Alarmed by the skyrocketing prices of food stuff, coupled with the destruction of farms and crops by locusts and quelea birds in the north, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbe, the other day, expressed the fear that more Nigerians may go hungry except something is done to avert the looming crisis. His fear is founded and should be urgently addressed.
A drastic shortfall in food supply will certainly compound the biting harsh economic condition. Government should, therefore, do everything within its power to ensure that Nigeria is not hit with food shortage by boosting local production instead of resorting to the usual importation of food. Measures should also be taken immediately to combat the menace of destructive pests.
Ogbe spoke in Abuja during an emergency meeting with agriculture commissioners from the affected states. According to him, the pests had attacked farms in some local council areas in Kebbi, Zamfara, Sokoto, Jigawa, Abia, Kano, Borno, Yobe, Benue, Gombe, Adamawa and Katsina states.
He said with the current high cost of food and the reported attacks on farmlands by locusts and quelea birds, the scarcity of food may worsen in the country. Already, there is a maize crisis, and if the pests attack rice, maize, sorghum and millet farms, the country would be in terrible food crisis.
Ogbe also acknowledged that the people are already hungry and angry. Families with four or five children are complaining of not eating for days. The rate of poverty has tripled as evident in many people turning beggars and soliciting for financial support. And right now, urban poverty is worse than rural poverty.
Locusts and quelea birds are dangerous pests, which could, within hours or days, wipe out hectares of farmland and cause crop failure, low harvest and ultimately food scarcity. This scenario is worrisome given the current grim economic condition in the country.
Government, therefore, needs to mobilise and control the pests before they do more damage to farm produce. The most potent means of combating the pests is by aerial fumigation, which is something the Ministry of Agriculture should quickly do.
Happily enough, Ogbe disclosed, the Federal Government would partner with the government of Niger Republic to get aircraft to be deployed for the fumigation efforts in the border states. This plan should, however, not be held down by unnecessary bureaucratic bottlenecks considering the urgency of the situation.
The Green Alternative Scheme recently launched by the Federal Government would be meaningless once pests are allowed to destroy what the farmers have laboured to plant.
The scarcity of foreign exchange has even made it imperative for Nigeria to return to agriculture or local production of food rather than depending on food importation.
Over the years, Nigeria has spent billions importing basic foods from other countries. Earlier in the year, Ogbe disclosed that Nigeria spends a whopping $20 billion on food importation annually. For a country that has great potential for agricultural development, with 99.9 per cent arable land, this is a shame.
Nigerians, for example, have been reported to consume N62.8 billion worth of French fries yearly, whereas the potatoes used in making French fries is available locally.
The fast food operators and super markets have now been forced to cut their importation by virtue of the exchange rate policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Just as well! There is a better variety of potato in Nigeria and government should even ban the importation of the product.
Not only that, Nigeria has yams or other tubers that could be harnessed to serve as substitute.
It is obvious that policies and institutional barriers constitute a major hindrance to Nigeria’s agricultural development and agro-based industry. Apart from lack of commitment, there is no policy thrust for the fabrication of instruments for processing agricultural products and adding value. Besides, epileptic power supply is a major handicap.
Nigerians certainly have no business importing food items or going hungry if the right policies and structures are put in place.