South West: Shortage of farm labourers threatens good harvest
Farmers, especially those in the Southwest have begun to raise concern over shortage of farm hands, which they fear could precipitate low harvest.
The Guardian learnt that in the next four to five months, prices of food items would increase across board, due to dwindling cultivation capacity of farmers, in the absence of tractors.
It was learnt that the challenge has been persistent over the years, but worsened late last year when most of the labourers travelled home for the just concluded general elections.
With the commencement of the planting season, hectares of land are now left fallow since the farm hands have not returned.
From investigations, farmers who previously could get services of 10 labourers are currently finding it difficult to get just two.
“The major challenge facing us now is that people are not willing to work on the farm anymore, a development that will affect crop production and inadvertently food availability. I had a total of 35 labourers in my farm, but now I struggle to get just five, no doubt the challenge will reduce food production. At the initial stage, they told us they’ll be available when the election was over, now they are telling farmers that they cannot work for now because it’s almost half of the planting year,” Prince Wale Oyekoya, the Managing Director/CEO of Bama Farms, Lagos, said.
He said: “If tractors and other machineries are available for farmers’ use in this type of situation, it would have been a different ball game, but we have been left to rely solely on farm hands and now they are not available. In the next four to five months, there will be scarcity of food, mark my words. This is because there is a limit to what one can do as a farmer when you don’t have enough staff.”
Oyekoya disclosed that as rich as Lagos State is, “there is no single bulldozer for farmers to hire, go to the Ministry of Agriculture and verify, you can even confirm from the Commissioner. The state can only boast of four tractors, provided by FADAMA for farmers in the entire state. If you go to the North, almost each of the Local Governments has at least a tractor to assist farmers and boost agriculture.
“Ogun State would have been another better state, but the strategy adopted by government has not helped in any way. Without agriculture, we are nothing in this country. We have food crisis in our hands, but people in government are not feeling the impact. Go to the markets and do the pricing, especially in the dry season, the price will increase tremendously. Take the issue of cucumber and other crops predominantly cultivated in the North for example, they are always very expensive during dry season because we are not doing irrigation in the Southwest.”
The Guardian investigations in Ogun State revealed that a good number of the farm hands who were over the years very useful to the farmers have now become commercial motorcyclists, preferring to have daily good returns, instead of working in the farms.
Wife of one of the labourers, who reside in Arigbajo, Ogun State claimed most of the farmlands they cultivated have been turned to residential areas.
For those who were always engaged on yearly on contract, it was learnt that they left en mass for the elections and are yet to return, leaving a large pool of farmers stranded.
A farmer in Oyo State, Oluronbi Josiah disclosed to The Guardian that the farm hands have stopped coming from other ECOWAS countries, due to the low naira exchange rate, making farming less lucrative.
He said: “Majority of the labourers come from Togo, Benin and Ghana to work as farm labourers for one year. Aside the stipend for their daily upkeep, they are usually paid at the end of the year, which they convert to their home currencies.
“But due to the decline in the value of the naira, it was no longer economically viable for them to continue with the job, as most of them now prefer to stay in their countries and look for alternative means of survival.
A farmer based in Ogun State, Mr. Sunday Abati confirmed that labourers are now very hard to come by in the state, noting that those who are lucky to find some, are paying wages at least twice the old rate.
He said the development would affect agricultural production in the state by about 50 per cent.
Josiah and Abati appealed to government to assist farmers with necessary machineries, in order to phase out manual labour.
They challenge Southwest governments to invest in agriculture, like their counterparts in the north, rather than paying lips service to the sector, like they are currently doing.
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