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Trade restrictions, climate change threaten Nigeria’s food supply

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
23 February 2021   |   3:52 am
Global researchers and agricultural scientists have said that stockpiling and trade restrictions by countries producing major food grains could lead to intercontinental food shortage

Food market

NiMet’s forecast foregrounds food insecurity

Global researchers and agricultural scientists have said that stockpiling and trade restrictions by countries producing major food grains could lead to intercontinental food shortage, hunger and malnutrition for food import-dependent countries.

The fear is intensified as the Nigerian Metrological Agency (NiMet) predicted crop failures as climate change induces elongated droughts amid insecurity for farmers, following the inability of armed forces to tame banditry and terrorism.

Hence, experts said Nigeria would become vulnerable, as wheat, maize, rice and other food and industrial crops are in short supply locally.

Affirming the possibility of the food crisis, a grain breeder and Vice-Chancellor of Al-Qalam University, Prof. Shehu Garki Ado, said the COVID-19 pandemic, locust infestations, drought and labour shortages are factors responsible for food supply chain disruptions, threatening food security around the world. He added that the effects of the factors are more pronounced in food-import countries without food reserves, “and Nigeria is one of them.”

Climate change — producing extreme conditions of floods, excessive heat, drought and pest infestation — has grossly affected food production, especially in developing countries where rain-fed agriculture and labour-intensive practices are common.

In a recent study published in the Nature Food, it was pointed out that trade restrictions and stockpiling of supplies by a few key countries, such as the United States, Thailand and other developed agricultural systems, could create global food price spikes and severe local shortages during times of threat.

“We quantified the potential effects of these co-occurring global and local shocks globally with their impacts on food security,” explains Aalto University Associate Professor Matti Kummu.

Results of this research have critical implications on how nations should prepare for future events like COVID-19, he said.

The researchers modelled future scenarios to investigate the impact of export restrictions and local production shocks of rice, wheat, and maize would have on their supplies and prices.

“These three crops form the backbone of global trade in staple crops and are essential for food security across the globe.

“The results show that restriction by only three key exporters of each crop would increase the price of wheat by 70 per cent, while maize and rice would rise by 40 per cent and 60 per cent. When combining this with potential local shocks that occurred last year, the prices would nearly double,” the study said.

Kummu explains that “this is the result of an increasingly interconnected world, in which the majority of countries are dependent on imported food and, so, vulnerable to this kind of shock.

“We saw that trade restrictions by only a few key actors can create large short-term price spikes in the world market export price of grains, which can lead to food insecurity in import-dependent countries,” explained post-doctoral researcher Theresa Falkendal, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Losing significant yearly grain supply, many low-income and lower-middle-income countries in Africa and Asia would not be able to cover the grain supply deficit with their domestic reserves and would need alternative grain sources to survive.

“It’s important to realise that food security depends on both local and remote conditions, and imprudent policy decisions in the rich part of the world can plunge people into real hardship in poorer parts of the world,” states Falkendal.

But shock scenarios such as those modelled by the researchers and the risks they bring may become commonplace, thanks in part to global warming.

“To help prevent such devastation in the future, we need proactive strategies, like reducing food waste, changing the diet towards more plant-based protein sources, and increasing the yields sustainably, particularly in the most vulnerable countries,” said Kummu.

Michael J. Puma, research scientist and fellow at Center for Climate Systems Research, Earth Institute, Columbia University said: “While the sustainable design of agricultural systems is important, it must go hand-in-hand with efforts to improve political decisions and accountability.”

MEANWHILE, Director-General of NiMet, Prof. Abubakar Mashi, disclosed at the 2021 Seasonal Climate Prediction (SCP) that dry spells, commonly called August breaks, would last for about two to three weeks from June to July.

“The situation this year is not so encouraging because we may likely witness the same weather condition we witnessed last year, but more important is the likelihood of dry spell which will be greater and a larger number of places will be more affected.”

However, Lagos, Ogun, Kebbi and Niger states are expected to have a later than the normal onset of rainfalls.

The forecast says the earlier cessation date would be around 9th October in Kastina and other northern parts of Sokoto.

He added that the growing season would span between 110 days in the extreme north and over 300 days in the south.

Minister Aviation, Hadi Sirika, explained that normal to above-normal rainfall patterns in the country would lead to the possibility of isolated flash floods due to increasing high-intensity rainfalls at the peak of the season, especially in areas that are naturally prone to flooding.

Implications of flooding include crop destruction, pre-harvest/post-harvest losses and capital erosion of farmers’ resources, which would also affect the insurance sector if farms are insured.

Suggesting ways forward, Prof. Shehu Ado said Nigeria should also restrict the sale of grains to neighbouring countries through border towns and villages, fund more research into drought-tolerant crops that could yield significantly under harsh climate conditions, and tame the rising insecurity across the country.

Ado suggested that genuinely repented terrorists and bandits should be given opportunities to surrender their arms and be recruited in farms, while those that refuse to do so should be mercilessly crushed by the armed forces.

He also called on the Federal Government and each state to invest in irrigation facilities to take farming beyond rain-fed systems.

Regional Coordinator of Africa Rice Centre, Ibadan, Dr Francis Nwilene, berated the various administrations at the centre and state governments for paying lip service to the food production sector without investing in infrastructure and technologies that could boost the sector.

He said making irrigation facilities available is inevitable in the efforts to rev up food production amid climate change and disruptions to global food chains.

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