Recently, prices of food items have gone up, in most cases, outrageously beyond the reach of ordinary Nigerians. And from all statistical indications, the scenario is not about to get better anytime soon. Available reports allude the root cause of this obvious threat to food security to a potpourri of factors. For one, it has been alleged that panic buying from federal agencies, multinationals, and merchants from neighboring countries is a major cause of the inflationary spiral in food demand and supply chain. It is also alleged that this is because of an anticipated food scarcity.
But no matter the situation, experts aver that it is wrong for any agency to be hoarding foodstuffs or grains without consideration for the effect of such an act in the present when prices are hiked beyond the reach of the common man.
Another factor suspected to be responsible for the astronomical rise in food prices is the imagined fall in the value of the nation’s currency-the Naira which has made it so cheap that middlemen could purchase substantial quantities of produce to be resold later at absurd prices.
But in the view of the federal government as articulated by President Muhammadu Buhari himself, the high cost of food items are traceable to the COVID-19 pandemic which is taken a heavy toll on the economies of all countries, including Nigeria. Also, in his opinion, natural disasters like floods which have caused large scale destruction to agricultural farmlands are impacting negatively on the efforts to boost local production.
This, he explained, has led to food inflation which the government is working hard to address. According to the President, “apart from the destruction caused to rice farms by floods, middlemen have also taken advantage of the local rice production to exploit fellow Nigerians, thereby undermining our goal of supporting local food production at affordable prices.”
There is one major factor that is grossly being overlooked. This is the negative effect of insecurity on agricultural activity. As farmers are exposed to the activities of bandits and kidnappers, it is no surprise that the supply chain is adversely affected resulting in high prices for available stock in the market.
Without doubt, in our view, the resultant effect of high cost of food stuff is the incidences of malnutrition which mostly is related to poverty which leads to people eating what is available and which in most cases are poor quality food. This is not peculiar to Nigeria as it is the case in many parts of the world which are presently experiencing a multiple malnutrition burden. However, changes in food systems are believed to be capable in no time to lead to healthier diets.
Unfortunately, efforts and measures by the government to improve the food chain are being negatively curtailed by challenges like low productivity occasioned by insecurity because farmers can no longer go about their business without the fear of been kidnapped or killed, flood due to lack of proper drainage at most rural areas, high cost of farm inputs like fertilizers, price variations and unfavourable trade realities, post-harvest loss among others.
However, this newspaper is of the opinion that the situation is redeemable. What are required are commitment and concerted effort on the part of everyone including the government at all levels, their agencies and the people themselves working together to achieve the desired result. Enhancing farmers’ productivity and livelihood is key in this aspect of the agricultural sector.
Nigeria’s food system is complex and is still transforming especially with the intensifying impetus in that direction by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on the watch of the Governor, Godwin Emefiele. The apex bank’s agricultural policies are largely influenced by the realization that with increasing urbanization and rapid population growth, self-sustenance is a goal that must be pursued very vigorously, aggressively and that includes making importation under any guise unattractive.
And this is where agribusinesses come in. They are required to key in to the CBN drive towards local sourcing of all agricultural produce required in the production of finished products to be made available in the market place. This calls for heavy collaborative investments on their part. It is doable if the urgency of the moment as regards the reduction in food prices must be met. Recently, the apex bank released from its strategic reserve a large quantity of maize so as to bring down prices. It is a good example that other businesses in the habit of stockpiling agro-products must emulate if the ordinary Nigerian must be saved the harmful effect of food scarcity, the high cost of available stock and the health implication of not having enough quality food to eat.
But as we pointed out earlier, the CBN’s policy of Nigeria being self-sufficient in food supply is one that is realizable with the cooperation of all. To that extent, when farmers access agricultural loans put forward by CBN, it becomes imperative that they must endeavor to pay back in time for others to benefit from the same facility. That way the engine of growth in the agricultural sector will be sustainable in the long run.