• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Taming the food crisis: The buck stops at the President’s desk

Taming the food crisis: The bulk stops at the President’s desk

The position of this article is that the introduction of economic reforms in the president’s inaugural speech was the right thing to do. The situation was very messy and precarious. There couldn’t have been better timing. However, sufficient time, energy, and resources must now be invested in addressing the cost-of-living crisis and the humanitarian crisis as urgently as possible and in a coordinated manner.

Food inflation was 35.41 percent in January 2024, when the headline or general inflation rate was 29.90 percent. Food and non-alcoholic beverages at the divisional level contributed 15.49 percent of the headline inflation year on year, making them the most important contributor to inflation by far. Transportation only contributed a distant 5 percent.

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The primary reasons Nigeria is experiencing a food crisis are the paltry allocation at the federal level to the agricultural sector in the last decade, averaging 1.6 percent between 2017 and 2021, and the widespread insecurity in the food basket regions of the country. Even then, there has been a significant increase in milled rice, from 2.818 million metric tonnes in 2010 to an expected 5.23 million metric tonnes in 2024, and the import of an additional 2.1 million metric tonnes, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The humanitarian dimension of the food crisis in Nigeria is severe. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), 26.5 million people will be food insecure in Nigeria in 2024, compared to 18.6 million in 2023, manifesting in acute food shortages between June and August 2024. According to Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the Northwestern region of Nigeria alone has more than 500,000 cases of severe acute malnutrition, and 854 children admitted to its facilities last year died within 48 hours.

What has been done so far?

The federal government has responded with a number of interventions. It has affected a fivefold increase in the number of households for conditional cash transfers from 3 million to 15 million, but the revamped programme is yet to take off; it has initiated a plan to cultivate 500,000 hectares of irrigable land for dry season farming; the government is currently distributing 42000 metric tonnes of grains nationwide, which is the equivalent of 900,000 50-kilogramme bags of grain; it just announced the allocation of N100 billion of the energy transition fund for CNG vehicles; and another N60 billion for the proposed student loan scheme. Lastly, there is the recently announced plan to import 10,000 tractors for mechanised farming. These are very laudable efforts.

Q: “The president needs to declare a state of emergency on the food and humanitarian crises in the country.”

Many state governments have also responded with various measures to address the cost-of-living crises in their respective domains, including measures against hoarding of food items, banning bulk purchases of grains, banning the export of grains across borders, and special weekend markets where food items are sold at lower prices, to mention a few. Niger State is embarking on massive mechanised farming. But a lot more needs to be done at the subnational level to complement the efforts of the Federal Government of Nigeria to reduce food prices through a quantum increase in food supply across the various states of the federation. This can best be done through a coordinated effort on the platform of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF).

What needs to be done by the President?

As laudable as the efforts by the federal and state governments are, a great deal more still needs to be done, and urgently too. The distressing humanitarian report by MSF about Northwestern Nigeria is only the tip of the iceberg. The situation in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps across the Northeast and Northwest regions also needs to be thoroughly investigated.

Above all, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, needs to take full responsibility for urgently addressing the humanitarian and cost of living crisis exacerbated by the introduction of the economic reform programme, with the full support and coordinated response of the state governors.

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The president needs to declare a state of emergency on the food and humanitarian crises in the country. The overarching objective of the state of emergency is to arrest as soon as possible the humanitarian and cost-of-living dimensions of the economic reform programme.

First, the president and his team need to define the nature, extent, and duration of the state of emergency, which should not last for more than a year. Clear and specific objectives and deliverables to be achieved should be identified, with quarterly milestones. Projects to be undertaken should be identified, and a budget should be determined and set aside. Food imports should be one of the options.

The various programmes that the federal government has already initiated, including the ones listed above, should be part of the emergency programme. Structure should be given to the programme by identifying specific departments and agencies of government who will implement specific programmes with budgets and timelines. An inter-ministerial coordinating organ should be set up.

State governors, with their own coordinated programme under the aegis of the NGF, should interface with and coordinate with the national state of emergency on the cost-of-living crisis;

Any intervention programme meant to address a national crisis, such as the ongoing cost of living and food crisis, that lacks a structure, specific objectives, time lines, a budget, and an implementation framework, will either achieve suboptimal results or fail.