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Looting grains reserve, silos undermine food security plan

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PHOTO: Ifiok Ettang / AFP

• Last Hope Of Farmers Has Been Dashed — Daramola
• Before Looting, Access To Inputs Has Been Arduous — Abiola
• Stored Grains Should Have Been Given To Farmers During Planting Season — Adesola

The recent looting of the Strategic Grains Reserve (SGR) warehouses and silos mistaken for COVID-19 palliatives in some states, could hasten the looming food security-related crises and depletion of seeds for 2021 planting season across the country.

Penultimate Saturday, hoodlums attacked the Federal Government’s silos, the Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) warehouse and the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) stores, all in Ado- Ekiti, in search of COVID-19 palliatives. Unfortunately, the items carted away were Single Super Phosphate and NPK fertilisers, which they erroneously mistaken for Garri.

Also, last Sunday, hoodlums broke into the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) Warehouse in Bukuru, Jos, Plateau State and looted wheat seeds worth millions of naira.

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A Grain Reserve is a government stockpile of grain for the purpose of meeting future domestic (and sometimes international) needs. Government sets aside a part of the public funds to buy these grains and invests heavily in building giant silos that are used for proper storage of the grains.

In addition to their primary function of ensuring the year-round availability of food in the event of emergencies, the SGR can also be used to help in price modulation.

In Nigeria, the SGRs are located in all the states, and the grains are released based on the assessment and advice of relevant departments of government.

The NASC also conserves seeds for distribution to farmers during the planting seasons. Some of these seeds are kept in silos, but are not edible and therefore separate from the SGR.

The recent incidences of looting of the grains in some states have brought to fore the danger ahead, as the country is currently battling with the issue of food security, occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Founder of Menitos Farm Depot, Toluwalope Daramola, who said the impact of the stolen grains, will be quite dire, regretted that many farmers were hoping for the planting incentives to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and global warming, but now that they have been taken away, their last hope has been dashed.

To avert the imminent food crisis, Daramola said anything short of government off-taking crops from farmers to sell at discounted rates might worsen the situation. “Because despite this disaster, a lot of food still got spoilt at the farm due to logistics and sometimes funds. Identification of farmers who are active on a small scale and opened to expansion will help, especially if the criteria for funding are not stringent.

“With the communication gap between government and the people, many still doubt that the treated seeds and fertilizers are not edible. A lot of awareness needs to be done to educate citizens on the functions and process of the various institutions. I had a hard time explaining to a driver that ADP would most likely store farm/farmers’ relief items not COVID-19 palliatives, he was adamant that they are government warehouses. So, it’s really up to the government institutions to engage the citizens more, to understand that not every institution is out to sabotage citizen’s welfare.”

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Daramola who said food shortage was imminent with or without the looting, questioned why the grains were in reserve and farmlands forced to cultivate perennial crops during an extreme grain shortage. “I switched from maize to pineapple mainly because of safety issues on the farm. These issues are all related. Farmers are struggling to plant and government is always focused on planning for tomorrow without consideration for today.

“So, we have the vicious cycle where even without the looting, the scarcity was bound to get worse. The looting just makes it more real and the government now needs to act on it. Even the area I reserved for livestock, we have decided to plant cocoa there, so going regularly won’t be necessary for about a year.”

Project Coordinator for GROW, an advocacy project aiding food security in Nigeria, at Oxfam, Dr. Saratu Abiola, said without the looting, there has always been issues of access to inputs for farmers. “It’s not clear to me that the distribution networks for these have necessarily improved so much so that this deals a unique blow. This is the same country where farmers have always complained from time immemorial of public service delivery not reaching them.

“Do we know for sure that inputs were stored alongside COVID-19 palliatives everywhere? If COVID-19 palliatives are looted and a lot of states have insisted that they be returned, then maybe they should insist those inputs get returned, too.”

She said how to avoid food security-related crises hasn’t changed: “Support smallholder farmers to improve their productivity. Ensure access to inputs and extension support. Strengthen market linkages.

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“The poisonous grains are unique to Ekiti, are they not? If the same is obtainable elsewhere, government should do community-level awareness in communities where looting happened along with media engagement to raise awareness. At this juncture, they can still engage and get those bad grains returned. To enhance trust, they could help people learn how to tell bad grains from good grains; it’s possible many won’t believe the “poison” thing.”

The Co-founder, Farmvilla Resource Centre, Ago Amodu, Saki, Oyo State, Yinka Adesola, who blamed government for keeping the seeds when the planting season is just wrapping up, said the seed in storage should have been given to farmers in the planting season and not stored up.

“The food chain has been greatly disrupted by the effect of COVID-19. Farmers are still grasping to balance up. I wonder why we still have that much seed in storage when the planting season is just wrapping up. The next planting season is still very far away.

“Even if one proffered a way out, the government will not do anything. It will amount to waste of time and effort to start explaining to them. Consumers should watch what they buy from the market. Most of these grains will be sold to retailers at very cheap price. Possibly, the farmers in the Northern part may have challenges producing as much as they use to produce, which will invariably affect next year food production.

“There will be a serious food crisis because currently the price of foodstuff will keep increasing till next year’s harvest, which is still very far away.”

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