The Federal Government at its weekly Federal Executive Council Meeting chaired by the Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo on February 1 announced that it had constituted a task force on raising food prices with a view to address the agonizing food prices Nigerians are grappling with.
It is of note that prices of food items have now hit the roof which has further compounded the economic condition of Nigerians presently battling with recession and the government is considering ways of bringing the price down.
Usually around October- December must farm products are available for harvest and floods the market during the period.
Let’s take yam as a example which is also harvested during the said period in the North-Central part of Nigeria from Benue, Kogi, Niger, Nassarawa, Abuja and others which is often referred to as the “Yam – Belt” of the Nation in the Agric Circles. There is usually yam glut that one can get yam for almost a give a price in the region but reverse is the case, as the item is now at an all-time high that a tuber of yam now cost above N300 to N500 and an irata (Local name for tubers of 50) is around N15,000- N30,000 or more depending on the sizes which were less than this previous years prices, this high cost cuts across all food items from our Local Rice, Maize, Garri, Millet, Sorghum, Soyabeans whose present market prices have trippled if not more than last year’s value. Some feed mill had to shut down production due to the sky-rocketed prices.
What will be cost of these items around March-June which is usually their planting season when they are mostly expensive because most items are purchased for planting?
Plethora of factors are responsible for the high cost food items, some of which are the high cost of farming material such as fertilisers, herbicides, insecticides and other agro-chemicals now beyond the reach of average farmers. In planting of Maize on a Hectare a farmer needs 200kg of NPK and Urea Fertiliser (4 bags of each) hitherto N6000- N8000 now almost N10000, this increase is not limited fertilizer it affects all farming material like seed, herbicides, & pesticides et al. This make food price expensive even at the farm gate. The present high cost food is only obeying one on basic economic principle which states the higher the cost of production the higher the price of product. For food prices to really come down, cost of farming materials must come down.
Over 70% of our farming population are smallholder farmers who still farm act subsistence level and virtually consume all they produce. As a Nation we must have a well-articulate and robust National Agricultural Mechanisation Programme supported by all tiers of government if we must attain food sufficiency.
Nigeria has an ageing farming population whose effort cannot sustain our growing population. Government needs to address youth apathy towards agriculture, encourage youths who have already embrace agriculture, if government finds it convenient to endorse certain celebrity as Ambassador, celebs should be endorse as Farm Ambassadors to activate youths interest to take up farming as a means of livelihood. Youths will not embrace agriculture so long they continue to see it as a back-breaking enterprise and the major tool for farming still remain hoes and cutlasses.
In the words of the outgoing AU Chairperson Dr. (Mrs) Dlamini Zuma, “Hoes and cutlasses belong to museum and truly they must be confined to the museum. Youth are the drivers of Agriculture prosperity failure to center programme around them will continue to increase Nigeria’s food import bill put at N1.5billion
As a nation we need to do away with “Media Farming” most of the Agricultural Programmes and Policies are often for media gimmicks as most times what’s on ground do not commensurate with the hype and package accorded.
When compared to countries like India, Brazil, Kenya and even our neighbour Benin, Nigeria has the least yield per hectare owing to poor land preparation, Lack of Seed, Plant Management Techniques and Poor Storage which responsible for why over 45% of the tomatoes produced annually are ruined. Capacity of farmers needs to be enhanced while in this regard while they must also be encourage to adopt Climate Smart Agriculture to adapt with the vagaries of climate change.
In my opinion the Task Force might not be able crash the prices of food items because it is practically impossible to compel a farmer to sell his produce at a fixed rate when his production has not been support similar to the fate the bill to regulate the cost of housing in the Federal Capital Territory.
The Task Force must dig deep and look beyond the present reality of high cost of food in the interest of our dear nation.
Oluwafemi, a public affairs analyst, wrote this piece from Abuja