By Emeka Nwokocha
As food security continues to attract global attention, a coalition of Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), under the aegis of Budget Committee Group (BCG), promoting sustainable growth in the agricultural sector of Delta State, has called on Delta State government to increase its budgetary allocation to agriculture, to boost productivity in the sector and achieve food security.
The call was made at a Press Conference held at ENVIRUMEDIC office, organised by BCG and ENVIRUMEDIC in collaboration with Smallholder Women Farmers Network (SHOWFAN) and Small Scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria, with support from ActionAid Nigeria.
The conference was anchored on salient objectives – to bring to public domain the findings of the analysed Delta State agricultural budget analysis; to draw attention of government and the general public to the impact of covid-19 on the activities of Smallholder Women Famers Organisation in Delta State; to make recommendations on the strategies to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on food security in Delta State; and suggest strategies to cushion the post impact of Covid-19 on small-scale women famers in Delta State.
Presenting the findings in a 4-page document, Chief Monday Itoghor, CEO, ENVIRUMEDIC and National Coordinator of BCG, expressed delight that with huge support from ActionAid Nigeria, the BCG has remained committed to its advocacy to ensure the government of Delta State increases budgetary allocation to agriculture sector, in line with the Malabo Declaration (2014), which recommends 10 per cent annual budgetary allocation to agriculture.
He emphasised importance of the agricultural sector in the overall development of the state and well-being of the people, noting that more funds needed to be allocated to the sector to actualize the governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s trumpeted diversification programme and food sufficiency mantra.
The document reads as follows, “as an organization working on budgets and budgetary allocations, including eradication of poverty, promoting social justice and gender equality, we deem it fit to draw the attention of the Delta State Government to the paltry allocations to agriculture in the 2020 fiscal year, including non-participation of Smallholder Women Farmers in the budgetary process in the state.”
The document also stated that allocation to agriculture in the 2020 budget was 3,511,076,019, representing 0.89% of the entire budget of 395,475,393,669 – a far cry from the 10 per cent Malabo declaration in 2014, and noted that poor funding of agriculture would make achieving critical elements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as: End Poverty – SDG1; Zero Hunger and Food Security – SDG2; Good Health and Well-Being – SDG3, very difficult.
On the ravaging novel Covid-19 pandemic, the NGOs commended the Delta state government and all stakeholders for their contributions towards containing the spread of the deadly virus in the state.
However, they expressed concern about the difficulties the Smallholder Women Farmers encountered during the lockdown, noting that farmers were unable to transport their products from their farms to the markets in the rural and urban communities. Continuing, the NGOs identified the multiplier effects of the lockdown to include huge losses in staple foods such as cassava, maize, potatoes, yams, including vegetables and fishes.
“Before the advent of Covid-19, Smallholders Women Farmers had difficulties accessing credit, essential inputs, improved seeds and seedlings, organic and non-organic fertilizers, but currently, the spread of Covid-19 has heightened the challenges, and this portends grave consequence with food crisis already looming in the state and the country,” the NGOs stated.
On the spike in prices of foodstuff resulting from the lockdown, the NGOs said, “there is food crisis in the country currently as the poor and vulnerable, including Smallholder Women Farmers contend with hunger and malnutrition. This is worsened by the security agencies and taskforce enforcing lockdown in the states, who were bent on harassing and extorting money from smallholder farmers as they transport their produce to the markets.”
Fielding questions from journalists, Chief Itoghor, said that during the lockdown, ENVIRUMEDIC and the NGO partners of the Budget Committee Group, were involved in the activities of the National coalition known as “Covid-19 Emergency Intervention Group” which embarked on human rights violations monitoring exercise, even as he noted various degrees of extortion of money from food stuffs traders mostly women by security operatives. Continuing, Chief Itoghor said, “following the sudden rise in prices of foodstuffs resulting from the lockdown, the group also embarked on advocacy visits to the Nigeria Union of Journalists office in Warri and Ughelli, including the Chairmen of Uvwie and Isoko north local government areas, to intimate them of the hardship being caused by the sudden increase in prices of foodstuffs. Consequently, our intervention triggered the action taken in those Councils including Warri South LGA that reverted the prices of foodstuffs, especially garri to the normal rate.
In the same vein, Mrs. Ayo Okotie, and Mrs. Rachael Misan-Ruppee, bemoaned the high-handedness of the security operatives during the lockdown, saying such unprofessional practices were not unconnected with the hike in the prices of foodstuffs during the lock-down, even as they imagined the bout of humiliation the poor farmers and foodstuffs sellers would have suffered in the hands of security operatives during the lockdown.
Commenting on the Civil Society Organisations’ (CSOs) position on the passing into law by Delta State House of Assembly, the Bill for the establishment of the Delta Internal Revenue Service Board without subjecting it to Public Hearing, Chief Itoghor, described the development as unfortunate, saying that the failure of the state’s House of Assembly to avail the public an opportunity of making an input to the proposed bill before making it a law, was undemocratic. He added that the CSOs would take a decision on the development in the days coming and would react to the matter accordingly.
Speaking on the bill, Pastor Edewor Egedegbe, carpeted the Delta State House of Assembly for making a mockery of legislation, asserting that the CSOs would prevail on governor Ifeanyi Okowa not to give assent to the bill, describing it as anti-Deltans.
“We will resist the bill with all strength. As coalition of NGOs in BCG, we will take a firm stand on it. The bill is an aberration that must not stand. We must take a frontal position to confront Delta state government and the House of Assembly,” he stated.
The NGOs presented 13-point recommendations to the government of Delta State, to avert looming food crisis resulting from Covid-19 pandemic which include the following:
Increase in allocation to agriculture in compliance with the Maputo Declaration of 10% total budgetary allocation to agriculture annually;
Prompt release of Agriculture Sector Allocations to the MDAs as agriculture activities are time bound;
Smallholder Women Farmers and other stakeholders should be actively involved in budgetary process;
Smallholders Women Farmers’ activities should be supported by the government through increased budgetary allocation, as they produce over 60% of the food consumed in the state;
Government should come up with clear policy intervention to ensure food sustained local production of food as the Covid-19 pandemic rages;
Smallholder Farmers should be exempted from movement restriction order, so they can go to their farms and transport their produce to the market;
Agriculture extension agents should be exempted from movement restriction order, so they can provide extension services support to the farmers while maintaining physical distancing and other precautionary measures;
Smallholder Women Famers should e provided with agricultural insurance service as the outcome of a recent research by AAN indicates that the impact of government agricultural insurance (GAI) provision over the years to women farmers was very poor in Nigeria;
Social Protection (Unconditional or Conditional Cash Transfer) must be provided to farmer and farm workers who are forced to leave their field and are not able to take their goods to the market;
Grants, credits, essential inputs, early maturing livestock, improved seed and seedlings, and fertilizers should be provided for smallholder farmers to avert the looming food crisis;
Agro ecology for climate change adaptation, mitigation, and sustainable food production should be supported, promoted, and funded by the government at all levels;
Provision of facemasks, hand gloves, sanitizers, and access to clean water for famers across Nigeria should be prioritized and included in the national response on Covid-19;
The security agencies and taskforces, both at the states, local, and community levels should be directed to stop harassment and extortion of famers specially women;
The network of Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) that constitute members of the BUDGET Committee Group (BCG) include the following: Environmental and Rural Mediation Centre (ENVIRUMEDIC); Development Initiative for Community Impact (DICI); Hand 2 Help International Foundation (H2H); Value Rebirth and Empowerment Initiative (VREI); The Healthy Real Initiative for Value Entrepreneurship (THRIVE); Initiative for Peace and Stability (IPAS); Nigeria association Evaluator (NAE); One Love Community Development (CDPPI); Rural Women and Youth Initiative (RUWYAN); Eco Assurance & Rural Transformation Centre (Eco Trace); Society For Scorecard Initiative (SSI); Women Initiative for Values Empowerment and Sustainability International (WIVES INT.); Community Development Advocacy Foundation (CODAF); Riverine Community Health Organization; Life stream Care international initiative; and Africa Center for Environmental and Rural Development.