- Says govt averted food crisis amid COVID-19
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari thursday directed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) not to release “a kobo” from the country’s reserves for the importation of food items and fertilisers.
He said at the National Food Security Council meeting yesterday at the State House, Abuja, that he would soon communicate the directive, which he had previously issued orally to the CBN, in writing to the apex bank that ”nobody importing food should be given money.”
He also said the federal government averted food crisis despite the outbreak of COVID-19, which disrupted the global economy, including the agriculture value chain, through its proactive policy.
A statement by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, quoted the president as saying that instead of releasing fund from the foreign reserves for fertiliser importation, the government would rather empower local producers of the product.
”From only three operating in the country, we have 33 fertiliser blending plants now working. We will not pay a kobo of our foreign reserves to import fertiliser. We will empower local producers,” he said.
Buhari directed blenders of fertiliser to convey the item directly to state governments in order to beat the cartel of transporters frustrating efforts to successfully deliver the products to end-users at reasonable costs.
The president admonished private businesses bent on importing food items to source their foreign exchange independently, saying they should use their “money to compete with our farmers.”
According to him, such business interests should sort themselves out instead of using Nigeria’s foreign reserves to import compromised food items to undermine the efforts of farmers.
He added that the government would rather support young Nigerians desirous to engage in agriculture as well as existing farmers.
”We have a lot of able-bodied young people willing to work and agriculture is the answer. We have a lot to do to support our farmers,” he stated.
The meeting was chaired by the president and attended by some members of the council who briefed him on the prevailing food security situation in the country.
It listed such members of the council in attendance as its vice-chairman and Governor of Kebbi State, Senator Atiku Bagudu; the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, and governors of Jigawa, Plateau, Taraba, Ebonyi, Lagos and Kebbi States whom it said represented their geo-political zones and made presentations to the council.
THISDAY gathered that others at the meeting included the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele; Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha; National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd.) and some ministers.
The statement said the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, in her own presentation, highlighted measures put in place by the federal government to tackle challenges arising from COVID-19 pandemic as contained in the Nigerian Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP).
It stated: “Among others, the minister highlighted that the government will facilitate the cultivation of 20,000 to 100,000 hectares of new farmland in every state and support off-take of agro-processing to create millions of direct and indirect job opportunities.
“She also listed the creation of 774,000 direct jobs for a minimum of 1,000 young Nigerians in each local government, the construction of 300,000 homes every year to give a boost to jobs through the construction industry, as well as the connection of 25 million new users of electricity with the installation of Solar Home System (SHS) targeting 5 million households.
“Dr. Ahmed also briefed on the joint investment with the World Bank to provide intervention fund to states to improve health infrastructure. She said to ease existing financial hardships among the people, the government is also coming up with low-interest loans for mechanics, tailors, artisans, petty traders and other informal business operators.
“The minister added that the federal government will equally provide support to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to help them keep their employees and boost local manufacturing.
“Dr. Ahmed explained that from the recently approved N2.3 trillion stimulus recommended by the NESP, there will be expansion of broadband connectivity to boost job opportunities in the digital economy, a planned expansion of the National Social Investment Programmes, including an increase in the number of beneficiaries such as the cash transfer beneficiaries, N-Power Volunteers, the Market Moni and Trader Moni schemes.”
According to the statement, the Minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, told the council that Nigeria was expecting a bumper harvest despite the recent flooding in the North and drought in the South.
The minister quoted the latest market surveys which he said underscored the fact that the recent hike in the prices of commodities was being reversed.
The statement said the SGF and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha, narrated the negative impact of the pandemic on the lives and livelihood of citizens.
Also, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.), expressed optimism that partially closed borders would open soon in view of progress made with neighbouring states.
Ali, the statement added, said the neighbouring states engaged in joint patrols with Nigeria in accordance with key conditions rolled out by the country for reopening of the borders.
Food Crisis Averted amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Says Buhari
Buhari told the council that the federal government was able to avert food crisis despite the outbreak of COVID-19, which disrupted the global economy, including the agriculture value chain.
According to him, the pandemic exposed the level of the nation’s preparedness to the shocks of food security.
He said the federal government’s commitment to the promotion of self-sufficiency over the years helped in averting a food crisis in the pandemic era.
The president canvassed the need to exert more efforts to increase food production and attain self-sufficiency.
A statement by the president’s media adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, said Buhari pledged the federal government’s continuous promotion of favourable policies to boost investments in the agricultural sector.
Buhari said: “The coronavirus pandemic has illustrated more than any event in recent history how countries must strive harder to protect food systems. It has also exposed the limits of dependency on other countries.
“In the last five years, we have recorded notable achievements. Despite the decline in GDP by 6.1 per cent in Q2 of 2020 as a direct result of coronavirus, the agricultural sector continued to grow because of government targeted policies,’’ he said.
The president commended farmers for their contribution to the stability in food security, saying many should explore the favourable rainy seasons and take up farming as a vocation.
“I am pleased to note that most Nigerians are taking advantage of the opportunities in the agriculture and agri-business sector. I want to assure you that this government will continue to support these initiatives and many more to come,” he stated.
He added that efforts would be intensified to promote innovations in farming that will guarantee maximum output.
“To protect agricultural investments and boost confidence to our farmers we have deployed thousands of agro-rangers and integrated rural communities to the formal economy by extending access to credit and inputs to rural farmers and building feeder roads.
“We have invested in building our strategic grain reserves in recent years, which we recently released significant quantities to cushion the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to vulnerable households and industries,’’ the president added.
He sympathised with farmers and families that lost their loved ones to recent flooding in the country, assuring them that the government would support the victims.”