BY BAYO AMODU, Abuja and CHIKA IZUORA, Lagos
Disturbed by the surge in prices of food stuffs and its attendant impact on Nigerians, the federal government has concluded plans to crash the prices of rice and other foodstuffs within the next two weeks.
To ensure that this is fully implemented, government is already holding wide range consultative meetings with farmers.
Minister of agriculture and rural development, Audu Ogbeh, who is the chairman of presidential task force on soaring prices of foodstuffs disclosed this in an interview with LEADERSHIP.
Recently, the national bureau of statistics (NBS), in its annual reports, indicated that the nation is still being weighed down by soaring prices of food stuffs in the face of rising inflation.
Before the NBS report which is something most Nigerians were already conversant with, the federal government had in February set up a task force on food security, with the sole aim of looking at the causes of increase in the prices of food items across the country and addressing them accordingly.
The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who briefed journalists on the constitution of the committee said government was concerned about rising costs of food items in the country and was poised to bring it down.
Mohammed said the committee, which is inter-ministerial in nature, was expected to report back to the council next week.
“Government is quite concerned about the rising cost of food items and the fact that more often than not even when these products are available, when they reach the market, they are sold at very exorbitant prices”, he minister had said.
Almost sixteen weeks after the committee was set up, Nigerians still lament over the alarming rate at which prices of foodstuffs keeps increasing by the day.
But speaking exclusively to LEADERSHIP, chairman of the committee and minister of agriculture and rural development, Ogbeh, said after weeks of underground work by the committee, the federal government was set to crash prices of food stuffs.
“The federal government will intervene on the prices of rice and other commodities in the next two weeks”, Ogbeh said, adding that details of the intervention will be clearly spelt out for all Nigerians to see.
The minister who admitted that weeks after his committee was inaugurated prices of foodstuffs are still much on the high side hinted that the committee has concluded arrangements to meet with rice growers and millers.
“We are talking to farmers to ensure that the prices are drastically reduced”, he stated, just as he pointed out that the current government has put in place different measures aimed at making farming encouraging.
Stressing that farming is a viable business, Ogbeh regretted that farmers have been enjoying government’s windfall but feel reluctant to bring down prices of foodstuffs.
“Although the high price is bad for non-farmers, it is good for the country because more and more people will rush to agriculture. At the end of it all, production will increase and prices will necessarily fall”, he said.
He insisted that his committee and the federal ministry of agriculture have intervened in different ways aimed at making farming more pleasurable to farmers.
He added that cost of credit to farmers has been reduced, even as he hinted that the Bank of Agriculture is being re-organised to further bring down the interest rates.
LEADERSHIP recalls that the senior special assistant to the acting president on media and publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, had specifically issued a statement announcing the decision of the government to constitute a presidential task force to urgently consider measures that would ensure a steady flow of produce to the market and reverse recent price increases.
In the statement, Akande quoted Osinbajo as expressing concern over some of the inflationary rates of food prices, noting that the task force would explore options to promote availability and affordability of food items to Nigerians.
“The Task Force, which would be meeting with the Acting President in the discharge of its urgent assignment, will therefore draw out a practical plan and present same to the Council”, he said.
Members of the Task Force include Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun; Minister of Industry, Trade and Development, Dr. Okey Enelamah; Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi; Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu and Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige.
Meanwhile experts in the agric sector have argued that there cannot be any magic of crashing food prices in two weeks.
The director-general of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LLCI), Mr Muda Yusuf in a telephone interview with LEADERSHIP yesterday, said the federal, state and even local governments need to invest more in productive activities in the nation’s agriculture sector.
He also said the nation needs to create a balance by relaxing some policies on importation since it is obvious that domestic capacity cannot meet up with huge demands in food production. ‘‘We cannot become self-sufficient overnight. No magic can be done in a hurry”, he stated.
Also, in his opinion, group head, agriculture finance of Heritage bank Plc, Mr. Olugbenga Awe, averred that there was no magic that could lead to crash in price of food items in the market.
Awe told our correspondent on phone that the dearth of infrastructure is a major challenge to agriculture development and growth in the country.
He maintained that except the issue of power is addressed to aid food processing and storage, roads provided to ensure farm yield are preserved after harvest, prices of food items cannot go down.
“Let us not deceive ourselves. We need to first look at those critical areas, address them and then come up with timeline on when this can be possible. Government should go into the market and force farmers to sell at a fixed price. We must always ensure that supply meets demand at all times for this to be possible”.
On his part, president of Soil Science Society of Nigeria, Prof. Victor Chude, said the possibility of government crashing food prices in two weeks is a political and ambitious statement.
He, however, stated that if the right actions are taken and Implemented, it may be possible in the long run.
Chude said, “Remember the committee had listed the high cost of transportation, poor infrastructure, particularly poor state of our roads, high cost of fuel, bottlenecks on our highways, multiple control post, ravaging pest and diseases, among others, are the reasons for the high cost of food commodities.
“So, until all these are tackled, I will say it is very ambitious and not feasible. Except they are able to tackle all these challenges within the set time, which I do not think is possible, then it is indeed an ambitious statement”.
Prof. Chude said the government was trying and that efforts are being made to reduce these cost, but more has to be done.
“Also, I am aware that the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, has laid down strategies to addressing the invasion of Army Worms across the country. So, all these could help address the issue of high food cost”.
Also speaking, the vice president, All Farmers Association of Nigeria( AFAN). Chief Daniel Okafor, said he does not see the possibility of crashing food prices.
He said “ I do not know the method they will use to achieve that. However, I say good luck to them”, He continued: “If they want to do magic, they should release the budget, but until that is done, there is nothing they can do. Until they release and implement the budget, whatever they want to do, good luck to them”.
Adding his voice, the national president, Federation of Agricultural Commodity Association of Nigeria (FACAN), Dr Victor Iyama said, “Maybe they have facts on how they want to go about that but we are marketers and farmers and do not know the details. So, we will have to wait and see. There must be something they know that we don’t. So, until then, I will rather reserve my comments”.