In 1999-2002, I was a cabinet member in Katsina State Government. When I was preparing our first budget, I was unsettled by the past trends in government support for agriculture.
Year in year out, 80% of the budget for agriculture went into fertilizers procurement. Knowing the requirements of agriculture as I did then, I felt that I needed to interrogate the tendency to give so much financial support to one need out of 20 clearly identified necessities of the sector.
I appointed consultants to go round farmers all over the state to generate a list of their actual needs. They came back with 20 items. I directed them to return to the farmers for the ranking of those needs from the most to the least important. The outcome shocked me to the marrow of my weak bones.
Fertilizers were ranked #13. Desertification was ranked #1; extension service was #2; market/profitability was #3. Subsidy was not identified as a requisite.
The findings made me to become very interested in the desertification phenomenon. I read a number of reference materials with very authoritative conclusions.
A recurring conclusion drawn from evidences gathered in the field was that OPEN GRAZING was a key factor responsible for destroying 90% of the vegetation cover in Northern Nigeria from 1960 to 2000.
If we can help it, this destructive trend that’s making our environment increasingly hostile to all fauna and flora must be arrested and reversed. It must also not be imported to Southern Nigeria.
I later personally followed up on many practicing farmers and researchers on why desertification was an important factor in agriculture. Both respondents minced no words in affirming that desertification was responsible for the destruction of topsoil which was held to be a major cause of falling farm yield.
((Alhaji Tanimu Yakubu was Special Advisor on Economic Matters to President Umaru Musa Yar’adua)