The recent warning by experts that Nigeria may face imminent food crisis, if it fails to address the rising food prices requires urgent attention by the government. The experts, who raised the alarm, identified inconsistent government policies, poor funding, rudimentary agricultural practices, and herders/farmers clashes, among factors militating against food production in the country.
The warning came on the heels of a recent report by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which listed Nigeria among the countries to be most hit by food crisis across the globe in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The report further observed that Nigeria’s food crisis is worsened by the longstanding religious and ethnic conflicts and organised crimes by some bandits. It also listed flooding or drought, among the challenges of the agricultural sector.
The experts and the FAO are right in their observations about the impending food crisis in the country. However, the good news is that Nigeria has enough arable land and conducive climate for agriculture. It also has adequate supply of human resources that can be harnessed for increased food production. Unfortunately, the country is not on the list of agriculturally developed countries of the world. Corruption among government officials, communal conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic and presence of militant groups, like Boko Haram and general insecurity, are among the issues working against the country’s drive to food security. It is sad that farmers cannot access their farms because of the activities of killer herdsmen. Over 70 rice farmers were killed last year in Borno State by insurgents. Inadequate funding, limited mechanised farming, poor rural development, and prohibitive practices that disenfranchise women farmers, add to the agricultural challenges.
Equally, the Nigerian agricultural sector has been neglected and underfunded for a very long time. The oil boom of the 1970s made Nigeria to be heavily dependent on oil revenue. The situation led to the neglect of the agricultural sector. Since then, several agricultural schemes such as Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution and other agricultural development projects have been launched with limited sustainable impact. Consequently, there has been a steady rise in the prices of commodities and basic food items. In January this year, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) put the country’s annual inflation rate at 16.47 per cent, the highest since 2017; while food inflation hit an over 12-year high of 20.57 per cent.
In Lagos State, there were reports of sharp rises in the prices of basic food items, in some cases, between 50 to 100 per cent. At the popular Mile 12 Market, a basket of tomato is sold as high as N7,500, N8,000, N10,000, depending on the size as against the previous prices of N3,500, N5,000 and N7,000. In Iyana Iba Market, Ojo Local Government Area, a measure of Garri in five-litre paint can, that was sold for between N500 and N600, had gone up to N1,000 and N1,100. Also, a 50kg bag of local rice at Ijedodo Market which sold for N17,000 and N21,000, had gone up to N28,500 and N30,000.
The rise in prices of food items is a wake-up call on the government to revamp the agricultural sector. The food crisis is a big threat to the security of the country. The government should reposition the agricultural sector by making funds and other incentives available for the farmers. Arresting the imminent food crisis requires a drastic shift from subsistence farming to mechanised agriculture. It also calls for enhanced storage system and quality packaging of food products.
Government needs to assist seed companies to get improved and high yield seedlings for farmers. Moribund institutional initiatives and other structures for food production should be resuscitated. For access to credit, farmers should be encouraged to form cooperative societies. We enjoin Micro-finance institutions to assist farmers with soft loans. Let government make the agricultural sector attractive for young school leavers to prevent rural-urban migration and ensure food security.