As food prices continue to soar in markets across the country, experts and stakeholders in the agriculture sector have suggested ways to overcome the present challenges of food insecurity,
This is even as farmers have absolved themselves from blame, pointing to insecurity, the country’s growing population, railroading activities and others that are beyond their control as responsible for the skyrocketing prices.
The situation is further made gloomy as the country’s strategic grain reserves which could have come in handy to alleviate the situation had been grossly depleted during the COVID-19 lockdown period in 2020.
Concerned by the rising food prices and to achieve local food sufficiency and fulfill its pledge to diversify the economy, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration had been initiating various agriculture-support schemes to support farmers and increase food production.
But the threat of food insecurity has persisted, as apart from the threat of insecurity to food production, Nigeria’s agriculture sector is further challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a third wave apace.
The impact is already being felt in the form of rising food prices, with available data showing that as of April 2020, food inflation rose to 15 per cent compared to 14.7 per cent in December 2019.
Experts who spoke with LEADERSHIP Sunday expressed worry that all the factors identified as key challenges hampering the attainment of food security in Nigeria could worsen unless the government takes more drastic and compelling measures now.
They said to ensure that the agricultural sector is not further impacted by the distortions caused by COVID-19, the government should ensure more palliatives are provided to farmers in the form of improved seedlings and basic farm implements at highly subsidised prices, and free or more affordable farm extension services.
According to them, of importance is the need to ensure that the sector is accorded more budgetary allocations, along with increasing the operational capacity of the strategic grain reserves, and the reintroduction of farming clusters to be financed through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement.
In addition, they said state governments should reassess their area of core competence in the agriculture value chain and promote investment in that area.
Renowned agropreneur and data analyst, Ibrahim Maigari, blamed the rising cost of food on the unprecedented inflation which Nigeria’s economy is currently undergoing.
The co-founder of Livestock 247 and CEO of Rice Afrika however pointed out that it all boils down to insecurity in the northern part of the country, which started from the north-east but has steadily spread onto the north-west and north-central areas, preventing major access to farmlands.
“The truth is that for the past couple of years people have not been farming as usual and the country has been consuming its reserves, more so with the impact of the pandemic. For more than 10 years of insurgency, farmers have not been producing livestock and farmers have not been having access to hundreds of thousands of farmlands, which have remained docile,” Maigari said.
He added that rising population has led to rising demand, whereas supply has continued to drop.
According to him, processors demand for paddy rice has risen and a tonne of paddy that cost N170k last year is now going for N230k.
The scarcity of paddy, he said, has resulted in a situation where about 3 companies will pay in advance and fight to secure a single truck load from farms.
He urged the government to step up efforts to contain insecurity so that production can be boosted and make smuggling of rice unattractive through market forces.
He predicted that a 50kg bag of rice which currently sells between N26 – 28k could hit N30k before the end of the year.
According to him, the current cost of producing a 50kg bag of rice is now N23K due to the rising rate of the dollar against the naira which has shot up cost of packaging materials from N200 to N600, this couples with the increase in electricity tariffs and doubling of transportation cost of trucks due to heightened risks of interstate movement from the northern part of the country to the southern parts.
He also noted that the take home pay for farm hands has been nothing to write home about leading to compromise in the quality of work at times.
He unequivocally asserted that despite the rising cost of food prices in the market, the fortunes of farmers who are at the mercy of middlemen has not increased.
“As producers, our profit margin has been declining, we only make between N500 – 600 per 50kg bag of rice from a high of N2000 before last year.
He explained that the market will reject prices above a certain threshold, hence the innovation of 1kg bags of rice sold at N500, which can produce 10 plates. He noted that the masses could readily afford the 1kg bags which could last about 2 days at a time instead of the 50, 25 or 10 kg bags which cost more.
As for market potential, Maigari noted that Nigeria had the numbers to make agriculture profitable and food affordable- “if we can get it right through policies that promote investment in agriculture by providing adequate security and ensuring safe access to farms.”
According to him, providing funding interventions will not yield the desired objectives of attaining food security if farmers who receive the grants cannot go to their farms to cultivate crops.
Also, the national president of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Arc Kabir Ibrahim, noted that the rising cost of food crops could be linked to the attendant rise in the cost of chemical fertilisers as most soil was deficient in nutrients which needed to be supplemented with fertilisers.
He said availability and affordability of fertilisers are very germane as it is an input that is necessary for crop growth.
He noted that fertilisers which farmers were purchasing at N5000, were now being sold for N9500, creating a catch 22 situation for the farmers who have to manage to break even.
“Farmers are not making any profit from the high costs of food items in the market, because inflation is across the board, there is a sharp increase in the cost of transportation, and nothing is predictable at the moment. So, we expect that prices could continue to skyrocket except farmers get inputs at affordable prices. We as farmers will never exploit the situation to enrich ourselves, rather we are struggling with many rising input costs including labour to keep our heads just above water,” he said.
LEADERSHIP Sunday reports that the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PTF) is yet to release its flagship 20:10:10 fertiliser.
The PFI through the sale of 20:10:10 at N5500 in the last four years and N5000 last year due to COVID-19 was able to cushion the affordability to farmers and also bring respite to the National Food System.
Investigation shows that the prices across the states currently range between N6,700 and N8,000 for NPK and N8,800 to N13,000 for Urea.
On his part, the national vice president, Agro Dealers and national secretary, Fadama Farmers, Prince Henry Ebole, speaking from Benin City, disclosed that efforts by the body of farmers in the state to get the federal government to make the product available have met a brick wall.
He said unlike in the past farmers across the 774 local government areas of the country were classified into agro –centres where SMS were sent to them to come and pick up fertilisers for their crops.
“We have a big problem in our system. We have had several zoom meetings, written to the Presidency for approval but to this moment nothing. You see, most of the things we produce here are basically on fertilisers.
“Farmers are suffering and tired of this non-availability of the product. In the previous regime, you paid for 4 fertilisers and you got 2 for free under the Growth Enhancement Support Service. Then, all the 774 local government areas had agro-centre where farmers were getting messages to come and pick up fertilizers but today there is nothing like that.”
However, Alhaji Abudulahi Mohammed, Lead Farmers, Edo North and president, Izemoya Farmers’ Cooperative, on his part, said despite the delay by the Presidential fertilizer Initiative, PFI, in making fertilizers available, the 60,000 Auchi fertilizer and Chemical Company , commissioned by Vice President Yomi Osibajo, in 2017 has failed the farmers in the state.
“We had thought that since a fertiliser blending plant was established we would see fertiliser to buy. The plant is not producing, not to talk of supplying other states and the federal government is not responding to our demand.
“The rain has started, the people are planting. We are thinking that by now fertilizers from the government will be made available. We are ready to buy even at N5,500 but it is nowhere available,” he lamented.
Also, Ekene Uzodinma from New Enugu Agricultural Project Initiative disclosed that farmers in the state were yet to receive any subsidized fertiliser from the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative this year.
He said, “As of today, a bag of fertiliser was sold at N8,300. I have 250 hectares of rice farm but I have not gotten any fertilizer from the government. Government should set up a process that will ensure that fertilizers will get to the real farmers.”
On his part, the chief operating officer, Probity Global Solutions, Olusola Ogunniyi, told our correspondent that one of the ways the government can drive down cost of food is to stop subsidising input, but instead subsidise output.
He contended that if inputs are subsidised, non-farmers will collect fertilisers, seeds and so on, and go away, but if output is subsidised the beneficiaries must harvest to be given other considerations.
Ogunniyi said with rains coming, farmers should form cooperatives to make it easy for them to access finance and bargain well to reduce the influence of middlemen. Corroborating the AFAN president’s stance, Ogunniyi also observed that fertiliser sourcing is still a big problem for the real farmers, adding also that the cost of transportation and accessibility need to be addressed.
Talking about government interventions, he said, “In the USA, five litres of milk is about $5. I asked around and found out about government subsidies. The milk producer must produce and sell before he can get rebates, so it goes back to my first position.
“Also, farmers need training. The bulk of the farmers are smallholder farmers and they use primitive methods. Some don’t even understand the difference between planting seeds and planting from previous harvest.
“Again, they don’t even understand plant spacing techniques. So, asides access to finance and market, they need training and farm extension as Nigeria has among the lowest farmer to extension worker ratio in the world.”
The Abia State coordinator of Nigeria Cassava Growers Association, Eze Philip Ajomiwe, said there might not be an end soon to food scarcity in the country until the federal government addresses the challenge insecurity occasioned by Boko Haram, Fulanis herdsmen, and bandits pose in the North.
The traditional ruler of Oriendu Autonomous community in Umuahia North local government area of the state said in the same vain, Fulani herdsmen have been having filled day grazing their cattle on farmlands and destroying streams and other sources of water unchallenged.
The first vice president of Nigeria Cassava Processors and Marketers Association maintained that to find a lasting solution to the challenge the people must rise up in one voice against the challenges to enable farmers to go back to their farms.
Similarly, an agriculture expert, Chief (Engr) Anderson Onyema, said the government had been threatening those who are the major causes of food scarcity in the country with kid-gloves, adding that whatever food reserve is left of the country will soon be exhausted as replenishments are not coming.
The programme manager, Abia State Agriculture Development Programme (ADP), Chief Israel Amanze, who was on the same page with the others, however, noted that many other factors have led to food insecurity in the country, including not giving the agriculture sector due attention over the years.
He called for concerted effort by governments at all levels in the country to give the sector its deserved attention now before the situation begins to bite harder.
It would be recalled that the federal government’s silos and warehouses and the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) stores across the country were attacked by hoodlums under the guise of seeking Covid-19 palliatives.
Unfortunately, the items carted away were Single Super Phosphate and NPK fertilisers, which they erroneously thought was ‘Garri’ (Cassava grains).
In April 2020, the federal government approved a total of 70,000 metric tonnes of grains from Nigeria’s 100,000 Strategic Grain Reserves (SGR) for distribution to the poor and vulnerable amidst the lockdown.
The SGRs are located in all the States of the Federation (Silos are at different stages of completion and operation) and the grains are released based on the assessment and advice of relevant departments of government.
The National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) also conserves seeds for onward 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.
Unfortunately, on Sunday, October 25, 2020, hoodlums further broke into the NACS Warehouse in Bukuru, Jos, Plateau State and looted wheat seeds worth millions of Naira, which were not fit for human consumption as they have been treated with Agrochemicals and are only suitable for planting.