Sunday, July 14, 2024

Shortage Of Food: President Tinubu Declares State Of Emergency, Plans 500,000 Hectares Farmland

President Bola Tinubu on Thursday declared a state of emergency on food security as the Federal Government stepped up efforts to tackle food inflation following the removal of fuel subsidy.

Tinubu also approved that all matters pertaining to food and water availability as well as affordability,  as essential livelihood items, be included within the purview of the National Security Council.

This is to be followed by an immediate release of fertilisers and grains to farmers and households to mitigate the effects of the subsidy removal.

Special Adviser to the President on Special Duties, Communications and Strategy, Dele Alake, disclosed this to State House correspondents on Thursday, after consultations with key stakeholders in the agricultural sector value chain at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Alake was accompanied to the briefing by the Special Adviser to the President on Revenue, Zacheaus Adedeji; Special Adviser on Industry, Trade and Investment, John Uwajumogu; Acting Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service, Wale Adeniyi; a member of the Presidential Advisory Council, Dr Dorris Anite, among others.

Explaining the development, the Presidential aide said, “Mr. President is not unmindful of the rising cost of food and how it affects the citizens. While availability is not a problem, affordability has been a major issue for many Nigerians in all parts of the country.

“This has led to a significant drop in demand, thereby undermining the viability of the entire agriculture and food value chain.

“Accordingly, in line with this administration’s position on ensuring that the most vulnerable are supported, Mr. President has declared, with immediate effect, the following actions: That a state of emergency on food security be announced immediately, and that all matters pertaining to food and water availability and affordability, as essential livelihood items, be included within the purview of the National Security Council.”

Clarifying the short, medium and long-term interventions, Alake said the administration intends to deploy some savings from the fuel subsidy removal into the agricultural sector, focusing on revamping the agricultural sector.

He cited existing data that agriculture already accounts for about 35.21 per cent of employment in Nigeria (as at 2021).

“The target is to double this percentage to about 70 per cent in the long term,” he added.

Parts of the interventions include the immediate release of fertilizers and grains to farmers and households to mitigate the effects of the subsidy removal.

At the meeting with agriculture stakeholders earlier on Thursday, the President had declared that the country could no longer afford seasonal farming.

“We can no longer afford to have farming downtimes,” Alake echoed Tinubu’s words.

“Therefore, there must be an urgent synergy between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Water Resources to ensure adequate irrigation of farmlands and to guarantee that food is produced all year round,” he said.

To facilitate this through irrigation, Alake revealed that 11 of Nigeria’s 12 river basins would be put to good use to ensure the planting of crops during the dry season.

The irrigation schemes will “guarantee continuous farming production all year round to stem the seasonal glut and scarcity that we usually experience,” the president’s aide explained.

On the regulatory side, Alake disclosed that the FG would create a commodity board to monitor and control food prices.

“We shall create and support a National Commodity Board that will review and continuously assess food prices as well as maintain a strategic food reserve that will be used as a price stabilisation mechanism for critical grains and other food items. Through this board, the government will moderate spikes and dips in food prices,” he explained.

Stakeholders on board include: the National Commodity Exchange, seed companies, National Seed Council and Research institutes, microfinance banks, food processing/agric processing associations, private sector holders and prime anchors, smallholder farmers, crop associations and fertilizer producers, blenders and suppliers’ associations, among others.

He revealed that the administration would engage its security architecture to protect farms and farmers to enable them to return to their farmlands without fear of attacks.

On livestock farming, especially cattle herding, Alake explained that the FG would partner with states to create ranches in those whose governments are willing to avail lands. The ranches will have sections dedicated as grazing reserves, he added.

“The government will change how we have been doing livestock business, from the archaic method to the modern way acceptable worldwide.

“We will establish ranches in collaboration with state governments and the federal government will pay for the land,” he said.

Alake explained that the Federal Government would activate land banks nationwide, which currently stand at 500,000 hectares mapped, “to increase the availability of arable land for farming which will immediately impact food output.”

Fielding questions from journalists, Anite clarified that the distribution of grains to farmers and households would be at no cost to them.

She said, “Part of the savings from the fuel subsidy removal is what we are using for this intervention. The distribution will be free to the households and to the farmers.”

Meanwhile, the Central Bank of Nigeria has advised middlemen withholding grains to release supplies at their disposal as prices are likely to fall when the FG begins to distribute grains.

A director of the apex bank representing the CBN Acting Governor, Folashodun Shonubi, said “Grains will be released immediately. So the message is that for the middlemen and those who are storing these grains to create arbitrage and get profit, this is the best time to release it quickly; because once we release those that the central bank has, your prices will be depressed. So middlemen that have it, quickly released to the market, so people can take them before we release ours.”

Thursday’s development came barely one week after the President signed four Executive Orders, one of which is the suspension of the five per cent excise tax on telecommunication services and the Excise Duties escalation on locally manufactured products.

Rolling out the President’s plans, Alake said , “Activation of land banks. There is currently 500,000 hectares of already mapped land that will be used to increase availability of arable land for farming which will immediately impact food output.

“Mechanization and land clearing- The government will also collaborate with mechanization companies to clear more forests & make them available for farming.  River basins- there are currently 11 rivers basins that will ensure planting of crops during the dry season with irrigation schemes that will guarantee continuous farming production all year round, to stem the seasonal glut and scarcity that we usually experience. We will deploy concessionary capital/funding to the sector especially towards fertilizer, processing, mechanization, seeds, chemicals, equipment, feed, labour.

“The concessionary funds will ensure food is always available and affordable thereby having a direct impact on Nigeria’s Human Capital Index (HCI). This administration is focused on ensuring the HCI numbers, which currently ranks as the 3rd lowest in the world, are improved for increased productivity.”

According to him, the government has made plans for transportation and storage of farm products.

He said, “The cost of transporting agricultural products has been a major challenge (due to permits, toll gates, and other associated costs). When the costs of moving farm produce is significantly impacted- it will immediately be passed to the consumers, which will affect the price of food- the government will explore other means of transportation including rail and water transport, to reduce freight costs and in turn impact the food prices.

As for storage, existing warehouses and tanks will be revamped to cut waste and ensure efficient preservation of food items. We will Increase revenue from food and agricultural exports. As we ensure there is sufficient, affordable food for the populace, we will concurrently work on stimulating the export capacity of the Agric sector.”

He added, “Transportation, storage and export will be improved by working with the Nigerian Customs, who have assured us that the bottlenecks experienced in exporting and importing food items as well as intra-city transportation through tolling will be removed. These are some of the immediate interventions this government will put in place to tackle this crisis. Principally, one of the major positive outcomes of these interventions will be a massive boost in employment and job creation.”

According to Alake, Tinubu’s mandate to create jobs for the teeming youth population will be achieved with between five to 10 million more jobs created within the value chain.

“In closing, this administration understands that food and water are the bedrock of survival and therefore is calling on all Nigerians to partner us in ensuring the success of this strategic intervention. This administration is working assiduously to ensure that Nigerians do not struggle with their essential needs,” he added.

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