The recent blockade of food items by northern food suppliers to the southern part of the country, which lasted for about a week, has thought the country a lesson. More than ever before, there is urgent need to boost food production and reserves across the country so that no part of the country will hold the rest to ransom on account of food supply or no disaster will cause food scarcity.
The cattle and foodstuff dealers under the aegis of Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria (AFUCDN) stopped food supply to the South on account of their losses during the EndSARS protests and the recent ethnic clashes in Oyo State. AFUCDN also demanded N475million compensation from the federal government. It was the failure of the government to meet their demand that necessitated the food supply strike.
For days, the blockade of food supplies prevented members of the union from transporting livestock and food items from the North to the South. The strike led to increase in prices of some food items, such as tomato, onions, rice, beans and livestock. Data from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed that while the blockade lasted, food inflation recorded between 20 and 35 per cent in some states.
It is, therefore, a welcome development that the ban has been lifted. However, we believe that the issue should not be used to score a political mileage as some political actors want to use it to achieve. Those engaging in restriction of food supply to the South should also understand that the South can also restrict the supply of certain items to them. Playing politics with food and other items will definitely lead the country to nowhere.
Moreover, no part of the country is so sufficient that it will meet its needs alone. Therefore, it is worth pointing out that we are all interdependent. The North needs the South as much as the South needs the North.
However, the food strike will serve as a wake-up call on the southern states to pay serious attention to the development of agriculture and boosting of food security in the country. Good enough, every state in the country has enough land to deepen agriculture. They also have enough space to embark on animal husbandry and water for fish farming.
As the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, rightly noted at the launch of the wet season harvest aggregation and 2021 dry season input in Zauro, Kebbi State recently, it is time for the country to start immediately to build its own food reserves to avoid unforeseen circumstances.
We agree with him that aggressive food production has become more imperative now than before. It requires the support of all the stakeholders to sustain the apex bank’s efforts to boost agricultural production to meet the demands of the nation’s growing population.
Following the food blockade, it is cheering that some state governments have unveiled measures to promote food security in their domains.
The country has really paid dearly for years of neglect of the agricultural sector due to the discovery of crude oil. Therefore, every state of the federation must prioritise agriculture.
The food blockade should also serve as a clarion call for the federal and state governments to increase their budgetary allocations to agriculture and agro-allied sectors. Developing the agricultural sector will invariably provide employment opportunities, enhance Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and reduce urban migration. There should be a collective effort by all the states to ensure food sufficiency in the country.
With adequate production of food, we believe that the recent reported soaring of food prices would be a thing of the past. No doubt, the current inflation and rise in food prices can be traced to the economy that is struggling to recover from the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the food supply chain. The situation is worsened by the increase in Value Added Tax (VAT), electricity and petrol price hikes, and the recent upward exchange rate adjustments by the CBN to ease pressure on the market.
All of these fiscal and monetary policy measures have had their toll on food prices. Added to this is the worsening insecurity across the country that has adversely affected farm produce. Therefore, government should do more to tackle insecurity so that farmers can return to the farms. Additionally, there should be a deliberate policy to promote large-scale mechanised agriculture.