Some stakeholders in the agricultural sector have asked the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in the sector. They feel that something drastic needs to be done now to stave off the impending food crisis threatening the country.
The concerned stakeholders are alarmed that if no action is taken now, the country might not be able to feed itself in future.
This fear is coming on the heels of the emerging signs of food crisis, which shows in rising food prices.
According to Mrs Damilola Oyelesi, a petty trader in Lagos, “the average tuber of yam now costs N1,200, yet it is not enough for a family of four. Some big ones sell for N1,500.
“We have not seen a thing like this before.”
Also, Mrs Ijeoma Igwenekwu, a house wife and petty trader, lamented the skyrocketing food prices in the Lagos market.
“Right now, a paint bucket full of yellow garri costs N1,200, up from N400. A Derica (measure) of local rice now costs N500, while that of foreign rice costs more.
“Not long before now, I used to buy five litters of cooking oil for N2,800, but it goes for N4,500.
“I don’t understand how we can survive this situation. Things are getting worse every day,” she also lamented.
Weeks ago it emerged that the Federal Government has borrowed 5,000 metric tons of food from the ECOWAS food reserve.
While some stakeholders believe that the move would help to stabilise the rising cost of food in the market, others insisted that the move portends danger and distress.
In the face of this emerging food crisis, President Muhammadu Buhari at the recent National Food Security Council meeting in Abuja, while emphasising the need to increase food production in the country, scored his administration highly in food production.
“In the last five years, we have recorded notable achievements. Despite the decline in GDP by 6.1 per cent in Q2 of 2020 as a direct result of Coronavirus, the agricultural sector continued to grow because of government targeted policies,” the president said.
But, Dr Mohammed Ndaji Ishaq, president, Agricultural Society of Nigeria is unhappy that all government policies were yielding little result, regretting that the decline in food production is manifesting in government going out to borrow food.
“The 5,000 metric tons of food Nigeria borrowed from ECOWAS is not the best for the country.
“Rather than going to ECOWAS to look for food, it is ECOWAS countries that ought to come here for assistance. If we are taking food from Niger, Chad which we are suppose to assist, that means we are finished. That is what is happening. “Imagine a family in which the younger brothers are the ones feeding their elder one. That family is finished.
“It is not that we don’t have the initiative to attain food sufficiency. But our major problem is lack of implementation of good policies. For example, we have dams in the country we can use for irrigation and double our cropping. If we do that, honestly our farmers stand to reap bumper harvest in season and out of season; but no one is committed to these things. We just have agricultural programmes, Anchor Borrowers’ scheme, this one and that one, yet we get little in terms of output. These programmes are meant to boost food production, yet we are not seeing anything. It is because the policies we make are not followed up to the letter and the right persons are not put in the right places. There is no monitoring, yet a lot of money is going down the drain. It is only where we have little monitoring that we see little result. Look at rice production in Kebbi State for instance. The Kebbi example shows us that we can do more given the irrigation facilities in the country.
“We have a lot of vast arable land; they are good for cropping rice, maize among other crops; we can talk of feeding small countries around us, rather than going to borrow food from them.”
While regretting that the country has found itself at crossroads he said: “This is not good for us. This trend is weakening our spirit and our purse. This is because the government that is supposed to give the farmers all the support they need, is going elsewhere to borrow food. So, what is the need? Those who have the ability to produce food are not getting the right support; it is not good for the country. We ought to face agriculture with the right spirit and right intention given the kind of land that is available to us. It was done in Kebbi. If the Kebbi example is replicated in other areas, we should have sufficient food to feed us and have reserve. With that, there won’t be any increase in food prices; we will even be able to export our produce.”
Dr Isaq wants the Federal Government to consider declaring an emergency in the agricultural sector to ginger massive farming.
“If declaring a state of emergency in the agric sector will help to boost our food production that will be good.
“Often, people say our population is contributing to the scarcity we are experiencing, but I say no. Look at China with its high population, yet its people are well fed. India is another. These countries have good agricultural policies that are working; once we have that, we will make it; we will take care of our population.
“Sadly, I have not seen good implementation of agricultural policies anywhere in this country. All we keep hearing is large sums of money being dished out by the Central Bank of Nigeria. But if such funds are properly channeled towards food production, checkmating insecurity, and boosting employment, we will witness massive food production. If we have good policy implementation, our worries will be less.”
Similarly, Ihechukwu Dallas Chima, managing director, Food Works Africa Ltd, wants the Federal Government to pronounce a state of emergency in the agricultural sector. In an encounter with our reporter, he said: “I think government should declare a state of emergency in the agricultural sector. It is urgent. This will help to manage the issue of farmers-herders’ crisis. Farmers want their land, herders want grazing areas for their cattle. So, we need to sit down and discuss how the farmers and herders would co-exit. We need to see what plans can be made to ensure that the business of one does not negatively affect the other. It is a critical decision so that we don’t experience serious food insecurity in the coming days.”
Ihechukwu believes that the 5,000 metric tons of food borrowed by the government was a strategic move, while admitting that food prices were on the rise.
“It was a welcomed development by the Federal Government. The move will stabilise the prices of food in the country.
“The way food prices are skyrocketing nowadays is creating instability in the value chain. As a matter of fact, it will ensure that when the borrowed food comes in, food prices will stabilise, inflation will be stemmed. If there is food stability, inflation will come down to a single digit.”
Factors aiding food crisis
According to Dr Isaq, insecurity, climate change, farmers-herders’ conflicts are contributing to the current challenges being experienced in the agriculture sector.
“These are silent factors that are mitigating against food production. Look at insecurity for example, it is hitting the farmers hard at the moment. Climate change and flooding are also contributory to the problem.
“Farmers are trying their best, but we can see incidents of flooding in Kebbi, Jigawa and other states lately. We are also seeing climate change which is affecting everything including agriculture. This particularly is causing a short fall in food production.
“Also, farmers-herders’ clashes are causing a lot of harm in the food chain. It is part of the reasons we are not having enough food available in the country right now. It is here that the Federal Government needs to do a lot more to ensure that this is curtailed so that farmers don’t have to feel the challenge of the herders invading their farmers during planting and harvesting seasons.
“Again, COVID-19 affected food production across the country. During the lockdown, the farmers were also affected. Many of them couldn’t go to their farms and that was particularly during the months of April and May planting season.
“Again, rising population is part of the reason we are having food shortage. Believe it, there is population increase because of lack of birth control and migration from some African countries like Niger, Mali etc. This also affects the quantity of food that is consumed in the country. Government needs to checkmate the influx of illegal migrants and equally do something about the rising population in the country so as to curtail the number of mouths we have to feed,” he said.
Fate of country in future
Mr Ihechukwu sees a challenging future if Nigeria’s food crisis is not tackled decisively.
He is worried that “if this trend persists, Nigerian is heading for a very, very critical situation – critical in the sense that there will be less food for the masses to eat. So, I think government should urgently begin to do something about this now to nip the situation in the board especially the farmers-herders’ crisis. This is a very serious issue which government needs to do something very urgently so that it doesn’t escalate beyond the level we have it now.”
Dr Isaq equally sees food crisis ahead. “My prayer and hope,” he said, “is that this will not continue. There should be a better policy implementation in this country otherwise things will appear dangerous for us in the future.
“Even those of us who are in food production circle, if we are not encouraged, our spirit will be dampened. If the farmers are not encouraged, I see disaster ahead.
“Already the farmers are contending with the natural factors – flood, drought, climate change – which they don’t have control over. All that added to crop diseases, and the challenges we have created by ourselves, then things might be worse.
“Government should focus on how to take care of these things right away. First is to tackle insecurity. Then, we need to have the right people to implement government policies. If we are committed to agriculture, honestly, our youths who are taking to crime will be gainfully employed. They cannot be taking little money to waste innocent lives if they have employment. They will be tired of getting involved in insecurity because it takes a lot for someone to be busy all night, all day because they want to steal, kidnap or harm people.”