Business

Rising food shortage: Importation as panacea

Following the worsening security crisis rocking the country’s economy, particularly agriculture, agric stakeholders are advising government to reconsider its border policy and allow food importation into the country amid rising food prices and shortage. TAIWO HASSAN reports

During this year’s Democracy Day celebration national broadcast to the nation, President Muhammadu Buhari painted glimpses of the state of Nigerian agric sector, when he said: “In the agricultural sector, for instance, the anchor borrowers programme resulted in sharp decline in the nation’s major food import bill from $2.23 billion in 2014 to $0.59 billion by the end of 2018.

“Rice import bill alone dropped from $1 billion to $18.5 million annually. “This initiative supported local production of rice, maize, cotton and cassava. Government financed 2.5 million small-holder farmers cultivating about 3.2 million hectares of farmland all over the country and created 10 million direct and indirect jobs.”

No doubt, the statistics relied out in the above statements by the country’s president showed that the administration has been trying its best all this while. But the realities on ground indicated that on-going worsening security crisis around the country’s agriculture sphere has made mess of the president’s statistics as rising food prices and shortages are order of the day with many households struggling to eat even one square meal per day.

Nigerian farmers’ stance

However, with no solution in sight following food crisis in the land caused by insecurity since many local farmers can no longer go to the farms to harvest and plant crops to feed the 200 million population, Nigerian farmers are thinking that the dire situation may force Nigeria to return to food importation to augment what the country currently produces, since the issue of insecurity persists.

For the Nigerian farmers, importing food products into the country is the best bet option to quell the rising food prices and shortages since most of them have abandoned their farmlands over insurgency attacks and government’s failure to provide adequate security measures for their protection in the farms.

In fact, the Nigerian farmers, under the auspices of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) insisted that farmers are being attacked in states where agriculture is a major source of livelihood. AFAN noted that farmers have lost confidence in going to their farms and are only keenly watching government in its bid to re-strategise efforts in tackling insecurity.

Alhaji Haruna Mohammad, a member of AFAN and a farmer based in Borno State, told this newspaper in a chat that “if we continue to stay at home, we will have no other options but go back to food importation; the government policy has discouraged food importation and that should be maintained. “Farmers are supposed to be in their farms now because we have started wet season farming, but they can’t go to farm because of certain issues. “We are being attacked in states where agriculture is a major livelihood, security personnel, state and federal governments should re-strategise more on how to tackle insecurity.”

Security protection

However, in his reaction to the security situation, the National President of AFAN, Arc Kabir Ibrahim, said farmers should be given the chance to help Nigeria’s economy so that the focus on agriculture won’t be lost. He said his members are willingly and keen to return to their farmlands to boost food security, but only that government must give them security protection assurance and also do the needful to improve the appalling security architecture. “There are many cross-cutting allocations in so many ministries and parastatals that directly affect agriculture, but it takes the focus of the driver to be able to identify them. For instance, in transportation, good roads and rail lines will help in transporting our produce, in environment, when the work is done perfectly there and the soil is protected from erosion and others, it becomes stable and good enough for crop production.

If the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Nigeria Export Promotion Council and related agencies collaborate well, we will be able to export some of our produce,” he said. While calling on governments to provide an enabling environment for farmers to thrive, the National Vice President of AFAN, Daniel Okafor, also told New Telegraph that the country may experience a worse situationon next year, adding that many people may go into crimes due to hunger.

“Let government give us security, it may be worst next year, hunger will be the order of the day and this may push a lot of people to commit heinous crimes. “There is a need for government to look into the security of lives and that of farmers; no state is safe in Nigeria. “Last week, we were going to farm at Kuje Area Council, they told us they were kidnapping some people, we went back. There will be famine next year except government reverses this,” he warned.

Climate change

impact Speaking on the impact of improving weather condition in a bid to catalyse food security, the AFAN national president said that the lack of adequate rainfall in the six geo-political zones could forced government to reopen more borders for food importation to cushion rising food shortages in the country.

Kabir explained that lack of rainfalls in this year’s planting season could compounded food crisis in the country, in addition to the worsening insecurity. Hitherto, lack of rainfalls this planting season is about to further affect their going to farms and the economic implications will be severe unless government rescues the situation. Ibrahim said: “If the rains fail to set in on time, God forbid, in the North Central, North East and North West, there will be a lot of pressure on the food system, so, I do not rule out the possibility of importing some food to augment what we have at the moment.” Corrobating Kabir’s position, the National Vice President of AFAN also agreed that rain is a determinant factor towards agric productivity this year. “Climate change is also a problem. We just had the rain today after some time, we have lost almost all we planted, if this continues, our food security is not guaranteed,” he added. He however reiterated the need for investment in research to deal with climate change. “We were advised that there will be shortage of rainfall this year; something should be done about this, they should invest in research to deal with climate change or we should engage more in irrigation so that we can farm anytime. “Government should give us an enabling environment so that we can succeed, farmers should be carried along implementing agric policies,” he said.

Border reopening

According to him, it will be a good step and also in right decision for government to open up more borders for food importation into the country to arrest the food insufficiency at this period. Already, the Federal Government had on December 16, 2020, ordered the reopening of four borders – Seme, Ilela, Mfun and Maigatari. However, a Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s report in May stated that Nigeria’s trade deficit rose from $1.69 billion in December 2020 to $2.51 billion as of the end of January 2021, despite the reopening of the borders.

The AFAN national president pointed out that Nigerian farmers are currently in dilemma and incapacitated about the growing insecurity in the country, but they are willing to go back to the farms for food harvest and planting of crops. Speaking on the World Food Programme and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) stances on rising food shortages in NIgeria and whether the time is ripe for government to announce more borders re-opening aside the four re-opened borders last year, the renowned farmer said: “I believe it will assuage the fears of food insufficiency if we reconsider our position on the remaining borders that are not yet open. “The AfCFTA protocol we signed on to also supports the re -opening of the borders for seamless intercontinental trading activities.” He categorically said as the national president of Nigerian farmers that the time is ripe for the country to allow movement of agric products into the country to exacerbate and bring down the rising food prices currently being experienced in the country.

“Nigeria might need to import food if the rise in food prices continues and the 2021 production is not at an optimum,” the farmer insisted. It would be recalled that for over a year, the Federal Government shut down the country’s land borders due to alleged violation of ECOWAS protocols by neighbouring countries. The border closure was aimed at stemming the tide of smuggling, illicit migration, arms banditry, drug trafficking and proliferation of light weapons. While the closure was aimed at strengthening demand for some local products, it impacted negatively on others as many businesses could not import from or export to the West and Central African market.

Last line

With the alarming situation in the country, all eyes are on the administration to urgently reconsider Nigerian farmers’ stance by allowing food importation via the borders to arrest rising food prices and shortages in the country.

 

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