• Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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BusinessDay

Food security: The fundamentals and the fears

Urgent action needed to address food inflation

The recent declaration of a state of emergency on food security within the country by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is worthy of commendation. And this is because it runs in tandem with a similar alarm given by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). It stated that 25.3 million Nigerians are likely to face acute food insecurity in the country. That is expected during the as the Lean Season of June to August 2023 period. The figure is higher than the 19.45 million forecasts in 2022.

According to the FAO, widespread flooding recorded in 2022 exacerbated the already muddy situation. The flood disaster reportedly affected 33 of Nigeria’s 36 states, with over two million people seriously affected. The report, titled: “Crop Prospect and Food Situation”, assessed 45 countries to provide insight into the food situation. It had special focus on Low-Income Food Deficit Countries.

With regards to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) flooding in the 2022 rainy season damaged more than 676,000 hectares of farmlands. This is responsible for the low harvests and increased the risk of food insecurity. But good enough, President Tinubu has risen to the occasion.

To alleviate the effects of the subsidy removal, he has ordered the prompt release of fertilizers and grains to farmers and households. The statement reads, “There must be an urgent synergy between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Water Resources to ensure adequate irrigation of farmlands and to guarantee that food is produced all year round.

“We shall create and support a National Commodity Board that will review and continuously assess food prices as well as maintain a strategic food reserve that will be used as a price stabilisation mechanism for critical grains and other food items. Through this board, the government will moderate spikes and dips in food prices.

“To achieve this, we have the following stakeholders on board to support the intervention effort of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu: The National Commodity Exchange (NCX), Seed Companies, National Seed Council and Research institutes, NIRSAL Microfinance Bank, Food Processing/ Agric Processing associations, private sector holders & Prime Anchors, smallholder farmers, crop associations and Fertilizer producers, blenders and suppliers associations to mention a few.” But good as the president’s intentions are on tackling food insecurity, there is another challenge to curtail, and that is the persisting social insecurity.

Read also: Nigerians spent over N22trn on food in 2019 — NBS

That is especially so in the north-east states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY). Out of the 17 million people considered food insecure as of January, three million are said to live in the northeast BAY states. Others are Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto and Niger. As for Benue and Plateau states there is a clear disregard for protection of lives and property as Fulani herdsmen are on frequent rampage with farmers with the odious aim to take over their farmlands! This is totally condemnable.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), all these have resulted in food inflation galloping from the 23.75 per cent recorded in December 2022, to 24.32 per cent as at January 2023. This is the highest in the last four years. At the beginning of the year, food inflation was traced to the increase in the prices of such food items as yams, tubers, tomatoes and vegetables. The FAO report states that 6 million of the 17 million food-insecure Nigerians are children living in the northern states of Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara states.

On this premise President Tinubu stated that: “We will engage our security architecture to protect the farms and the farmers so that farmers can return to the farmlands without fear of attacks.” He has to walk the talk.

Going further, President Tinubu said that the Central Bank will continue to play a major role of funding the agricultural value chain. For access to land, he said that there is currently 500,000 hectares of already mapped land that will be used to increase availability of arable land for farming which will immediately impact food output. – Mechanization and land clearing-, The government according to him will also collaborate with mechanization companies to clear more forests & make them available for farming.

Noting that there are currently 11 rivers basins that will ensure planting of crops during the dry season with irrigation schemes that will guarantee continuous farming production all year round, he stated that: “We will deploy concessionary capital/ funding to the sector especially towards fertilizer, processing, mechanization, seeds, chemicals, equipment, feed, labour, etc. The concessionary funds will ensure food is always available and affordable thereby having a direct impact on Nigeria’s Human Capital Index (HCI). This administration is focused on ensuring the HCI numbers, which currently ranks as the 3rd lowest in the world, are improved for increased productivity”.

To succeed in all of these policies there is need for partnerships. For instance, UNICEF, working with the government and partners was able to reach approximately 650,000 children across six states with life-saving nutrition services,precisely in 2022. The president should also consult with Dr. AkinwumiAdesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB). He has the wherewithal. According to Adesina clearly Nigeria needs food and energy security for sustainable economic development.

As he rightly noted: “With a population expected to nearly double from 217 million in 2022 to over 400 million in 2050, Nigeria will emerge as the world’s third most populous nation. There is a need to guarantee food and energy security by building a domestic economy resilient to global and regional shocks, which have increased in frequency and intensity.”

What is important is to have the knowledge and application of such across the food value chain, from production through food preservation, processing, packaging, to marketing and export. But they must be processed to international standard. Farmers need to have access to loans with single digit interest rates with payment spread over the decades. All these would be enhanced by strong infrastructure of good access roads, reliable and safe potable water, as well as electric power supply.

All these put in place will encourage and stimulate the interest of more Nigerians to go into modern farming. These will include organic farming, as XtraLarge Farms is doing. Government should also include farm extension workers, to teach the rural farmers on access to early-maturing, disease- resistant hybrid seedlings with greater harvest.

But beyond all these, there is the need to institute political restructuring of the country so that the states and geo-political zones would take over agriculture as it was during the First Republic. That was when the then Western Region under the premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo (of blessed memory) made huge revenues from export of cocoa seedlings, the South-Eastern Region had its own revenue from oil palm and rubber while the North gained much from cotton, groundnut, hides and skin.

Food security will therefore succeed when all these issues are frontally taken care of.