Committee on Agriculture and Foods Sufficiency is making plans to organize international workshop for acceptable agro policy. It is time to formulate appropriate policies that would help the state grow her agriculture with all that are available. Nigerian Soil Health Consortium, South-South zone, which constituted several agro experts and real farmers, should be co-opted into government schemes on agriculture, if not for anything, but for the assessment of soil suitability and soil health management.
Yes! I am UbongAbasi Ise. For Comment, send SMS to 08189914609