• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Does Nigeria need a national food reserve agency?

food market

Nigeria’s dream of feeding itself or attaining food security may never crystallise if the government fails to focus on critical issues limiting productivity, according to experts.

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the country, food supply chain has been disrupted, sparking fears of a food crisis next year if the government does not take proactive measures to mitigate the severity of it.

Also, prices of key staple foods have made rapid climbs in recent months, forcing the country’s inflation to a two-year high in April.

With food crisis a current threat and price volatility re-emerging, Nigeria’s proposed food reserve bill has received renewed attention by the government.

The National Food Reserve Agency Bill, which was first presented to the Senate in 2019, recently passed through the second reading in the upper chamber in a bid to prevent the looming food crisis.

However, experts in the sector say that the government-proposed National Food Reserve Agency is a waste of resources as it does not in any way solve the country’s food insecurity problems.

They note that the government should instead focus on strengthening the already existing national strategic grain reserve, which is a department within the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

“The plan to establish a National Food Reserve Agency is just another waste of resources,” said Kola Adebayo, professor of Agriculture, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.

“We have always had it as a department in the Ministry of Agriculture and it has not done anything in addressing our food problems, so how would making it an agency change anything?” Adebayo asked.

The creation of a food reserve agency contradicts the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s plan of reducing the cost of governance, especially at a time of low oil price and FX volatility triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Currently, the government cannot generate enough revenue to finance its 2020 budget. Creating a food reserve agency will require the additional cost of creating an office, hiring employees, and funding the proposed agency for it to fully carry out its objectives.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, currently has a National Strategic Grain Reserve Department which is under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

The department has failed in carrying out its mandate in the past owing to inadequate funding from the government.

This prompted the government in 2016 to concession 19 of the grain reserve silos out of the 33 silos spread across the country with a cumulative capacity of about 1.3 million metric tons.

Since then, the silos have been operated under a public-private partnership agreement.

“We have achieved nothing with all the agencies we have because the government is yet to fund them adequately to help them deliver on their mandates,” Adebayo said.

The proposed food reserve agency will be responsible for storing food grains and other commodities for strategic purposes.

The food reserve stocks can compensate for shortfalls in foreign currency, offset supply shocks or spikes in demand, and facilitate humanitarian response to food emergencies.

It can also help countries cope with climate change and its impact on food production and supply.
Obstacles to Nigeria’s food security

Agriculture which has long been known to hold a great promise in terms of job creation and poverty reduction remains the most critical sector for economic recovery post-COVID-19.

For Nigeria to accelerate this growth and feed its ever-growing population, government at all levels must address fundamental issues of mechanisation, irrigation, seeds, extension service, insurance, post-harvest losses, research and development, among others.

Experts say the country must increase its mechanisation scale to meet the ever-increasing demand for food before it can talk about earning foreign exchange through the sector.

They add that the government must provide the needed infrastructure such as power, adequate storage facility, and motorable roads to drive down production cost.

They note that an effective and efficient rail transportation linking where the food is produced in the north and markets in the south as well as irrigation facilities to aid all-year farming are key to boosting productivity.

With all this in place, they say the country’s agricultural products will be competitive and as a result, importation will be discouraged.

Issues such as land ownership, infrastructural deficits, and inadequate access to finance, quality seeds, and mechanisation among others are inherent problems the government is yet to address.

“We have increased our crop production of various commodities but the government has still not done anything in addressing fundamental issues. We still do not have sufficient seeds and seedlings, nothing in place to increase mechanisation,” said Abiodun Oyelekan, chief executive officer, Farm Fresh Agric Ventures.

“The only thing the government has done is shifting attention to the agricultural sector. People now want to invest in the sector than before and this is why there is an increase in production,” Oyelekan added.
Quick wins to avert looming food crisis

To avert the looming food crisis projected for next year, experts have called on the government to ensure that key inputs get to farmers at affordable prices and the security of lives and property on farmlands must be guaranteed.

Also, they urge the government to provide farmers with incentives to grow more while rolling out an immediate strategy to improve rural infrastructure to reduce post-harvest losses.