The Maradi rail solution to food inflation

Nigeria’s surging food inflation is something of grave concern to the whole world. Millions are already starving. Food inflation in the month of February stood menacingly at 21.7 per cent. The March figure would be more frightening as food stocks wane with distance from the last harvest.
Three key factors feature prominently in Nigeria’s worsening food security crisis. The first is Nigeria’s primitive method of farming which leaves the food security of 207 million people in the hands of about 70 million subsistence farmers clearing the land with cutlasses and tilling the soil with hoes.

Nigerian farmers do not believe in irrigation. After cultivation, they pray to God to send down the rain to wet the soil. If for any reason, man’s ruining of the earth inhibits adequate rainfall for the season, the crops fail and everyone writhes fingers in utter helplessness.

The complete dependence on providence is responsible for the low yield in the fields. Last year the cassava harvest was atrociously low because of poor rainfall. Consequently, the price of a ton of cassava has risen from N15, 000 to N80, 000. That partially explains the surge in food inflation and nothing has happened to tame it.
Besides the total dependence on rain fall for crop cultivation, most Nigerian farmers have little or no access to modern high yield seedlings. Even as Nigeria prides itself as the world’s largest producer of cassava, the yield is atrociously low by international standard.

Nigerian farmers toil to squeeze out 3.5 metric tons of cassava from one hectare of land, while their counterparts in countries with less fertile soil reap seven metric tons from the same size of land. The low yield emanates from the use of primitive seedlings for cultivation.
Fifty years ago, Nigeria was the world leader in palm oil production. Now the primitive method of farming has relegated Nigeria to a distant fifth in world palm oil production chart. Consequently, Nigeria now imports raw and processed palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia.

Nigeria’s problem in palm oil production is that the subsistence farmers producing 70 per cent of the palm oil depend on low yield uncultivated wild groves for their production. The uncultivated groves bear fruits grudgingly and the oil content is very low.
The irregular fruiting and low oil content is worsened by primitive processing methods that manage to squeeze out just 50 per cent of the oil from the fibres. The farmers leave everything to providence just like their counterparts who cultivate cassava.

The Fulani herdsmen who now march their cattle into farms and feed them with crops cultivated through hard manual labour are another serious threat to Nigeria’s food security. Their cattle eat up a chunk of the crops that the subsistence farmers depend on thus reducing the harvest at the end of the day and pushing up the cost of the few food items filtering into the market.

The worst part of the threat from the Fulani herdsmen is that they are murderers. When the owners of the crops they use to feed their cattle protest, they move into the villages at night, slaughter the protesting farmers and burn down their thatch houses.
While the Fulani herdsmen threaten food production in all parts of the country because of their nomadic culture, the Islamic lunatics in the north-east who have locked down Africa’s largest army for 11 years in an internecine battle against western education, have sufficiently frightened farmers in that region to keep them away from their farms.
The insurgents’ psychological warfare against peasant farmers assumed alarming proportions in November 2020 when they raided rice farms and slashed the throats of 70 farmers. After that incident, few would be daring enough to challenge the terrorists by returning to farm.
Recently, the federal government implicitly acknowledged police extortion as a major threat to Nigeria’s food security and cause of food inflation that had all along been ignored by government. Government wants importers and exporters from Niger Republic to use Nigerian ports since that land-locked country has no sea ports.
The foreign importers and exporters adamantly rebuff government overtures on grounds that besides the delay in goods clearance in Nigerian ports, police extort money from truck drivers at hundreds of check points dotting Nigeria’s dilapidated roads.

The federal government believes it cannot stop the extortion by the police and instead offered to circumvent police corruption by building a $1.9 billion railway to Maradi in Niger Republic.
It would back up the railway with a standard customs clearing post in Maradi where Niger imports and exports would be cleared without interference by Nigeria Customs Service. Niger imports and exports would be railed to circumvent extortions at police and customs check points on roads.
The police extortion that the federal government would spend $1.9 billion to circumvent with a railway to Maradi, contributes immensely to food inflation in Nigeria which is pricing food items out of the reach of millions of Nigerians and consequently starving them.
Between September and March, plantain in a 50kg rice bag could be obtained in Edo and other south-west states at anything from N1, 500. The same luggage of plantain enters Lagos markets at anything from N4, 000 depending on the truck driver’s ability to negotiate with the police.

On some frenzied days, the number of roadblocks between Benin and Lagos could be as many as 19.
A truck driver hauling bags of plantain from Benin to Lagos drops N1, 500 for soldiers and police at each of the check points. As seemingly harmless as the police are, they are the most dangerous at the check points.
Any truck driver hauling plantain who argues with police over the N1, 500 toll is ordered to park his truck and accused of hauling Indian hemp. The driver would be compelled to offload the truck for thorough inspection. That punishment could keep the cargo of plantain for two days until it ripens under the heat and rot away. After such a massive loss no driver dares to try the police a second time.
The cost of the police extortion at the check points increases the prices of food items by at least 40 per cent as they are factored into the produce price and haulage cost and passed to consumers by way of higher price tags.
Since the federal government cannot stop police extortion at check points, it should tackle food inflation in Nigeria with the Maradi rail solution. It should build railways for evacuating food items without police extortion. Besides, haulage on rail is cheaper than roads. That probably is the cheapest way to tame food inflation.

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