It is a paradox that Nigeria, in spite of her abundant natural resources, has failed over the years to attain self-sufficiency in food production. This has resulted in a rather sad development whereby the country has come to rely on food importation. This situation has put the country at great risk of suffering the vagaries of global market forces and the attendant drain of her foreign reserve. Nigerians and successive administrations may have been indifferent to the dangers inherent in food importation, essentially because the economy, at the time was buoyant enough to accommodate what was a clear case of lack of foresight, paucity of strategic security considerations and outright negligence. Today, the economy is unstable and the day of reckoning appears to be with us. Prices of all staple food items are on the upward swing at the same time that purchasing power of majority of the citizens is nose-diving.
In spite of these, there are other causative factors that explain the simmering food crisis. The entire northeast region, hitherto a sprawling field for food production and animal husbandry, has been scorched and laid waste by the cataclysm of Boko Haram insurgency in the last six years. To a lesser degree, but yet very significantly, the food production capacity of the North Central region has been similarly disrupted by the ravaging effects of inter-communal conflicts, particularly, the raging clashes between farmers and herdsmen. In addition to the man-made factors, meteorologists have warned that the rainy season this year will not augur well for farming, because while the rains may come too early and sparsely, it no longer looks like the doomsday prophecy to sound the warning of a looming food crisis.
However, it is news to cheer that the current administration may, indeed, be very concerned about this state of affairs and is taking adequate steps to reverse the situation. There are expectations that more than one million metric tons of rice will be harvested from Kebbi State alone this year. Other programmes of government on food production are expected to result in saving for Nigeria the sum of about $22bn. The government, we also understand, is engaging in public-private partnership (PPP) ventures in the agro-allied sector with the objective of salvaging Nigeria from the quagmire of food import dependence by the year 2018.
We commend these steps taken by government to address the issue. But we think that given the gestation period required for these plans to mature, the government should adopt stop-gap measures to stave-off the imminent but palpable food crisis starring the nation in the face. The farmers and herdsmen in the northeast region should be assisted to settle back in their homes to enable them engage in their occupation, which is mostly farming. The herdsmen-farmers imbroglio in the north central region, including other regions of the country, should be checked effectively so as to ensure that the government’s food policy in those areas take root and flourish.
Another irony, in our view, that is playing up the anxiety over food crisis is the high cost of locally produced staples like rice. In the open market, the price of local rice is competing favourably with that of imported one. On the surface, it is good business for farmers but Nigerians think that there ought to be financial reasons to encourage them to buy local. Patriotism alone is not enough. Given the average Nigerians penchant for imported products, if the prices are almost the same, certainly they will go for the imported one. This is the reality on ground.