Following predictions by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of acute shortage of food amid the COVID-19, not less than 5,000 metric tonnes of grains have been received from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to curb food insecurity post- COVID-19. TAIWO HASSAN reports
Generally, COVID-19 outbreak has been a turbulent challenge for global agriculture following its impact on food security, prompting countries to adopt different agricultural policies to avert severe food shortage. Nigeria is not left out in the disruption brought about by the pandemic with reports of scarcity of grains hitting Nigeria’s agric sector as local farmers lament following exorbitant price of grains in the market. Alarmed by the uncertainty in the country’s agric sector at the peak of the pandemic, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the release of 70,000 tonnes of grains from the National Strategic Grain Reserves for distribution to those in most need during the lockdown.
The Federal Government dismissed reports being peddled that the impact of the pandemic would lead to shortage of agro-allied commodities (grains and crops) by causing scarcity nationwide. The Federal Government allayed fears among Nigerian farmers that the pandemic would lead to the shortage of grains supply nationwide. The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, gave the assurance in a chat with New Telegraph, saying that the country was now selfsufficient in food. He said as much as fertiliser importation and other agric commodities would be adversely affected by the pandemic, there is still enough supply of locally produced fertilisers and others in the country to complement farming. The agric minister specifically stated that the administration was very serious about curbing the reliance on importation of essential items for farming, adding that COVID- 19 won’t affect food production in Nigeria. The agric minister stated that government had distributed about 70,000 metric tonnes of grains to vulnerable households, as one of its efforts to cushion the effects of the lockdown on Nigerians.
The minister lauded President Buhari for placing priority on revitalising the nation’s agriculture sector, vis-á-vis the border closure which has, in turn, caused Nigerians to look inwards for rice production.
However, government announced that no fewer than 5,000 metric tonnes of grains were borrowed from the Economic Community of West African States to curb food insecurity further aggravated by the pandemic. Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mustapha Baba Shehuri, disclosed this when the commission donated grains to vulnerable households in the country recently. ECOWAS donated nearly 4,000 tonnes of grains to the Federal Government to cushion the effects of the crisis on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and children. On the grains borrowed, Shehuri said that government intended to repay the loan, grain for grain. He added that government had plans to repay the loan before COVID- 19, but other crises resulting from the pandemic stalled the repayment. “The government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria loaned 5,000mt of assorted grains from ECOWAS stock, which we agreed to be paid back on grain for grain basis. “Modalities had been put in place to replace the ECOWAS stock before the outbreak of COVID-19 . “That, notwithstanding, I can assure you that the stock will be replaced in due course,” he said. The minister of state, however explained that the loan was an agreement between ECOWAS and its member states, to help mitigate food crisis. According to him, this agreement was signed between the commission and the ministry’s Department of Food & Strategic Reserve in July 2017.
Following the acute shortage of grains for livestock, the President of the Feed Industry Practitioners Association of Nigeria (FIPAN), Dr. Fola Afelumo, wrote a letter to Nanono. The association, in the letter, decried what it called “the looming danger threatening to consume our livestock industry.” The letter also flayed the shortage and exorbitant price of grains, which has made feed production by millers difficult, forcing some to shut down. The association noted that the current situation might result in massive loss of jobs. FIPAN, therefore, called on the Federal Government to support the sub-sector by releasing grains from its reserve to feed millers at an affordable price. Alternatively, government could allow the importation of grains for a short period to remedy the domestic situation, it said. Explaining the crisis situation, FIPAN said: “Maize, sorghum and soybean meal, which aggregately constitute about 80 per cent of animal feeds are in chronic shortages and have become extremely scarce in the market. “Concomitantly, we have seen sharp increases in prices rising to about 100 per cent within a period of one month. For instance, maize, which sold for about N95,000 per metric ton in May, is now about N180,000 and still rising by the day. “Some feed millers are already shutting down due to their inability to purchase these grains because of extremely high cost and scarcity. “At current market prices, it has become very difficult for feed millers to pass some of their costs to farmers, while the looming consequences might result in more feed millers and farmers closing down business in the face of increasing consumer price resistance. “This scenario will invariably trigger huge job losses at several levels of the industry, including the distributive and supply chain, with its attendant negative impact on the overall health of the economy.”
FIPAN noted that should the industry collapse as a result of the current farming challenges in the grain-producing regions of the country, it could take between six to eight months before poultry farmers could confidently restock their farms. This, it said, could also lead to severe protein shortages in the country. The collapse would further disrupt the grains market and the entire agricultural value chain, it added. It, therefore, prayed for government’s intervention, saying “we humbly appeal to the Federal Government to release grains from its strategic grain reserves to feed millers at an affordable price as a strategy to mitigate the looming danger and hence avert the imminent collapse of the entire industry value chain. “We believe that if initiated, it would prompt hoarders of grains to release them into the market and, hence, check their tendencies to covertly sabotage government agricultural policy initiatives and the economy. “In the event of government not having enough grains at its strategic reserves, it should consider immediately opening a short time window for the importation of grains, especially maize and soybean, for members of our association, while also providing a special foreign exchange window for such imports to remedy this emergent situation.”
With the ECOWAS loan, agric experts have applauded President Buhari’s administration for intervening in the grain crisis threatening the country’.