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Averting Post COVID-19 Food Crisis In Nigeria



The recent reports of bandits chasing away farmers from their farms in some parts of the country even as the farming season is kicking off, is sending signals of a looming food crisis in the coming months in the country.
The activities of these bandits added to the ravaging Coronavirus that has almost shut down the economy, calls for urgent action to save the nation from the danger of acute food shortage.
These bandits have been the main cause of food shortages in Nigeria in recent years as farmers are killed and their farms and crops ravaged by the criminals.
Early this year, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) reported that about seven million Nigerians will experience food shortage between June and August 2020.
According to FAO, the states that would be most affected are  Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Benue, Gombe, Taraba, Katsina, Jigawa, Kano, Bauchi, Plateau, Kaduna, Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, and Niger.
Expectedly, these are states mostly affected by insurgency and bandit attacks. These are also states that produce over 50 per cent of Nigeria’s agricultural produce.
Amnesty International estimates that more than 3,640 people were killed between January 2016 and October 2018 in clashes over access to pasture in the Middle Belt.
Already the number of farmers are shrinking steadily because of fear of attack by the bandits. Those who still stick to farming are abandoning their fertile farmlands to farm just around their homes which only yields a little.
The lingering conflict between farmers and cattle herders has become a recurring decimal making it almost impossible to unlock real agricultural growth in the country because security is a big concern for investors. The conflict is hampering the present administration’s plans to reduce the country’s food import bill which stands at about $6 billion a year and to increase farm exports, to reduce Nigeria’s dependence on oil as a source of foreign currency earnings.
With the outbreak of the Coronavirus and the attendant closure of national borders, it would be impossible for Nigeria to even import foods from other countries. This is double tragedy for the country.
It is however heartwarming that recently, the President ordered the military to flush out bandits from Katsina State following the recent attacks on some villages that left many citizens dead.
This action of the President should not be limited to Katsina alone, but extended to other parts of the country if Nigeria was to expect any harvest at all at the end of the current farming season.
We are also happy with the actions being taken by the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Sabo Nanono to ensure free movement of agricultural produce and inputs during the lockdown period in line with his vow that COVID-19 must not affect farming this year.
We however believe that while the temporary measures such as the distribution of grains from the national strategic grain reserves to families to support them during this pandemic period, allowing free interstate movement of agroproduce during the lockdown period and a few other measure to ensure the people have enough food, there is need for the government to pursue a more permanent solution to the farmer-herders clashes.
In Nigeria, about 60 per cent of livestock is managed by pastoralists while 88 per cent of farmers are smallholders producing most of the country’s farm output, which accounts for some 21 per cent of gross domestic product.
We recall the present government’s efforts to bring to an end the clashes between farmers and herders including the controversial RUGA system and later the National Livestock Transformation Plan meant to encourage cattle development.
The National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) is designed to run from 2019-2028 as part of federal government’s initiative in collaboration with states under the auspices of the National Economic Council.
The plan is targeted at supporting the development of Nigeria’s livestock sector.
However with the outbreak of coronavirus and the suspension of virtually all activities of governance, the full implementation of this plan which already three states, Adamawa, Plateau, and Nasarawa have been approved as pilot states, is also being put on hold.
Our stand is that a policy as important as this NLTP should occupy top priority even at this trying times. At the end of the day, if properly managed, it would be win win for all as the nation’s livestock industry would be able to attain its full potential valued at N30 trillion.