• Thursday, February 29, 2024
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Farmers’ safety to storage: Food prices in Nigeria under tension

Farmers’ safety to storage: Food prices in Nigeria under tension

With many farmers scampering for safety because of rising insecurity coupled with storage challenges crimping output, the relentless rise in food prices has shown no signs of abating.

Nigeria must fix its structural deficiencies limiting productivity and address the worsening insecurity hindering farmers from returning to farms in its bid to stabilise food prices and attain security, industry experts have said.

Farmers who spoke to BusinessDay say the country has lost 60 percent of its food production in key-producing states owing to rising insecurity and structural deficiencies.

They said apart from unveiling an immediate, short and long term plan, the provision of critical infrastructure across the agricultural value chain is a prerequisite to enable the country to feed its 200 million people and reduce post-harvest losses.

Kabiru Ibrahim, national president of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, said the right infrastructure to support food production and distribution is lacking in the country’s agricultural sector.

“The government must work to provide sufficient storage to minimise post-harvest losses and good transportation for efficient distribution of goods and services,” Ibrahim said in a response to questions.

Critical infrastructures such as motorable rural roads and storage facilities, among others, are still absent in Nigeria’s food supply chain, hence reducing farmers’ earnings as high costs of production filter through to prices.

A stakeholder who declined to be identified called on the government to adopt a short term strategy to reduce post-harvest losses to boost food supply.

“Nigeria losses 50 to 60 percent of its food production to post-harvest losses and eliminating or reducing it helps increase food supply without necessarily increasing production,” he said.

Post-harvest losses in Africa’s most populous nation have been estimated to range between five and 20 percent for grains; 20 percent for fish and as high as between 50 and 60 percent for tubers, fruits, and vegetables, according to experts.

Nigeria needs to spend $3 trillion and five percent of its GDP annually to bridge the infrastructure gap, according to the National Infrastructure Master Plan.

“The government of the day is out saying all sorts of things on how it intends to stabilise food prices and boost food production, yet no one is looking at the entire value chain,” said AfricanFarmer Mogaji, chief executive officer of X-Ray Consulting.

“No one is looking at addressing the challenges of transportation and storage which render most agricultural produce useless,” he said.

He added that the country must leverage technology in creating innovative solutions that would boost agric productivity and enable farmers to gain access to wider markets and scale.

“If we must feed ourselves and drive economic growth, then it is time the government takes the issue of technology and innovation seriously in the agric sector,” Mogaji said.

“We must be innovative in our design, implementation, and execution of agricultural programmes, projects, and activities in agriculture now because it is technology that drives today’s agriculture,” he added

Globally, innovation and technology are positively impacting crop production as farmers deploy farm machines, tractors, drones and artificial intelligence to aid farming.

But Nigeria is lagging far behind in the adoption of mechanisation and tractors.

Abiodun Olorundenro, managing partners at Prasinos, urged government at all levels to make investments in long-term solutions to fixing the structural problems in the sector, stressing the need for an effective rail transportation system across the country to move agric products from farms to markets.

According to him, apart from infrastructure, weak financing and market information have continued to limit market access to agricultural commodities.

Nigeria’s food inflation quickened to 33.93 percent in December 2023 from 23.75 percent a year earlier, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Headline inflation quickened to 28.92 percent in December, its highest in more than 18 years.

A source who does not want his name in print urged the government to identify the top 10 or 20 items in the country’s food basket and tackle their respective issues to stabilise prices rather than using a general approach. “Focusing on specifics would make a significant difference,” he said.

Jude Obi, president of the Association of Organic Agriculture Practitioners of Nigeria, said lots of farmers do not cultivate in places where they usually grow food owing to the worsening insecurity in the country.

“The government must address the issue of insecurity if it is serious about food security and diversifying the economy through agriculture,” Obi, who is also the general secretary of the Soil Science Society of Nigeria, said.