By Oteheri Akinruntan
Land, which is central to the economy, social and political spheres of community, society, and the nation at large is regarded as a crucial asset. It is the most important economic resource, most particularly for developing countries with a largely rural population and most people earn their living through agriculture. It has remained the most important factor of production since the creation of man and a fundamental factor of production in the agricultural sector all over the world. It provides a basis for crop production in Nigeria as a whole and Abia State in particular.
There has been some anecdotal evidence that smallholder farmers in the crop value chain in Southern Nigeria do not have adequate access to arable land for increased production. The evidence shows that differences in land access of smallholders are large, resulting in significant differences in production, income, and wealth. Instances where they are allowed to expand their farming practices, then they are allocated land in virgin forests, and consequently faced with the challenge of the high cost of clearing and preparing the land for cultivation.
In Abia State, farming households, whose livelihood is partly or entirely dependent on agriculture and based on a traditional production system, land plays a pivotal role in shaping and directing livelihoods. In most communities in the State, the land is, therefore, the basis of agriculture production and the most important production factor for farmers. It is the most important asset, particularly in poor communities where wealth and survival are measured by control, and access to land.
Secured access to productive land is critical to thousands of poor living in rural areas of Abia State and who depend on agriculture, livestock, and forest for their livelihood. It will reduce their vulnerability to hunger and poverty; influence their capacity to invest in their productive activities and the sustainable management of their resources; enhance their prospects for better livelihood and helps them to develop more equitable relations with the rest of their society, thus contributing to peace and sustainable development. Irrespective of these, evidence shows that the land size and productivity per a given plot are decreasing in Abia State whereas, the needs to satisfy household demand are increasing which could be explained with fundamental economic questions about production and population. This paradox leads to the question of how the farm households meet their demands under limited and declining trends in productivity while ensuring sustainable land-use systems.
The issue of land use and associated natural resources are some of the pressing socio-economic problems in Abia State. These issues stem from deep-rooted traditional systems of assessing land access and use combined with livelihood activities associated with other surrounding natural resources. Also, in the State, access to land emanated from the traditional open regime. Here, increasing demand for land, formalization process of rural ownership, and access occurring since decades of long-standing traditions of agricultural extensification practices. Consequently, smallholder farmers in Abia have experienced unwise population induced agricultural intensification practices, resulting in decreasing land productivity.
A recent study on farm level determinants, of access to land by arable farmers, in IKWUANO Local government area of Abia State, used multi-staged sampling techniques to examine eighty crop farmers from four communities, It found that communal land ownership and male dominance were identified as a major constraint to access to land for arable crop farming. The study showed that the majority of the lands for arable crop farming are owned or acquired through inheritance. Other factors accounting for inadequate access to land for arable farming are interrelated and include;
The study recommended the strengthening of relevant institutions to enable farmers to access required land for arable crop farming without gender without disparity.
Agriculture is the mainstay of Abia State’s economy and given that a considerable percentage of the farmers are smallholders, a lot more needs to be done to expand the sector. Based on the identified constraints to accessing land for smallholder farmers, the policy focus should recognize, in the first instance, agricultural-based livelihood strategies and activities of smallholders and the implication of land use. The recommended policy direction to consider are :
 See Onya S.C, Ugochukwu G.C and Ejiba I.V; “Farm level determinat of access to land by arable crop farmers in Ikwuano Local Government Area of Abia State”: Agro-Science Journal of Tropical Agriculture, Food, Environment and Extension. Vol 18 Number 1 (January 2019) Pg 50-55.
Oteheri Akinruntan is a member of PIND Foundation’s Advocacy Team