Averting food riots in Nigeria

The decision of the federal government to release 102,000 metric tons of grains from the national food reserves and import foodstuff symbolises a willingness to address the current spike in the prices of food, energy and other essential items in the country.

The decision which followed peaceful  demonstrations against high prices of food and cost of living in Kano, Niger and four other states, indicates that the APC-led government did not dismiss the protests as acts of sabotage  sponsored by political opponents. 

Even though releasing 102,000 metric tons of grains to the public may briefly moderate prices of the relevant grains; but resorting to food importation cannot sustainably end the current and future food insecurity in the country. 

It is important to appreciate that the time lag of about six months between placing the order for the food, processing payment, shipping it to our shores, evacuating it off bulk vessels,  transporting it to bagging stations and then to distribution centres nationwide will make the imported food arrive too late for the people. 

The six-month time lag from purchase to delivery is enough time to produce more food locally as the wet season in Nigeria starts in April. Indeed, the money that will go into food importation may serve the country better if deployed to support the production of  staple food items at home during the approaching wet season. Nigeria does not have to produce export crops to please foreigners only to resort to importing foodstuff to feed its own population.

Some of the money for importing food can as well be used to support ongoing  irrigation farming  this dry season.  It is doable with the requisite degree of sincerity of purpose.

While addressing the food issue, the governor of Kano state spoke of  traveling to Abuja and inform President Bola Tinubu that food prices are high in Kano state. He met with food traders in the state and urged them to cut food prices and stop hoarding food.

The governor of Niger state issued an instruction, perhaps unlawfully, banning food traders from buying foodstuff in the state and ferrying the items  to elsewhere in the country.  This could deprive food processing factories in parts of the country, especially the South-west,  of raw materials.

Candidly, the measures and actions by the federal government and the governors of Kano and Niger states have not addressed the underlying reasons and causes for the high cost of food and other essentials in the country. 

The causes of the precarious food situation are hardened criminals and deadly insurgents that have displaced and exiled whole farming communities from their land in the North. Restoring security in the farming communities, recovering and securing the land to facilitate the return of farmers and give them essential support to cultivate their farms are essential.

Other causes of high food prices include unpredictable weather pattern that has caused drought and floods which devastated crops; prohibitive prices of agricultural inputs such as certified seeds, farm labour, fertilisers, fuel for irrigation pumps and transportation.

Support for farmers through the provision of certified seeds, agro-chemicals for pest control, extension service and fertilisers should be prioritised.

Lack of continuity, poor funding and haphazard implementation of  otherwise promising initiatives in the agriculture sector should be replaced with seriousness, methodical approach and commitment to work for the good of the country.

Many initiatives including Farm Settlement Programmes in the three defunct regions of the First Republic; Shehu Shagari’s Green Revolution; Obasanjo’s Operation Feed the Nation; the Agricultural Transformation Agenda; Buhari’s National Food Security Programme and the Tinubu-declared State of Emergency on Food Security in Nigeria could not succeed fully due to poor implementation and inadequate funding.

The same challenges minimised the impact of other agricultural development programmes including the National Accelerated Food Production Programme launched by the administration of General Yakubu Gowon after a devastating drought; the School-to-Land Programme; the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme, Youth Employment in Agriculture (YEAP) and the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme. 

The institutions that were set up to facilitate the attainment of food security for Nigerians including the River Basins Development Authorities; the Bank of Agriculture; National Agricultural Insurance Corporation; so many specialised research institutes; a National Seeds Council; National Agricultural Land Development Authority and Cooperatives Colleges at best produced mixed results.

It is appropriate  to evaluate the effectiveness of these programmes and institutions with a view to phasing out those that cannot achieve their purposes. 

Agricultural  projects  financed with foreign loans  should be sincerely implemented. All future agricultural projects should be homegrown and funded by the National Agricultural Development Fund established by the APC-led Buhari administration. 

Salisu Na’inna is APC National Director of Publicity on leave