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Amid shrinking reserves: Concerns mount over Tinubu’s directives on grains

There are growing concerns among stakeholders in the agricultural sector over the recent directives by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for the...

There are growing concerns among stakeholders in the agricultural sector over the recent directives by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for the release of grains and fertilizer to over 50 million households in the country.

The National Economic Council (NEC) had, on Thursday, urged the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to immediately distribute grains to states within one or two weeks to bring down the price of food items with a view to mitigating the impact of the removal of petrol subsidy on citizens.

The distribution of about 252,000 metric tons of grains and fertiliser, as directed by the president, is expected to start today.

Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed had told reporters after the NEC meeting that the distribution would be done through the grain reserves of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Speaking to Daily Trust yesterday, the CBN’s Director of Corporate Communications, Abdulmumin Isa, said the apex bank had released some grains and that the distribution would commence today.

“We’re part of the federal government’s arrangement. We’ve released some maize and rice from our strategic reserve as part of our drive for food security.

“The distribution will commence tomorrow (today) as scheduled and everything has been put in place to ensure it is carried our smoothly,” he said.

A director at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development told Daily Trust on condition of anonymity that the ministry had started re-bagging the grains for distribution as directed by the NEC.

He said the distribution would be done by the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development (FMHDSD) in conjunction with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

He said the sharing indices developed by the FMHDSD would be used to select the beneficiaries.

He was, however, silent on the quantum of grains available for sharing neither did he disclose when the sharing will begin.

But when contacted to speak on the level of preparedness, the head of the press unit of the humanitarian affairs ministry, Mrs Rhoda Ilya, asked Daily Trust to approach NEMA for comment, saying the agency, which is handling the distribution, is no longer under the ministry.

In a telephone interview with Daily Trust, NEMA’s spokesman, Manzo Ezekiel, said the distribution would be done within the timeframe.

“This directive was given on Thursday and they said within a week. It requires massive logistics and NEMA is doing everything possible to meet the deadline. We’re working round the clock to make sure that everything works within the time frame,” he said.

Asked whether the trucks were available to convey the grains, he said:  “NEMA does not own any truck. We’re still going to require the services of logistics companies. So, at the moment, we cannot categorically say this is the number of trucks, but I believe the technical people in NEMA can calculate based on the tonnage and the quantity that would go to each state. On my own part, I only know that it’s going to involve lots of logistics and trucks.

“We’ve started (distribution) from the day of the directive because we have to work according to plan. It’s not something we would just do. As far as planning and execution is concerned, we’ve started.”

Meanwhile, stakeholders are wondering where the federal government will get the grains from when almost all the reserved silos, most of which, had already been concessioned, are nearly empty and this is not the harvest period when they can mop from the open market.

The president’s directive seems to follow the continued rise in the prices of food items, especially grains in the last few weeks.

 

Near empty silos

Daily Trust reports that the country has 33 silos with a total capacity of 1.3 million metric tons for storing grains. However, 20 of those silos were concessioned to private entities during President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure.

The Federal Executive Council gave the approval on September 19, 2018, for a period of 10 years.

The silos concessioned were those in Ado Ekiti, Akure, Bauchi, Zamfara State, Ezillo Ebonyi State, Kano, Gombe and Ibadan. Others included those in Igbariam, Anambra State; Ikenne, Ogun State; Jahun, Jigawa State; Jos, Kaduna, Kwali, Abuja, FCT, Makurdi, Ogoja, Cross River State, Minna, Sokoto and Uyo.

Throughout the last administration, most of the silos were empty forcing their concession. Sources at the Ministry of Agriculture said there was never a time that the nation had up to 500,000 tons of grains in its 1.3 million capacity strategic reserves.

But the government had explained that the concession was to address postharvest losses and attract about N19bn to its coffers, according to the immediate past Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Muhammad Abubakar.

Architect Kabiru Ibrahim, the National President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, who described the current situation as critical, said: “We’re in a catch-22 situation regarding our buffer stock in the strategic reserve but the CBN may have some grains in their stores from their activities with some farmers in the Anchor Borrower Programme. So, if these grains are given at a subsidized price, it might help somewhat.

“The situation today is such that there’s food inflation year-on-year, so such intervention will exacerbate the inflation, we are therefore left with scaling up production until it reaches such a level that we attain self-sufficiency since we cannot import grains from anywhere.

“We must produce optimally and year-round to feed ourselves before attaining food sufficiency and the ultimately desired food security,” he said.

Experts have cautioned the government against having a weak strategic reserve system.

In 2021, the ministry said it raised its national food reserve stock to 109,657 MT with a further increase to 219,900 MT by the end of 2022.

Sources told Daily Trust that the current state of the reserve is below 150,000 tons.

A Daily Trust analysis shows that to transport 150,000 tons, about 5,000 trucks will be needed. Twenty bags of 50kg make one ton and the maximum a trailer takes is 600 bags of 50kg.

Observers say this means the distribution is likely to take weeks or months before it is completed.

With 150,000 tons as the current state of the reserve, experts wonder where the government is going to raise the thousands of tons of grains it promised households.

Although there are reports that the CBN, which championed the Anchor Borrower Programme, might have got some grains in its reserve, sources said most of the grains, especially rice and maize, have been released to millers and poultry farmers.

Daily Trust reports that international organisations have also warned about the growing hunger in the country of recent.

A joint report by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agricultural Organisation released in May says over 24.8 million Nigerians are at risk of acute food insecurity between June and August.

The report listed Nigeria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan as part of the 18 hunger hotspots in the world.

“In Nigeria, acute food insecurity is expected to deteriorate in the outlook period, driven by the multidimensional security crisis, together with weak macroeconomic conditions and multiple natural hazards,” the report said.

In the last few weeks, the prices of food items in the market rose by more than 100 per cent across the country, posing access to food beyond the vulnerable millions of Nigerians.

This has further exacerbated the food crisis situation in the country and likely to widen the figure of people facing severe food crisis in the country.

Since May 29 when the subsidy removal was announced, food prices have spiked to record levels. Maize price rose from N19,000 to N48,000 per 100kg, paddy (un-milled rice) rose from N18,000 to N37,000 depending on which market one is buying from.

 

Fertiliser in the hands of private sector

Since 2014, the federal government has removed its hands from procurement of fertiliser for farmers except during interventions. Under the current fertiliser law, the federal government is only a regulator in the industry.

The Executive Secretary of Fertiliser Producers and Supplier Association of Nigeria, Mr Gideon Negedu, told Daily Trust that the federal government was discussing with the association on how to quickly get fertiliser to farmers at affordable prices.

Even though he did not give details of what price the government was looking at or what quantity, he said the country had the capacity to produce enough for all the farmers. He said talks were ongoing to address all the concerns of the producers on access to forex for raw materials and to get the product on farm.

Negedu said they were also engaging with the government to address one of the problems, which affects the production of urea.

He said currently, there is a drop in the quantity of natural gas supplied to urea producing plants. Natural gas is a major component in urea production and any shortfall will affect the production of both urea and NPK because urea is also one of the components for blending NPK fertilizer.

He said the association was part of the national food security meeting with the government and had submitted its position paper on what needed to be done to address critical issues straightaway.

However, Negedu said adulteration is a major headache that needs to be tackled urgently to ensure farmers get quality fertilisers to their farms.

Architect Kabiru, the farmers’ leader, while speaking on fertiliser, said the situation was quite tough because the federal government must buy the products from the blenders and sell to the farmers at heavily discounted or subsidized rates and that will mean going back to the past arrangement.

He noted that these measures “may not necessarily impact the food system appreciably this year but it is work in progress.”

 

By Hussein Yahaya, Vincent A. Yusuf, Sunday M. Ogwu, Maureen Onochie & Seun Adeuyi

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