Boosting food productivity per hectare through intensive agricultural practices has been described by agricultural scientists and technologists as the most potent way of revving up food production without much disruption to the ecosystem.
This follows moves around the world to tame deforestation as a major factor responsible for global warming and climate change.
Extensive agricultural practices have been pinpointed as a major driver opening up more forests for farmland, and in the process causing deforestation and fuelling climate change.
But scientists have said, through various experiments and researches, that food productivity is possible without unnecessary opening up of more forests. Some scientists advocate agroforestry, where economic trees are intercropped with food crops while maintaining the forest biodiversity.
Access of farmers to improved and high-yielding planting materials such as seeds and seedlings, use of fertiliser and maximisation of plant population, as well as other crop cultivation technologies would ensure great harvests.
Improved planting materials could cost farmers some resources, but yields would make it more economical than recycling disease-infested and low-yielding varieties that most farmers cultivate year-in year-out. Improved varieties of cowpea, sorghum, maize, rice, yam and plantain have developed by Nigerian grain breeders and are available at agricultural research institutes such as International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T) Ibadan and Institute of Agricultural Research, Samaru, Zaria and other national institutes.
Fertiliser also helps farmers to maximise yield per hectare, but its application among small-scale and resource-poor farmers in Nigeria is very low. Hence, calls have been made to the government at all levels to subsidise fertiliser for real farmers through their associations.
On this, President of the All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr Ibrahim Kabir, said to get inputs such improved varieties, fertiliser, and agro-chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides and others to real farmers, associations of farmers should be carried along.
Again, farm mechanisation makes it possible for commercial farm operation, as most active farmers in the country cultivate an average of one hectare as they practise labour-intensive land preparation, planting and weeding. The manual operations limit their capacity and productivity.
Assistant Director at the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM), Mr Tope Faleye, said increasing productivity of farmers and ensuring food security are unrealisable without robust farm mechanisation scheme to help farmers, as younger generations of Nigerians no longer take interest in farming.
Shortage of labour, he added, necessitates deployment of tractors and other modern farm implements for food production.
As the raining and planting season begins, maximising the use of improved inputs, good agricultural practices, food production technologies and technical know-how, they added, would guarantee greater yields, food sufficiency and greater multiplier effects in the value chains.
Corroborating this recently, Group Executive Director, Strategy, Capital Projects and Portfolio Development of Dangote Industries Limited, Edwin Devakumar, said Nigeria is one of the countries with the lowest application of fertiliser, hence, low productivity.
“Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa are to be the food baskets of the world. These are parts of the world having a lot of water, and good arable lands. But then, farming has been neglected. I came to Nigeria, and everybody abandoned farming. How many farmers are in business today? The real issue is that farming has become unsustainable,” he had said.
Giving reasons for unsustainability of farming in Nigeria, Devakumar said Nigerians are very resourceful not only in Nigeria, but in every part of the world, but the reason why they abandoned farming was that they found it not sustainable because of low yield.
He argued that “when farmers see that some people make money from where they have abandoned, they will come back.”
Executive Director, National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), Dr Sunday Aladele, said for small-scale farmers to get more productive with fewer hectares of land they cultivate, they should get better varieties of seeds.
He pointed out that improved varieties could double or triple their productivity.
Another factor, he said, centres on proper crop management such as weed control, use of herbicides, insecticides and application of fertiliser or compost manure. With these, he insisted, farmers could increase food productivity without expanding land under cultivation.