• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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BusinessDay

Four ways Nigeria can halt surging food prices

Nigeria’s food price stability requires tackling insecurity, fixing structural deficiencies – Experts

Last year, the federal government declared a state of emergency on the agricultural sector to stabilise food prices in the country. But this has yet to deliver the goods.

The prices of key staples which have been on the rise since 2019 are now increasing at a faster pace, pushing up headline inflation, deepening poverty and amplifying a cost of living crisis in Nigeria.

To halt the continued surge in food prices across Nigeria and soften the blow of soaring inflation that is putting a strain on household incomes, experts say the government must address issues that are hindering production and cutting supply.

BusinessDay spoke with experts who shed light on what the government can do.

They said the federal government will have to make a concerted effort to stem insecurity, drastically reduce post-harvest losses, fix structural deficiencies across the value chain and increase technology usage on farms to halt the current surge in food prices.

Tackling security crisis

The killings in key crop-producing states are worsening the plight of farmers who are already faced with a myriad of crises and constitute a threat to the country’s food production.

The security situation in the country is adversely affecting food production and causing a supply shortfall and import surge.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics show that Africa’s most populous country spent N1.6 trillion on food imports in the first nine months of 2023, a 14 percent increase from the N1.4 trillion spent in the same period of 2022.

Since the security crisis escalated, Nigeria has lost over 60 percent of its food production in key-producing states, experts say.

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 stabilisation of prices,” Obi, who is also the general secretary of the Soil Science Society of Nigeria, said.

The West Africa Regional Supply and Market Outlook report projects that in the event of worsening conflict and insecurity in the year, further limits in terms of market functioning and access, and disruptions into other supply corridors are expected.

“In Nigeria, sluggish economic conditions and anticipated production decreases will keep prices above average in 2024,” the report said.

Reduce post-harvest losses

Apart from unveiling an immediate, short and long-term plan to boost food supply, the provision of critical infrastructure across the agricultural value chain is a prerequisite for enabling Nigeria to feed its 200 million people and reduce post-harvest losses.

Post-harvest losses in the country 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.

A source who does not want his name in print called on the government to adopt a short-term strategy to reduce post-harvest losses to boost food supply.

According to him, reducing post-harvest losses will help the country increase its food supply without necessarily increasing its production.

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

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.”

Drive mechanisation

Low-scale technology use has continued to hamper the country’s ability to grow food cheaper on a large scale.

Experts in the agricultural sector say that innovation and improved technology, which are vital in boosting farmers’ productivity and attaining food sufficiency, are lacking in most farms across the country.

It has continued to affect farmers’ cultivation areas and their ability to perform timely operations.

“If we must feed ourselves and drive economic growth, then it is time the government took 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 programs, 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, and drones to aid farming as well as Artificial Intelligence.

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

Nigeria is listed among the countries in the world with the least mechanised farming. The rate of the use of agricultural machinery is still below that which is considered necessary to meet the rising demand for food, as stipulated by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The country is one of the least mechanised farming countries in the world with the country’s tractor density put at 0.27 hp/ hectare, which is far below FAO’s 1.5hp/hectare recommended tractor density for Africa and other developing countries.

Encourage all year-round farming

To halt the surge in food prices, farmers across the country must start producing all year round.

Experts have said that irrigation facilities are about all that is needed for all-year-round farming in the country.

FAO forecasts that by the year 2050, global water requirements for agriculture will increase by 50 percent.

To be able to feed Nigeria’s ever-growing population and improve its foreign earnings in agriculture, the government needs to encourage and provide the enabling environment for its farmers to adopt irrigation systems as a leeway to boost resilience and sustainable crop production.

“We must begin to cultivate food all year round, and it should not just be in key growing states but across the country,” said Kabir Ibrahim, national president of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria.