FG rules out food imports, backs clampdown on hoarders

Amid the economic hardship, rising costs of food and lack faced by Nigerians, the Federal Government has ruled out the importation of food as part of strategies to address the situation.

The FG also set up a committee comprising the National Security Adviser, the Director-General of the Department of State Services, and the Inspector-General of Police to clamp down on traders hoarding grains.

This was part of the resolutions reached on Thursday at an emergency meeting held between President Bola Tinubu, Vice President Kashim Shettima, and state governors at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja.

Assessing the government’s action to tackle the hardship in the country, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria and the organised private supported the decision of the President and the governors not to adopt importation as a solution to the biting food crisis facing the nation.

They also backed the planned action against hoarders as the Nigeria Customs Service vowed to stop the smuggling of food out of the country.

The prices of staples have gone up in recent times with the National Bureau of Statistics listing the 2023 December food inflation at 33.93 per cent, up from 23.75 per cent in December 2022.

Reports say the prices of staples like rice, beans, oils, plantain, grains, fish, poultry, and meat have surged by 50 per cent and this has triggered protests against the harsh development across the country.

Data obtained from the consumer price index reports by the NBS indicated Nigeria spent N1.47tn on importing food and beverages in the first six months of 2023.

A former Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Mohammad Abubakar, had said that the country had enough food to feed all its citizens, but it failed to grow more food for its fast-rising population due to insecurity, flooding, and low mechanisation, among other reasons.

This forced the country to spend millions of dollars yearly importing food, putting further pressure on the country’s foreign exchange reserves as it battles with forex scarcity.

‘No food import’

Addressing State House Correspondents after the meeting, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, explained that importing food would hurt the struggling economy further.

Idris, had earlier on February 8 after the Special Presidential Committee on Emergency Food Intervention met at the Presidential Villa, said the administration would import essential supplies to augment shortages observed after releasing 102,000 metric tonnes of food items nationwide.

“Now, the third item is that the government is also looking at the possibility, if it becomes necessary, as an interim measure in the short run also to import some of these commodities,” he had said.

However, the minister disclosed that the Federal Government reconsidered its decision as it would “reverse” some of the gains of the past few months.

Idris announced, “In the interest of our country, there will be no need for food importation at this point. Nigeria has the potential to feed itself and even be a net exporter of food items to other countries.

“And we do not want to reverse some of the progress we have seen regarding food production in this country.

“What we’re seeing now is just a temporary difficulty that will soon go away. Therefore, the solution is continuous investment in agriculture to make food available to all Nigerians.”

He cited President Tinubu’s declaration of a state of emergency on food security last July, adding that the state governors had agreed to “join hands with Mr President to deepen their investment in the agricultural sector so that more food will be made available to Nigerians.”

Idris noted that this investment would transcend crop production into livestock development and management.

Battle against hoarders

Also, the President directed “the National Security Adviser, the Director General of the State Services and the Inspector-General of Police to coordinate with the state governors to look at the issue of those hoarding commodities.”

Idris explained the rationale for the move, saying, “At this point, the nation requires food to be brought out to the people so that we can control prices and put food on the table for most Nigerians, while other commodity traders are busy hoarding these commodities so that Nigerians will

suffer or they will make more money as a result.

“So, the governors and Mr President have taken this decision that security agencies will collaborate with the state governors to ensure that this ends.”

According to a statement by the Special Adviser on Information and Strategy to the President, Bayo Onanuga, Tinubu urged the governors to pay all salary arrears to state workers and gratuities to

pensioners as a way to put money into the hands of the people since states are now getting more monthly federal allocations.

“Spend the money, don’t spend the people,’’ the President reportedly admonished the state helmsmen.

Onanuga in a post on his X handle clarified that the meeting was necessitated by the rising prices of food items, insecurity, and delayed/non-payment of salaries and gratuities.

He explained that the participants agreed on common grounds to address some of the challenges facing the country, particularly, the rising cost of food and insecurity.

“After extensive deliberations, the President and governors agreed to work together to solve the problems and tackle the economic pressure being faced by the citizens,” Onanuga wrote.

Addressing the insecurity which is also affecting farming and food production, he explained that President Tinubu said more police personnel would be recruited to strengthen the force.

He stated, “The President advised against the idea of food importation and price control when local food producers should be encouraged to produce more food.

“The President advised the governors to follow the example of Kano State in dealing with the hoarding of food for profiteering by commodities merchants.’’

Also, the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, revealed more details of Tinubu’s discussion in a statement on Thursday titled ‘President Tinubu to 36 state governors s: there must be zero tolerance for incompetence; support local farmers to boost food production and remove rent seekers.’

According to the statement, Tinubu at the meeting said  he would not set up any board to regulate the soaring prices of food commodities in the country.

“What I will not do is to set a price control board. I will not also approve the importation of food,” Tinubu was quoted to have said this at the meeting.

His comments came days after Vice President Kashim Shettima hinted at plans to establish a national commodity board to curtail the escalating food inflation in Nigeria.

Supporting the Federal Government, the National President of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture, Dele Oye, in a statement titled “NACCIMA’s position on food security and measures to reinforce local agricultural productivity,” supported the President and the governors.

He said, “We commend the President’s directive to state and Federal Government agencies to enhance collaboration in bolstering local food production rather than resorting to food importation and price control. This approach aligns with NACCIMA’s core objectives of championing the agricultural value chain and supporting local producers. It is a vital step toward self-sufficiency and economic resilience.

“However, we believe that the issue of rising food costs is multifaceted. While local production capacity is a critical factor, we cannot overlook the significant impact of the depreciating value of the Naira.

“The current exchange rate exerts inflationary pressure on input costs, thereby affecting overall food prices. To counter this, a robust economic policy aimed at defending the Naira to reach an acceptable exchange rate of 750 Naira to one USD is essential. A stable currency will not only make agricultural inputs more affordable but will also bolster consumer purchasing power.”

Oye noted that to further incentives to  local production, the government should facilitate access to more single-digit interest loans and grants for farmers.’’

According to him, financial support is pivotal in empowering farmers to scale up production and adopt modern agricultural practices.

He added, “Additionally, we appeal for the enhancement of security and infrastructure in farming communities. These measures will mitigate the risks faced by farmers, reduce production bottlenecks, and increase efficiency throughout the agricultural value chain.

“We concur with the President’s call for vigilance against hoarding practices that exploit consumers and distort market dynamics. NACCIMA advocates for fair trade practices that encourage competitive pricing without compromising the welfare of our local producers and consumers.”

Regarding livestock development, the NACCIMA boss urged the state governments to take proactive steps in increasing poultry and fishery production.

He stated, “This diversification will not only enrich the Nigerian diet but also create numerous employment opportunities within these sub-sectors.”

On his part, the President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kabir Ibrahim, in an interview with The PUNCH, said the President should not allow the importation of food as the country strived to tackle the food crisis.

“The government should not allow the importation of food into Nigeria, because if it allows it, we will lose all the gains that we have made in domestic food production. We had attained some measure of success in looking inward.

“So we are very happy that the President has ruled out the importation of any food from anywhere. We have also seen the result of making people release their food crops to the market.

“In my village, for instance, when people were asked to bring out their produce in large volumes to the market, the prices dropped. They may not necessarily be hoarding it, but are keeping these produce in stores for them to sell at a later date,” Ibrahim stated.

He said the decision of the government to order food producers to release their products to the market would help check the continued rise in the prices of food items.

“So I encourage the security agencies to move in with some other government officials and ask people to open their stores to sell what they have at the prevailing prices. The commodities should be sold at the prevailing prices.

“Nobody is asking them to bring down their prices, for once they sell at the prevailing prices they will not lose anything. But hoarding is not allowed anywhere in the world. You cannot keep what is needed and make them scarce.

“So the government should move in and do all it could to address this situation in Nigeria now. The prices of commodities are rising and the government has to wade in to tackle this issue, and it has our support on this,” the farmers’ president told our correspondent.

22,308 hectares irrigation

In a positive development, the Federal Government, on Thursday, announced the completion of 22,308 hectares of irrigation projects and stated that the projects had been handed over to farmers for food production.

It also said the development of irrigable areas totalling over 15,000 hectares, adding that this would be handed over to farmers by the end of the third quarter of 2024.

The Minister of Water Resources and Sanitation, Prof. Joseph Utsev, who disclosed this at the ongoing 30th Regular Meeting of the National Council on Water Resources and Sanitation in Abuja, said the projects would help in tackling the food crisis across the country.

Nigeria is currently facing a food crisis and as part of measures to tackle this, the Federal Government declared on Wednesday that it would distribute the 42,000 metric tonnes of grains approved by President Tinubu to poor Nigerians at no cost.

Speaking on other measures adopted by the government to tackle the country’s food crisis, the water resources minister told participants at the meeting in Abuja on Thursday that over 20,000 hectares of irrigated land had been provided for farmers.

Utsev said, “Irrigated agricultural practice has been identified as key to a vibrant Nigerian economy, accounting for a high percentage of Gross Domestic Product and a viable intervention option that will ensure national food security and poverty alleviation.

“Since the last council meeting (in 2023), some completed irrigation schemes have been completed and handed over to farmers for cultivation through the World Bank-sponsored Transforming Irrigation Management in Nigeria project.

“These schemes include the Hadejia Valley 5,750 hectares irrigation scheme in Jigawa State; Kano River 14,444 hectares irrigation scheme in Kano State; Gari 2,114 hectares irrigation project in Kano and Jigawa States.”

Utsev also stated that the water ministry was “developing irrigable areas totalling over 15,000 hectares, which is nearing completion. This will be handed over to farmers by the end of the third quarter of year 2024.”

To transform and promote irrigation development towards sustainable food production and security for the greater socio-economic well-being of the nation, the ministry had proposed to channel all efforts towards achieving the target of developing 500,000 hectares of land by 2030.

“This will be achieved in collaboration with the Federal Department of Irrigation and Drainage, River Basin Development Authorities, states, LGAs, and the private sector,” the minister stated.

Following a report published by The PUNCH on the smuggling of rice to the neighbouring Niger Republic, Nigeria Customs Service has vowed to henceforth stop the smuggling of foodstuffs out of the country.

The Controller in charge of Zone 4, Kolapo Oladeji, said the customs had resolved to use all legal means to ensure no foodstuff was smuggled through any of the land borders.

Speaking while parading some pharmaceutical drugs allegedly smuggled into the country by smugglers at the Customs Sokoto command office on Thursday, he described the activities of the smugglers as unpatriotic and against the development of the country.

He said, “We have been mandated by the Comptroller-General of Customs to ensure that no food is smuggled out of the country henceforth.

“My team in Zone 4 comprising North-West states have been empowered through manpower and other equipment to ensure that the task ahead of us is tackled judiciously.’’

“It is an act of wickedness when our government invests and encourages more people into farming, and some elements within the country now prefer to smuggle such foodstuffs to the neighbouring countries.

“It has to be stopped and I want to assure residents of the state that we are fully ready and prepared to stop such activities henceforth.”

Meanwhile, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, has said the Federal Government is working hard to find solutions to the rising cost of living crisis.

Speaking during the inauguration and dedication of Adamimogo House, which housed the Adamimogo 105.1 FM, the Light Hotel and Event Centre owned by Olu Alo in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, she urged Nigerians to keep supporting the government with their prayers.

Onyejeocha said though the federal and state governments never envisaged the current realities, the Tinubu administration was working to arrest the situation and restore normalcy.

SOURCE:PUNCH

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