The strange alert on famine is uncalled for
The recent presidential alarm about possible famine in the country by January next year is another manifestation of confusion and inconsistency in the implementation of several policies of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, had in a radio interview in Kano, warned that given the rate at which Nigeria’s cereals and grains were being massively exported across its northern boarders, there was a real danger of famine if government failed to intervene.

“Huge demand for our grains in the global market is creating an excellent environment for the mindless export of Nigerian grains across our borders and unless this is curtailed, Nigerian markets will be bereft of food by January next year,” he said. For a government that has diversification of the income streams, particularly at a time of economic recession, as the corner piece of its reform policy, this alarm – over increased agriculture exports from the highest level of government – speaks volume about the clarity of thought of its senior officials. If all the hefty spending on agriculture and aggressive invitation to private investors to intervene in the sector in the last five years is yielding the desired results why should government complain?

In an apparent effort to douse the anxiety the statement generated, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, issued a clarification. “There are no statistics that there is going to be famine in January. What I heard in the news was that people are coming from other countries to buy our grains in bulk. As a government, we are also buying”, said Lokpobiri who added that such patronage ensures guaranteed price so that Nigerian farmers are not discouraged by low patronage. “Government has to buy because for now all our silos are virtually empty. We are part of a global community; it’s a free trade, we need dollars. We can’t, as a country, stop people from coming to Nigeria to buy grains,” he said during a visit to some farms in Niger State during the week.
Between Shehu and Lokpobiri, it is evident that either the current administration does not know what to do or has left undone critical things. There is no doubt that with the appropriate policy environment, Nigeria could realise its enormous potential for restoring agriculture as the main pivot of its economy. The evidence is there for all to see. Even with the utilisation of only 40 per cent of the over 11 million hectares of arable land, the country is Africa’s largest producer and exporter of cereals and grains.

This was not a happenstance. It came about as a result of years of efforts to move in the direction of food sufficiency, particularly between 2011 and 2015. The introduction of Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) in 2011 brought about reforms in the input delivery or Growth Enhancement Support (GES) Scheme, agricultural financing and value chain development. The Staple Crop Processing Zones and farm mechanisation yielded abundant harvests for farmers and great gains for the country. Subsequently, between 2011 and 2014, national food production grew by 21 million metric tonnes. Nigeria’s food import bill also fell significantly from an all-time high of N3.19 trillion in 2011 to N635 billion in 2013.

So, the Buhari administration inherited an agricultural sector that had become exciting. What it needs to do therefore, is to either retain what it inherited or positively reform it rather than create panic in the nation. Massive agriculture products exports ought to be turned into a blessing for the nation instead of being regarded as a curse by the federal government.