Nigeria: Depleting Food Reserves

The effect of Nigeria’s depleting food reserves is being felt now more than ever by the populace as a result of escalating food prices. It is more of a domino effect that is traceable to insecurity and climate change and worsened by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Expectedly, this is taken its toll on the nation’s food security, resulting in the increase of food prices as well as scarcity of some food items. It is a situation that has been generating some concern as it raises the question about the state of the nation’s food reserve system.

In 2020, media reports indicated that the country had just about 30,000 metric tonnes (MT) of grains remaining in her strategic grains reserve. This was after 70,000MT of grains were released earlier in the year as palliative at the heat of the Coronavirus. Whatever is left between 2020 and now would almost be depleted.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), an arm of the United Nations, more than 70 percent of Nigerians are involved in the agriculture sector primarily at a subsistence level. ‘Between January and March 2021, agriculture contributed to 22.35 percent of the total Gross Domestic Product,’ the organisation said. The FAO also stated that Nigeria has 70.8 million hectares of arable land areas and maize, cassava, guinea corn, yam beans, millet and rice are the major crops.

The country’s rice production increased from 3.7 million metric tons in 2017 to four million metric tons in 2018. However, just 57 percent of the 6.7 million metric tons of rice consumed in Nigeria yearly is locally produced, resulting in a deficit of an estimated three million metric tons, said to be either imported or smuggled into the country illegally. To encourage domestic production, the federal government banned the importation of rice in 2019.

However, with recent killings of farmers by killer herdsmen and bandits, this has drastically reduced these estimates further this year. Herders and Farmers have been in conflict as a result of climate change, while banditry is rife across some states in the country, especially in the northern areas.

An online platform, claims that about 36,000 people have been murdered with two million displaced since Boko Haram began its ignoble insurgency activities in North east Nigeria in 2009. We recall that 76 Rice farmers were gruesomely murdered in Borno State. It has been a struggle for farmers to go to their farms in Borno, Plateau, Taraba, Benue, Enugu just to mention a few.

Available information indicates that at about the middle of last year 2021, Nigerian farmers reported that they suffered an estimated 50 per cent production losses as a result of insecurity. Based on this, experts warn of looming famine.

President Muhammadu Buhari, however, should be commended for ordering the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) during the country’s 61st Independence Day Anniversary, to rehabilitate the National Food Reserve Agency set up to look into the food problem in the country in 2021. He had blamed middlemen for the scarcity at the time, noting that the agriculture sector has contributed 22.35 and 23.78 per cent to the overall GDP in the first and second quarters of 2021.

The All-Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) equally commended the president for his directive to resuscitate the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA). In 2008, NFRA was established under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD). It was set up to drive the National Food Security Programme in Nigeria. It recommended the CADP-NEPAD (Commercial Agricultural Development Project – New Partnership for Africa’s Development) that was established due to the buy-in of African Heads of States in 2001 in the Maputo Declaration.

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The governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, last year, also stated that Nigeria needs to immediately commence building its own food reserves, due to what was experienced during the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

It is from this background that we commend the Senate for passing a bill to establish the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA). It is expected that the bill when signed into law, will grow the agricultural sector and guarantee national food security and income, through marketing and storage services. It would also, hopefully, address emergency food crisis. However, it is one thing to make such laws and another thing to energise them by way of effective implementation to bring into reality their original intendments.

We, as a newspaper, are convinced that a fortified food reserve system will stabilise soaring food prices and encourage agricultural practice. And while the federal government is tackling insecurity, these reserves will assist farmers through the provision of seedlings and grains at a rate subsidised by the government.

Overall, it is our considered opinion that a food reserve system will serve as a buffer in terms of scarcity just as it will also help stabilise prices.

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