Emergency on food security: Policy dereliction, consequences and solutions

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) declared a state of emergency on food security on July 14, 203, to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal and address the precarious food shortages and hunger that have defied all efforts. BAT is the only president to have made such a declaration on food security, the most critical security for human survival. I can imagine BAT’s feelings when he declared a state of emergency on food security as a quick fix to address the monster of hunger and squalor. He was visualising every hand to be on deck to make agrarian Nigeria achieve food security in a matter of months with excess for exports. 

He was so confident that we all thought his aggressive strategy could trigger the transformation of the agricultural potential into reality. Unfortunately, the president’s objectives on food security are yet to be achieved. Who is covertly or overly sabotaging BAT’s efforts to achieve a food-secure Nigeria? Are there invisible actors clogging the wheel driving the food security agenda? What are the consequences? What are the possible solutions?

The Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Senator Abubakar Kyari, presented a comprehensive plan to achieve food security in the fours of BAT’s first tenure presidency. This plan, segmented into short, medium and long-term strategies, can potentially turn the tide on our food security crisis. One of the short-term programmes was the African Development Bank-funded National Agricultural Growth Scheme and Agro Pocket of wheat production initiative in 107 irrigation clusters across 15 states. At the end of the first phase of the dry season, the agro-pocket programme achieved 96.5% success with 118,670 ha. 

The second phase was launched, targeting 150,000 hectares of rice and maize production, which targeted 300,000 genuine farmers. After the launch, there was virtually nothing on ground until the dry season ended. No information was coming from the government on what the challenges were except when the Minister of State, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, announced receipt of two million bags of assorted fertiliser from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for onward distribution to farmers during a live AIT programme “Pivotal” held on Wednesday, April 24, 2024.

As I write this piece, the two million bags of CBN-donated fertilisers are yet to be distributed to farmers. Who holds the fertilisers when farmers critically need such an important commodity for their wet season production? Today, a 50kg fertiliser sells for N35,000 to N50,000. The lack or low intervention in the outgoing dry season and the high fuel price put much pressure on the farmers. Due to price escalation, many farmers have abandoned their rice and maize farms because they could not afford fertiliser. It was a complete loss to those farmers. Flooding the market with two million bags of fertiliser will crash fertiliser prices and increase the farmers’ productivity. What are the consequences of this action?

The primary consequence is the hyperinflation of food items and necessities nationwide. In June 2023, the inflation rate for food prices increased by 0.38 percent, from 22.41 percent to 22.79 percent in the previous month. The recent report of the World Food Programme on Nigeria’s poverty and food security says, “Conflict and insecurity, rising inflation and the impact of the climate crisis continue to drive hunger in Nigeria – with 26.5 million people across the country projected to face acute hunger in the June-August 2024 lean season. Insecurity exacerbates the food security situation. Banditry and kidnapping in the North-west and central have driven farmers away from their farms, creating additional food deficits and further driving commodity prices to the rooftop.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says Nigeria’s inflation rate rose to 33.95 percent in May 2024 as prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages continued to surge. The prices of 100kg maize and 50kg locally milled rice are about N90,000 and N87,000, respectively. According to NBS, the prices of ‘yam, semovita, and gari went up by 44.66% in May 2024 compared to their prices in April 2024.

Another consequence is the increase in people living in multidimensional poverty. The removal of petrol subsidy, loose monetary policy, and naira depreciation have brought nominal earnings of people below the inflation rate, pushing another 10 million Nigerians into poverty by the end of 2023. Based on World Bank projections, about 40.7 percent of Nigerians are estimated to live below the international poverty line by the end of 2024. What are the possible solutions?

The first solution is to release the two million bags of assorted fertiliser at subsidised prices and ensure equitable distribution to genuine farmers nationwide. Fertiliser distribution should be an emergency and done promptly without further delay before the end of June 2024. At least, farmers can use fertiliser to top-dress. The next is the resumption of the Agro-pocket programme. If the partial subsidy under the Agro-pocket during wheat production had continued, the cost of farm inputs would have been regulated. 

The Agro-pocket patronised some of the key players in the supply chain, ensuring that farmers were supplied and that demand was reduced in other markets. President Bola Tinubu signed a contract with the Nigerian people when he declared an emergency on food security and should give a marching order for a full policy implementation. Those who become clogs in the wheel of progress should be appropriately sanctioned. 

Is the ministry receiving the necessary funding for the Agro-pocket programme and other programmes outlined in the detailed policy document? If not, why?

What is the federal and state support for farmers in the 2024 wet season? Can an emergency meeting of the Council of Agriculture be convened to harmonise all government’s wet season supports for maximum benefits to farmers? Farmers are critically in need of support to actualise their wet-season farming. Production is a fundamental and primary event along the agriculture value chain.

Another critical solution is addressing banditry and insurgency nationwide, especially in the North, the nation’s food basket. I have written several times on the security issue. Here, synergy among the security agencies and community watch guards is paramount. Using kinetic and non-kinetic tools, intelligence gathering and utilisation, and proactive operation can give quick and desired results. The federal government cannot do it alone, and it has to take a multifaceted approach involving relevant agencies, states, and local governments.

Another important solution is challenging the 17 National Agricultural Research Institutes to collaborate with NAERLS Zaria on revitalising adopted villages and schools for extension services. NAERLS should be strengthened and supported to execute its mandates of using traditional and electronic channels. It will expand and strengthen agricultural extension services to provide farmers with technical knowledge, training, and information on best practices. 

It will help farmers adopt new technologies and improve their farming techniques. The Institute will support smallholder farmers who play a significant role in food production. It will establish farmer support programmes that provide smallholder farmers training, capacity building, and financial assistance through the ADPs across the 36 states and the FCT.

Finally, essential stakeholders need to be consulted to ensure the successful implementation of government’s policies, projects, and programmes and the attainment of goals. The Agro-pocket Task Team was conceived but abandoned at one point before formation and utilisation. Can the FMAFS revisit the idea? All hands must be on deck to achieve food security.