An agriculturist, Mr Chekwube Nwana, says the empowerment of local communities will facilitate the fulfilment of the Federal Government’s plans to fight poverty and food shortage in the country.

Nwana, the former Supervisor for Agriculture, Oji River Local Government Council, Enugu State, said this in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja on Thursday.

He underscored the need to initiate economic empowerment programmes such as revolving loan schemes for smallholder farmers so as to prime them to partake more meaningfully in efforts to improve their local economies.

“This revolving micro-credit scheme, involving interest-free loans, will empower the farmers to undertake small-scale projects such as bee-keeping, poultry, palm produce processing and snail farming, among others.

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“This will improve the local economies; it will also help to divert the attention of the farmers and other residents of rural neighbourhoods from engaging in indiscriminate tree-felling for their firewood businesses, thereby reducing deforestation and its attendant effects.

“With the sustained repayment of the loans, other members of the communities would be able to benefit from the scheme and they would have sustainable alternative means of livelihood within the next five to seven years.’’

However, Nwana stressed that urgent measures should be taken to address the hardship facing most farmers, particularly as the farming season was fast-approaching.

He said that the failure of the government to initiate practical strategies to boost food production could worsen the current food shortage, cause hunger and prolong the country’s dependence on food imports.

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“We need to support and empower the livelihood systems of farmers and pastoralists not only for today, but for tomorrow and the years to come, and this calls for long-term capacity building efforts,’’ he said.

Nwana said that the government ought to give agriculture priority attention, as over 80 per cent of the country’s population relied on crop growing, fishing and livestock farming for their livelihoods.

“We need to raise awareness on how we should strengthen our responses to the challenges facing small-scale farmers.

“The first priority to ending hardship and poverty is by supporting local communities to consolidate their little farming processes, while responding to humanitarian emergencies at the same time,’’ he said.

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Nwana said that the government should launch economic empowerment programmes for the residents of rural communities in order to satisfy their critical short-term needs.

“But this is only the initial step to reverse the current trend toward the depletion of livelihoods and consequent human suffering in the local communities.

“A holistic approach is needed to tackle the main drivers of hunger — limited food production and high food prices,’’ he added.

He, however, warned that the lack of access to basic social services like health, water, education and social protection could jeopardise the well-being of millions of people living in the rural areas. (NAN)