• Osinbajo laments post-harvest losses
• Says transforming Africa’s food system a public private affair
Low, fixed-income earners and unemployed Nigerians are in for trouble as living under the burden of higher food prices has become unbearable, as a result of grossly inadequate food supply.

This follows years of neglect of the agro-industrial sectors and disrupted farming activities caused by insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and herder/farmer clashes, as well as climate change, which also hampers productivity of farmers. This is compounded by COVID-19 interruptions in farming activities and gradual erosion of most farmers’ capital amid natural disasters of floods and droughts.

Dry spells (drought) stunted crops between June and early September in 2020, signaling the present situation as harvests were scanty.

Volatile naira-dollar exchange rate has also hindered economic activities, while experts identify inadequate production infrastructure and unfriendly business environment as factors.

The emergence of insecurity has become a major threat to Nigeria’s food security in recent months. Many farmers in rural communities across the country have been deprived of access to their farmlands for fear of either being kidnapped for ransom or being attacked or killed by herders.

“Insecurity has affected my farming activities badly,” said Esonu Udeala, who farms sweet potato along Kubwa Road in Abuja.

Udeala, aged 58, lamented that herdsmen’s invasion of farms has affected his activities seriously and that he could not commence farming early this year.

“I had to wait until everybody else was planting before I could do my best to avoid my farm being attracted to cows,” he said.

The farmer, who has been into active cultivation for 13 years, said the delay he witnessed this year would mean he can only expect harvest by August, because he started planting around June 5. Last year, he started harvesting around July 15.

“I can no longer visit my five hectares farmland located at Gaube community of Kuje due to increased rate of kidnappings,” said Daniel Okafor, the National President Potato Farmers Association of Nigeria (POFAN).

He added that farmers have adopted a strategy of going to the farm only on Kuje market days when the roads would be busy.

Analysing the prevailing circumstance, experts are predicting that Nigeria is likely to experience famine and acute food shortage by next year as a result of the insecurity in the country.

As scary as this prediction may seem, the reality may already be here. According to a 2021 Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC 2021), Nigeria is among six countries in Africa with worsening food crisis that is placing 13 million Nigerians at risk of falling into acute food insecurity.

The GRFC is prepared by 16 leading global and regional organisations belonging to the Global Network against Food Crises.

Nigeria, the report noted, is expected to see a serious deterioration in food supply. The prevailing security challenges in several parts of the country have made it expedient and imperative for the establishment of a food reserve by the federal government to avert crisis likely to arise from food shortages.

In the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) food prices survey for May, released in June, the bureau stated that a dozen of medium-size table (agric) eggs was N650.84, but a survey at a popular mall and several other groceries and outlets in Lagos by The Guardian this week showed that the price ranged from N1000 to N1200. The bureau said one piece was N58.03, but street value is between N70 and N80 now.

A kilogramme of beans (brown), according to NBS, was N603.57 in May, but now it costs between N700 and N800 in Lagos.

Surveys in Lagos and Ibadan also revealed that a 50-kg bag of polished imported/smuggled rice is between N24,000 and N25,000 while locally refined rice hovers around N25,000 and N27,000.

NBS report stated that one loaf of bread (sliced 500gr) was N493.33 in May, but latest surveys indicated between N520 and N550, depending on the brand, while unsliced loaf was N387.5 in May but now N450 or higher.

A unit of frozen chicken was N2,108 in May, said the NBS report, but it now costs between N2,800 and N3,300, according to surveys in some city supermarkets.

One kilo of white gari was sold at N432.87 and yellow gari was sold at N470.61, but surveys by The Guardian indicated a kilogramme of packaged gari in supermarkets costs between N800 and N1000.

Again, a kilo of tomato was N436.72 in May, according to NBS, and a tuber of yam (1kg) was N269.78 in May, but a kilogramme of tomato is at least N1000 and a medium-size tuber of yam is N1,200 now.

While NBS report said a kilogramme of Irish potato was N608.74 and a kilo of sweet potato was N189.37, latest price is N750 and N250 respectively.

On aquatic protein sources, NBS said a kilo of fresh Tilapia was N1,127.21 while a kilo of frozen Titus was N1,467.78 and a kilo of fresh catfish was N1,600 2.71, but a kilo of dried catfish was N2,509.07. In supermarkets, a kilogramme of dried/smoked catfish is about N3,400 now, according to survey.

The NBS report also stated that one kilo of white maize grain was sold at N383.16, while yellow maize grain was sold N451.05. The price hovers around N500 and N700 now, respectively.

Commenting on inadequate food supply and the burden it places on resource-poor Nigerians, President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mrs Toki Mabogunje, at a quarterly press briefing in Lagos recently, said insecurity, high cost of fuel and volatility of the forex market were drivers of inflation in the economy, including food inflation.
She added: “Insecurity in the northern and middle belt of the country and its impact on agricultural activities, high cost of logistics on the back of domestic energy prices, and cost of agricultural inputs, lingering liquidity concern in the foreign exchange market and the pass-through effect of exchange rate on imported raw materials and finished items have allowed for inflation to remain elevated, creating serious implications for various economic agents, including households, businesses and investors.”

HOWEVER, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, yesterday, said the task of transforming Africa’s food system requires active mobilisation and prioritisation of both public and private investments.

This, Osinbajo said, explains the resolve of the Federal Government to complement existing plans and sectoral strategies, including investments to transform food systems in the country.

Prof Osinbajo spoke in his remarks delivered virtually at the preparatory meeting of the United Nations Food Systems Summit 2021. The Pre-Summit is a prelude to the global event scheduled for Rome, Italy in September 2021.

Sharing insights on Nigeria’s efforts, the Vice President noted that “the government is committed to addressing the drivers of food insecurity such as food inflation, changing consumption patterns and climate change, among other things.

“As an outcome of 40 different food systems dialogues in which up to 5,000 people participated, Nigeria is prioritising investments in specific innovations and technologies to scale up and transform food systems. These actions complement existing development plans and sectoral strategies such as our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, the National Policy on Food and Nutrition, and the National Policy on Food Safety.”

The Vice President said at the heart of Nigeria’s post-COVID-19 response is the Economic Sustainability Plan, noting that the “plan has a major component, which is the Agriculture for Food and Jobs Programme (AFJP), where we seek to leverage suitable technologies to build a resilient food system for Nigeria.”

Making a case for initiatives that support Africa and other developing countries, Osinbajo said, “post-harvest losses in Africa, and particularly in Nigeria, are more than 20 per cent of production for several food groups. And this is due mainly to poor storage, poor rural infrastructure and non-automation of food processing and other things.

“The situation in many African countries is given increased urgency with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to growing levels of acute food insecurity. This is of great concern to all of us, especially if we recall that prior to the pandemic, the prevalence of severe food insecurity was as high as 22 per cent.”

Acknowledging the work done by Nigeria earlier in her remarks, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, commended Nigeria for leading six ministers in the dialogues and other efforts aimed at building sustainable food systems in the country.

Participants at the second day of the preparatory meeting include the Prime Minister of Italy, Mr Mario Draghi; Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed; Ministers representing India, Canada, China, Norway, Egypt, amongst many other countries.

MEANWHILE, incomes of most Nigerians have remained stagnant while the value (purchasing power) is eroded as inflation renders the naira practically of little value compared to stronger currencies. This is amid the crisis rocking the labour force as most state governments either refuse or are unable to pay the new minimum wage of N30,000 per month.

The Guardian learnt many states, including Imo, Benue, Anambra, Kano Bauchi, Kebbi, Kogi, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara are yet to implement the national minimum wage of N30,000.

Acting National President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Dr. Tommy Okon, who spoke at a media briefing in June, said the association had taken a decision and would soon unfold its plans, insisting that the situation has reached a point of no return.

He said Bauchi, Benue, Kebbi, Kogi, Nasarawa and Zamfara states were still negotiating, while Imo State was yet to begin negotiations.

A former Deputy Vice Chancellor, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB) and BASICS-II project Team Lead at IITA, Prof. Lateef Sanni, advised governments at all levels to promote inclusive growth, job opportunities, solve insecurity problem, open more credit support and incentivise the economy to move more Nigerians out of extreme poverty as food inflation compounds socio-economic crises.

A grain breeder and Vice Chancellor of Al-Qalam University, Katsina, Prof. Shehu Garki Ado, said one of the ways forward is to get people secure so that they can get back to cultivate farmland.

Ado said as long as insecurity prevents students from going to school and farmers from going to farms, socio-economic crises would continue, and food inflation would escalate.

He added, there is hope now that the rainy season has started, saying the government should mobilise more farmers, especially in safer places, to cultivate farms.

The mobilisation, Prof. Ado said, should include giving farmers improved seeds and seedlings, fertiliser, pesticides, herbicides and if possible, irrigation facilities.

Also, he said to minimise food inflation in the future, silos and other food storage facilities should be stuffed with food grains, but unfortunately, 20 of the 33 national grain reserves have been leased out.

Ado said it is not too late for the government to retrieve the silos and build more in each state of the federation.

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