…FG ‘ll continue to promote investments in agriculture—Buhari
…Says Nigeria averts food crisis despite COVID-19
By Emma Amaize, Clifford Ndujihe, Victor Young & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
The Presidency, yesterday, in Abuja raised alarm that the recent upsurge in food prices is gravitating to a crisis that could threaten Nigeria’s food security.
It also said that though many factors were responsible for increasing food prices, information from stakeholders within the agricultural sector showed there was a decline in recent days.
However, President Muhammadu Buhari assured that the Federal Government will continue to promote policies favourable to investments in agriculture.
Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, who raised the alarm on the hike in food prices in his remarks at the National Food Security Council meeting at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, said his office on Wednesday met with agricultural commodity association to ascertain the root causes of the recent spike in food prices.
He also said the meeting was to adopt a strategy that could bring solution to the potential crisis.
The alarm raised by the President’s Chief of Staff drew reactions from such stakeholders as the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, who blamed the situation on unfavourable government policies.
But Professor Gambari expressed optimism that with determination, coordination and hard work, the administration would weather the storm and ensure stability and improvement.
Food crisis looms
He said: “The recent surge in national food prices is gradually evolving into a food crisis with the ability to threaten the nation’s food security.
“Yesterday (Wednesday), my office as the secretariat of the National Food Security Council, met with the all Agricultural Commodity Association to ascertain the root causes of the recent spike in food prices and craft mitigating strategies to what could be a potential crisis.
“Although various concerns were raised of the root cause of increase in commodity cost, we have been informed that prices are actually on the decline as new grains have been introduced to the market.
“For example, new maize which was previously sold for N25,000 per bag is now being sold between N12,000 and N17,000 and it is expected to fall to between N7,000 and N8,000 per bag by November 2020.
“According to the various leaders of agricultural commodity association, the price decline has also been experienced in millet, beans and sorghum. The hike, therefore, is to be seen as a transient situation.”
He said with President Buhari being currently at the meeting and also being somebody who knows about farming and agriculture more than many of them at the meeting, his presence was very instructive in addressing not just the hike and transient nature and pricing of foodstuff but also to underscore the importance the administration places on national food security.
He said: “However, it is important to note that the most prevailing concern of the various leaders of the agricultural commodity association, was their demand that there should be better coordination, synergy and cooperation across the sector.
“This has largely accounted for the gross misinformation and nationwide speculation which is being experienced.
“Not disregarding the impact of other value triggers such as the cyclical-off season period phenomenon, the COVID-19 pandemic and infrastructure challenges, the importance of collaboration can still not be overemphasized. I urge that we all work hand in hand to ensure the protection of our nation’s food basket.
“Agriculture is a major priority for this administration and the crucial driver for the development of the nation. Therefore, the growth of the sector leaves no room for complacency and there is still a long arduous road to go before achieving those goals.
“However, with determination, coordination and hard work, we have the capacity and will, therefore demonstrate the wherewithal to exceed our expectation.”
In his remarks, President Muhammadu Buhari assured that the Federal Government will continue to promote policies that will favour investments in the agricultural sector.
The President also said that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the level of preparedness of nations to shocks of food security, explaining that the Federal Government’s wisdom in promoting self-sufficiency over the years helped significantly in averting a food crisis.
He assured that the Federal Government would continue to promote policies that favoured investments in the agricultural sector.
He said: “The coronavirus pandemic has illustrated more than any event in recent history how countries must strive harder to protect food systems. It has also exposed the limits of dependency on other countries.
“In the last five years, we have recorded notable achievements. Despite the decline in GDP by 6.1 per cent in Q2 of 2020 as a direct result of coronavirus, the agricultural sector continued to grow because of government targeted policies.”
He commended Nigerian farmers for contributing to the stability in food security, pointing out that the favourable rainy seasons should serve as encouragement for many to take up farming as a vocation.
“I am pleased to note that most Nigerians are taking advantage of the opportunities in the agriculture and agric-business sector. I want to assure you that this government will continue to support these initiatives and many more to come,’’ he said.
The President also said efforts will be channeled to innovative ways of farming that will guarantee maximum output.
“To protect agricultural investments and boost confidence to our farmers we have deployed thousands of agro-rangers and integrated rural communities to the formal economy by extending access to credit and inputs to rural farmers and building feeder roads.
“We have invested in building our strategic grain reserves in recent years which we recently released significant quantities to cushion the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to vulnerable households and industries,’’ the President said.
President Buhari sympathized with farmers and families that lost loved ones to recent floods in the country, assuring that the government will support those that were affected.
Bagudu on floods
Speaking to State House Correspondents after the meeting on recent losses incurred from the flooding which affected some states across the country, including his own state, the Kebbi State governor, who is also Vice Chairman of the Council, Governor Atiku Bagudu, said details of the level of destruction were still being compiled.
He said the impact of the floods were massive, not just on agriculture, but on lives as many lives were lost in the state, adding that reports from various places had indicated that water levels are still said to be raising.
He said, “The quantification is being done because it’s a very diligent exercise by the National Emergency Management Agency, in conjunction with State Emergency Management Agency and that activity is currently taking place to ensure that we appreciate the record and support, as much as possible, all those who have been affected.
“Beyond the expression of condolences and sympathy, the report is being awaited, which will be incorporated in the written presentation to Mr. President. However, it has all been acknowledged by Mr. President in particular and others that the scale of flooding is massive.
“The water levels are still rising, the River Niger, as per the report sent by Niger Republic; the country has never witnessed this level of water since they have ever known the river. Similar stories are coming about other river and dams.”
We’re afflicted with govt of lamentations – Afenifere
Reacting to the alarm raised by the Chief of Staff, the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, wondered why the government laments each time there was a problem instead of addressing it.
National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin said: “Why do we have a government that laments like every man on the street? The reason they are the government is to see problem and solve it but this government opens the book of lamentations all the time.”
Similarly, Acting Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prince U. Achi-Okpaga, said: “ No comment my brother. The government is becoming more clueless.”
High cost food items a symptom of physical insecurity—NLC
Also, the General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Emma Ugboaja, simply said: “Physical insecurity is the major threat to food security and upsurge in food prices is only a symptom flowing from it.”
Our govt has wrong economic policies – PANDEF
On his part, the National Chairman of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, the umbrella body of monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of Niger-Delta, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, retd, said the rise in food prices was inescapable as government has not put in place correct economic policies.
His words: “PANDEF has not studied the presidency’s claim, we are in a state of sadness about the general situation in the country, everything is going the way it is and I think government has not arranged our economy properly.
‘’What is happening now is inevitable, we should have expected these things would happen. Again, government is the one that can stop it from happening by bringing the right policies and having a human face in some of the policies they put in place.
‘’If their policies do not have a human face, then what is happening, which is a rat race, is bound to happen, everybody wants to shift the blame to the other.
“The farmer is increasing the price of his food because he wants to have enough money to travel, as the man that is in transportation sector has increased his price and the person handling electricity has increased his price, so all these things are the result of poor policies.
“What does President Buhari want them to do, that there should not be increase in food prices or what?
“For some time now, we have been talking about so many things coming in numbers, we have talked about increase in fuel price, we have talked about insecurity of farmers, all these things put together would make food prices go up. And, of course, if food prices go up, it is general insecurity.
‘’I really do not know what Mr. President himself wants us to do, the answer is with them, many of us have been saying before now that this is not the way government should go, but since they did not want to list listen, there is no way there will be no hardship in the land.
“Let me clarify that it is not the farmers that want food prices to go up and there is nothing they can do about it themselves. If you increase petrol price, how do they transport their produce, even there are certain food items they have to buy. Once there is scarcity, there is demand, the farmers find it difficult to meet up.
“In fact, there have been too many issues recently just coming back to back like that, so it is not only food prices that have gone up, everything has gone up, which is the danger, but I do not know what the Presidency means by the fact that the upsurge in food prices is a threat to the nation’s food security, as if they did not know that this will happen with its wrong policies.’’