‘Emphasis on value chain, home-grown food prepares Nigeria for COVID-19’

Some stakeholders in the food production sector have argued that the past efforts of the country since the ex-President Jonathan Goodluck administration have cumulatively got Nigeria unwittingly prepared for emergencies such as the COVID-19 lockdown and attendant inability of countries to import or export food foods.

Some of the policies, as the farmers, processors and researchers put it, include emphasis on crop value chain development, import substitution, restriction of forex to over 50 items and closure of the land borders in the last quarter of 2019.

The Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN’s) Anchor Borrower’s scheme, despite the identified flaws, has also contributed to an increase in rice, maize and grain production.

The National President of the Poultry Association of Nigeria, Mr Ezekiel Ibrahim Mam, while addressing a press conference recently, said, “We should, however, thank God for giving our President the wisdom to initiate the policy of producing locally what we eat and consume as a nation, without which the food security of the country could have been threatened now … as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

“We could all imagine what the situation could be today if we are to rely on import of basic food items when the major source of our revenue (Petroleum product price) has collapsed, and the entire world system is in chaos, confusion and disarray.”

Although available data from data as US Department of Agriculture, the World Bank and Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) indicates that the country produced between 10.5 million and 11 million metric tonnes of maize in the 2019/2020 season, a grain breeding researcher at the Institute of Agriculture Research and Training (IAR&T), Prof. Samuel Olakojo, said Nigeria produces more because fresh corns roasted and boiled by farmers and other Nigerians are not usually captured in data and transaction, insisting that the country is getting better in food production and it should do more.

Olakojo argued that maize grains are easily captured by big food manufacturers who buy through contract production, aggregators and government arrangements such as anchor borrowers’ scheme, but small-scale farmers who produced one or two tonnes are not usually captured because they either keep the grains for personal consumption or sell at local marketplaces without records of production or sale. He implied that actual production is not quantifiable but far greater than captured.

He argued that the government policies, such as restriction of forex for food imports, closure of borders and production and value addition promotion strategies like anchor borrowing, have helped Nigeria to marginally increase food production and prepare for emergencies such as COVID-19 stay-at-home order and worldwide restricted food supply chains.

Mr Aminu Guronyo, who is the President of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), said, “That Nigeria is not in food crisis now sincerely shows that the government initiative on the border closure is really good for the country. Had it been we solely rely on foreigners to obtain what to eat, what could we have done in this trying times, especially in rice and poultry?”

He argued that restricting or banning importation of foods the country could produce is a welcome effort that needs to be commended, saying, “I think we should adopt an opportunist process. To me, Nigeria should not open its borders in the next two to three years until when we are finally self-sufficient in food.”

For the past three to five years, Guronyo claimed, Nigeria had not been importing rice from abroad officially and most rice was produced locally as a result of the anchor borrowers’ programme.

On smuggling of rice through the land borders, Guronyo admitted that there are smuggled brands of rice through informal land borders, but all the formal borders, he insisted, are manned by men of the custom, police and other agencies.

So, he advocated that they should speed up anchor borrowers’ programme because, as he said, “it is working very well. Before the initiative, we locally produced 2.5 to 3 million metric tonnes of rice yearly, but today, we procure 8 million metric tonnes of paddies which give us 7 million metric tonnes of rice yearly. This is to say that we are producing what we need to eat now in Nigeria.” But the USDA data indicates that Nigeria produces about 5.1 million metric tonnes now.

To be fully food-secure, Guronyo said, “My sincere advice to rice producing farmers is that they should try to start exporting in the next two to three years. That is, start producing up to 10 to 11 million metric tonnes. All in the effort of the anchor borrower’s scheme, we should start exporting to the neigbouring African countries.”

He also disclosed that off-takers in the scheme include small, medium and large-scale rice processors, and in some cases, the government.

Also, the Regional Coordinator of the Africa Rice Centre, Ibadan, Dr Francis Nwilene, said though the country still has a long way to go to become food-secure and earn forex from rice and other agro-allied products, the emphasis on more crop production and value addition since 2010/2011 had put the country gradually on a path to becoming food-sufficient.

“The value chain concept has really helped us to take agriculture more seriously. It has helped us in preventing food wastage and in crop industrialisation. The Anchor Borrowers’ scheme introduced by this administration has, too, helped in more production of grains, and deepened their value addition and industrialisation.

“If not for the cumulative efforts that have got Nigeria a little bit prepared for times like this by emphasising production of what we eat, people would have been on the street protesting over shortage and high prices of foodstuffs by now,” Dr Nwilene explained.

While commending the decision to close the land borders against food importation and smuggling before the COVID-19 pandemic, he called on the Central Bank of Nigeria to work more with state governments, make the various intervention to farmers more widespread and make moves on long-term investment in farm infrastructure such as irrigation, processing and storage facilities in each state of the federation.

He particularly called on state governments in the southern and western Nigeria to partner with the apex bank on how to revive or construct new dams for farm irrigation, which, he added, would help farmers to produce at least three times in a year.

Rice, he argued, could be cultivated three times in a year if irrigation facilities are available. If this happens, he added, Nigeria would become a major exporter of rice, create more jobs through the processing factories, extensive farmland cultivation, and export.

In the same vein, the National President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr Ibrahim Kabir, said although getting accurate figures of food produced in the country is very difficult, the food import substitution, border closure and other interventions in agriculture had contributed to food availability, and more investments, interventions and infrastructure are needed to achieve the goal of feeding Nigerians with only foods produced by Nigerians.

He, too, said that empowerment of farmers with enabling environments of good and timely inputs, dry season farming infrastructure and extension of new technologies, new farming techniques and improved varieties/breeds of crops and animals would boost the capacity of the farmers to rev up production and productivity per hectare.

To stop the wasteful spending of the country’s petro-dollar on the importation of all-important wheat, the Director-General of the Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI), Dr Gbenga Olabanji, suggested that the CBN should mobilise resources for wheat production through its anchor borrower’s scheme to gradually increase production and scale down reliance on importation.

Nigeria produced about 300 metric tonnes in the 2016/2017 planting season because the government empowered farmers with inputs of improved seeds and fertiliser through the various support, Dr Olabanji explained, “but in the 2017/2018 planting season, production declined because the government failed to produce inputs, and insurgencies in the north-east zone affected wheat-producing areas.”

In the 2019/2020 planting season, the country’s expected production is about 150,000 metric tonnes of wheat, while consumption is over 5 million metric tonnes.



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