The move by the federal government to monitor food inflation while at the same time encouraging agriculture as a major avenue through which the country can be returned to the path of economic sustainability is a welcome development.
President Muhammadu Buhari, while speaking at the fifth regular meeting of the Presidential Economic Advisory Council held virtually at the Presidential Villa, late last year, had directed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to stop approving foreign exchange for food importation.
The meeting had as its focus, a review of, and reflections on the global and domestic economy in the outgone year. In issuing that directive to the CBN, the Presidency pointed out that, already, about seven states are producing all the rice the nation needs. The directive became necessary as the federal government reflects on the advantages of diversifying the economy of which agriculture is a major part of.
Specifically, the President said that it would have been difficult to imagine what the food situation in the country could have been if the federal government had not proactively embraced agriculture before the devastating economic crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are enthused that the government itself is taking agriculture seriously after many years of policy flip-flops. If the government has finally decided to encourage Nigerians to go back to the land, that, in the opinion of this newspaper, will be an achievement worth celebrating. It took the drive and commitment of one man, the Governor of CBN, Mr Godwin Emefiele, to reposition the agriculture sector and make it attractive to the elite who had been erroneously indoctrinated with the idea that the nation was awash with petro-dollars and therefore did not need the drudgery that agriculture was perceived to be.
It is pertinent to stress that this renewed focus on agriculture is an opportunity that must not be missed again if the country were to make life easier for the people. That is why we will continue to demand that, as a follow up to the successes recorded by the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), a legal framework ought to be put in place to make it irreversible when Emefiele must have served his term.
In our considered opinion, decades of neglect of the once vibrant agriculture sector had impaired the economy and exposed the country to importation of food materials and other necessities that the nation can easily produce locally. With time, a huge appetite for consumption of foreign foods became absurdly normal. Sadly, it has remained so for a long time, hence the closure of the borders by this administration which has in turn promoted not only a return to agriculture but the consumption of indigenous goods and the conservation of scarce foreign exchange.
However, it goes without saying that the recent couple of years has been tough for the country on account of insecurity largely due to insurgency, killer herdsmen and bandits mainly in the Northern region. The situation was, however, compounded by the impact of COVID-19. These unfortunate developments have adversely affected food production and, in the process, increased the cost of food items.
It is in the light of the prevailing scenario that we think that the decision of government to monitor food inflation as a fallout of the bigger picture of not stimulating importation of food is laudable to the extent that the government continues to support the agriculture sector in every way possible.
We believe that monitoring food inflation will help in addressing the exploitation that seems to have become the stock in trade of a few who are capitalizing on the current situation at hand to exacerbate the imminent food insecurity. Be that as it may, as vaccines for COVID-19 become more accessible and the world begins to normalize, we are also hopeful that the security situation will improve so that farmers can return to their farms. The need for farmers to be safe in their farms will serve as a major boost to the call for a return to agriculture. This is imperative because abundance of locally produced food is the sustainable way to tackle the tendency of food inflation.
In our opinion, it must also be realised that most smugglers hardly source their foreign exchange from the official window. What this means is that denying them access to that official source is not enough to check the business of bringing foreign food materials into the country. What we think must be done and urgently too, is the sustained push towards self-sufficiency in local food production. The private sector must continue to be encouraged to partner with the government in ways that will enhance the expansion of agri-business.
This, we aver, will entail the provision of more incentives to farmers not just by extending inputs to them but also by helping them develop markets where they can sale at prices that will guarantee good return on investments and facilitate expansion with its attendant job creation and economic empowerment potentials.