Experts suggest way forward as food inflation bites Nigerians harder
Food and agricultural scientists, as well as stakeholders in the agro-industrial sectors have suggested construction of food storage facilities at every local government and state, as well as boosting farm mechanization to increase productivity per hectare.
This is just as prices of foodstuffs ceaselessly increase amid poor economic resources and escalating poverty.
Experts have also called on the federal and state governments to declare a state of emergency in food production.
They also described leasing of the grain reserves as an error and identified non-functional state of the remnant reserves in the country as a strong factor causing food crisis.
A UNICEF report also states that Nigeria has the second highest burden of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 per cent of children under five. Not only that, but also estimated 2 million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), and seven per cent of women of child-bearing age also suffer from acute malnutrition, especially in northern Nigeria.
A grain breeder and Vice Chancellor of Al-Qalam University, Katsina, Prof. Shehu Garki Ado, condemned the lease of 20 national strategic grain reserves, and said lack of farm support infrastructure is a serious factor causing food crisis apart from insecurity.
Prof. Samuel Olakoja, another maize breeding specialist at the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Ibadan, also affirmed insecurity and poor mechanisastion of farm operations as some of the major factors.
Insecurity, they said, is responsible for food scarcity in Nigeria. Boko Haram insurgency, kidnapping, banditry and herder-farmer crisis have displaced millions of farmers from their farmlands. Hence, they cannot produce adequate food.
Farmers in Borno, Adamawa and Bauchi states in the north-east have been displaced and the majority now live on IDP camps. Their farmlands have also been taken over by terrorists and bandits. Also in the north central zone, Niger, Benue and Plateau states, among others, are engulfed in farmer-herder crises and reprisals.
“Banditry, miscreants and looters of food shops compelled food dealers to shift to sale of products that attract little or no looting,” Olakojo explained.
“Currently in Nigeria, food inflation is aggravated by insecurity, especially as the area considered the food basket of the country is bedevilled by bandits who prevent farmers from farming,” Prof. Ado said. “Again, some middlemen procure food and stock in their stores to create artificial scarcity in order to increase the prices,” he added.
High cost of transportation of food from rural to urban areas is also traced as a cause of food inflation. Frequent increases in the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) have forced commercial bus and truck operators to increase the fares.
This has affected the cost of middlemen who aggregate foodstuffs and farm produce from rural areas. The deplorable conditions of the roads also lead to breakdowns of vehicles, frequent change of car parts and repairs. Prof Olakojo said: “Total lockdown during cropping season of 2020, ever increasing price of fuel that brought about high cost of transportation; multiple tariffs on food being brought from villages to the town and illegal collections from uniform security men are food inflation factors.”
Apart from the insecurity and transportation hurdles, climate change is a scientifically proven disruption to food availability around the world.
Climate change has caused flooding, desert encroachment on farmlands, and scarcity of rainfalls and droughts. These reduce the ability of farmers to produce enough food.
Most farmers lost several crops to drought between July and September in 2020 in Nigeria. Floods also flushed away rice and other grain farms in October the same year. They have contributed to why food is scarce and expensive now.
“General drought in the Southern parts of Nigeria resulted in total crop failure,” Olakoja explained, “and crop failure has led to scarcity and higher prices.”
The food challenge also emanates from poor farm yield per hectare, causing scarcity, while the population and demand for food are on the increase.
Manual farm operations from land preparation to harvest, have restricted farm expansion, hampered farmers’ productivity and limited food production in Nigeria.
The use of tractors, herbicides, harvesters and other farm technologies are limited. Only about five per cent of farmers in Nigeria are reported to have access to the use of tractors, harvesters, agro-chemicals like herbicides and insecticides, as well as other improved technologies. That is why productivity of an average farmer is very low.
Prof. Ado also explained this by saying: “Supply of food generally decreases with time after harvest, resulting in increased inflation. On the other hand, increased demand also raises the price. The period around May to July usually experiences short supply of food as the last season’s produce had been finished and new crops are just planted or would be planted. This period is even called hunger period.”
However, experts said the trend could be reversed if security forces would be made to do their jobs well. They also argued that investments should be made to acquire more modern farm equipment for lease or hire to farmers and irrigation facilities should be made available to produce food round the year.
Going forward, stakeholders said the situation could be reversed in one rainy starting from now if security would improve, and farmers would be mobilised with improved production inputs such as improved seeds, seedlings, vines, agro-chemicals and fertiliser.
Prof. Ado said to reduce food inflation, supplies should be released from the remaining national strategic reserves. He said: “That leasing out was strategically wrong, as they were supposed to be used to avoid such situation of food inflation. In fact, the government should discontinue the agreement to avoid continuous food inflation yearly.
“The silos should be available at the local government level to ensure adequate stock of food at all times to prevent inflation.”
He added that early distribution of inputs should be made to farmers in preparation for incoming planting season. The government, he emphasised, should ensure ending of kidnapping and banditry so that farmers could go to their farms and work unmolested.
Prof. Lateef Sanni, a former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAB) and cassava weed management lead specialist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), said food production at the rural levels should be increased, and the Federal Government should buy the produce for the national strategic grain reserves, as recommended by Prof. Ado
Sanni said: “The government should facilitate value addition to agricultural commodities, and encourage more pragmatic and implementable policies for functional markets.”
Executive Director of the Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI), Ilorin, Kwara State, Dr Olufemi Oladunni, advised stakeholders to “increase farm productivity. This can be through improved technologies (irrigation, seeds, etc.),” and harped on good agricultural practices.
The government should expand and modernize storage capacities and also encourage private sector to get involved. Researchers should work more on developing crops that could withstand abnormal weathers, he advised.
In the same vein, President of the All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr Ibrahim Kabir, said harvests from the dry season activities would make more food available, and if early maize and other crops from the Southern states hit the market, the prices would come down.
He said that encouraging farmers to produce all-year round by creating enabling environment would help to tame food prices sustainably. He said while it might not be readily acceptable to farmers and the government to allow importation of food, it might be necessary to allow it even if in a controlled manner if the food inflation persists.
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