Addressing years of neglect to 264 dams spread across Nigeria presents the prospect of impactful year-round irrigation, an increase in farm production and a lowering of food prices, as households grapple with soaring costs of daily needs.

The incursion of militant insurgents onto farms in the North and widespread farmer-herder crisis would, however, have to be resolved for optimum outcomes.

This is as the country’s inflation increased to 29.90 per cent in January 2024 from 28.92 per cent recorded in December 2023 amid rising food prices, according to latest data by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The NBS report said these increases were observed in food and non-alcoholic beverages, housing, water, electricity, gas, and other fuel, clothing and footwear, and transport.

Meanwhile, windows to increasing food production and lowering prices are indicated in better attention to the nation’s 264 dams which are currently poorly applied to crop irrigation.

Properly addressing ongoing farmer-herder conflicts and the encroachment of insurgents on farms, for which fresh strategies have been mapped out but largely ignored, hold further prospects.

“Farmers in Nigeria have been impacted by the lack of access to water to the extent that there is no real enabling environment for sustainable all-year-round agricultural production in the entire country,” said Ibrahim Kabiru, national president, All Farmers Association of Nigeria.

Despite the push for increased local food production, most dams across the country are still dysfunctional and irrigation schemes are not working, Kabiru said.

Experts say Nigeria’s several dams will boost food production, lower prices and reduce dependency on food imports if properly serviced and managed.

They say that food production would increase geometrically, as cultivation and harvesting could be conducted as much as three times a year, especially as most crops grown in the country, including maize, beans, tomatoes, plantains and other fruits, vegetables and varieties of legumes, mature in three months.

All of these would take nine months, while the remaining nine months of the year would be applied to harvesting, processing, marketing, planning and resting.

They add that dams that provide irrigation year-round would further attract investment into mechanised farming and food processing from home and abroad, as well as create jobs and encourage foreign exchange earnings from food and other farm produce exports.

Furthermore, they say, there would then be opportunities and incentives for increased levels of fish farming.

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“The farmers will be better served by improvement in the utilisation of existing dams than even building new ones,” Kabiru said.

Nigeria has a total of 264 dams with a combined storage capacity of 33 BCM of water for multipurpose uses, of which 210 are owned by the Federal Government, 34 by the states, and 20 are owned by private organisations, according to the Federal Ministry of Water Resources.

Chief Executive Officer of X-Ray Farms, AfricanFarmer Mogaji, said that majority of the few operating river basins cannot access water because most of their canals have been blocked by sand such that the water flowing through for farmers has been reduced by more than half.

Industry watchers say while this problem can be quickly and cheaply resolved by basic servicing, the benefits are immense.

“There are river basins shut out from thousands of acres of farmlands because the people did not desilt it, and these are concrete canals that just need to be desilted,” said Mogaji.

“Some dams also need funding as they have some of their parts collapsed,” he noted.

Mogaji also said that budgetary allocations to water resources for maintenance of canals are trimmed at the Senate because the people occupying the ministry seats are usually not experts, players, or professionals.

A document on the Federal Ministry of Water Resources’ website states that the country’s irrigation land potential is about 3.1 million hectares out of which only 150,000 hectares have been developed.

Managing Director, AquaShoots Limited, Abiodun Olorundero, said that most of the dams in the South-West region are not functioning.

“I have visited between three to four dams that are not active. The Oyan dam in Ogun State is only active for fishing activities and I wonder who gets the returns on such activities,” Olorundero said.

“It’s obvious the government and its personnel can’t manage this infrastructure. So, there should be a proper bidding process for private investment with the capacity to run an efficient water process to add value to agriculture and human existence,” he said.

To boost local food production, experts say the mismanagement, embezzlement, and corruption in the country’s agriculture must first be tackled head-on before the country can attain food security.