One of the highly debated issues in Nigeria today is the fears for food security and staple prices of food items. Reasons for this are the ongoing insecurity caused by the activities of insurgents, bandits and kidnappers, which have displaced thousands of farmers from their farmlands and the COVID-19 pandemic which are already resulting in high food assistance needs for the populace.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, had last year named Nigeria as one of the countries to be hit by a food crisis across the globe in the face of the coronavirus pandemic which had worsened the already bad situation.

To prevent the situation from degenerating into a serious food crisis, the Senate last week approved the National Food Reserve Agency for the purposes of storing food grains. This was a sequel to the presentation and consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development by its chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu.

Presenting the report, Adamu said that the bill sought to establish the agency for the purposes of storing food grains and other food commodities for strategic purposes. According to him, the agency, if established, would implement the overall National Food Reserve Policy to ensure a reliable supply of designated commodities in the country.

“The recent mandate of President Muhammadu Buhari during the COVID-19 pandemic to distribute 70, 000 metric tons of grains from the Strategic Grains Reserves shows clearly how important it is for a country to have a food reserve agency,” the former Nasarawa State governor said.

The chairman said that with the existence of the agency, an emergency food crisis would be taken care of especially during the period of a pandemic. He further said that a well-managed strategic grains reserve would stabilise staple food prices for the benefit of consumers and farmers.

In his contribution, the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi said that the essence of the bill was to have a framework that would ensure that citizens would not be affected during the food crisis. “So, the essence of the bill is definitely in line with our mandate and I urge our colleagues to go ahead and pass it,” he said.

But the chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Surajudeen Ajibola Basiru argued the legal powers of the upper legislative chamber to pass such a bill. He raised a constitutional point of order to buttress his argument.

“The point of order is constitutional and it will be based on Section 4 of the Constitution and the Second Schedule to the Constitution.

“Section 4 of the Constitution provides for the powers of the National Assembly and it provides in Section 4(3) the power of the National Assembly to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the federation in respect of any matter.

“There is no power that enables this National Assembly to make laws in respect of food research agency that is proposed by this legislation,” he explained.

Also contributing, Senator James Manager, spoke in support of the bill. He said: “I listened to the argument of my learned friend (Senator Basiru) who seems to be very prepared to go against this Bill in the very fundamental Constitutional issues.” There is no doubt about the fact that this agency is needed at the national level.

“You can neither fault the argument of Senator Ajibola (Basiru) if you also raise the constitution, provisions of the constitution to counter him, not about sentiments. Because of the way and the preparedness of Senator Ajibola on this matter raising bigger issues, I will rather advise that.

“I don’t think it will be too late. The establishment of this agency is so urgent, between now and Tuesday if it is not passed then there will be a food crisis in this country. My humble advice.”

In his remarks, President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan said “From a Constitutional point of order our colleague raised that we don’t have such power.

“I think the National Assembly has such powers. I think the emergency in this country requires that we do everything possible to rescue, protect the lives and security of the people of this country.

“I believe we should go ahead to do our legislation. If anyone outside feels that the legislation is wrong, that person can go to the court so that the legislation is nullified and that is one thing with the practice of democracy. But I believe that Nigerians at the moment need this kind of legislation.”

It is a fact that macro-economic conditions have deteriorated sharply, following the drop in international oil demand, which led to a decline in revenue, while the subsequent depreciation of the naira has pushed up staple food prices.

According to the Famine Early Warning Network System, “as a result of high food prices, in combination with reduced access to income given movement restrictions, poor households are facing increased difficulty meeting their basic food needs.”

“Furthermore, farmers’ ability to engage in planting for the agricultural season was limited due to movement restrictions and contractions in households’ ability to purchase agricultural inputs, as such, a below-average main season harvest is expected.

“Overall, six to seven million people will require humanitarian food assistance in Nigeria during the June to September lean season, and while food security will improve between October and December with the harvest, needs are expected to remain higher than normal,” it said, urging the federal government and humanitarian actors to plan for continued high food assistance needs through at least the beginning of 2021.

Worse still, the decline in agricultural labour demand has negatively affected incomes for many seasonal labourers and undermined progression of the main growing season by reducing critical seasonal agricultural activities.

Also, according to the World Bank, nearly 20 percent of respondents reported cultivating less than they typically do, with nearly 10 percent indicating that they planted few crops. This, in addition to the conflict in the North, is likely to lead to a below-average national main season production.

Again, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had macro-level impacts on Nigeria, which have knock-on effects on poor households’ food access. Over 90 per cent of Nigeria’s export earnings are from the export of crude oil, as the decline in global oil prices has had a notable, negative impact on the nation’s economy.

Across major markets, prices of staple foods increased from near average levels to 30 to 100 percent above last year and the five-year average. The high food prices and decreasing incomes are redoing poor households’ purchasing power, especially for those of highest concern in conflict-affected areas where prices were already higher relative to other parts of the country and among poor urban households.

Unfortunately, indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to further exacerbate already high food assistance needs in Nigeria, though conflict remains the primary driver of acute food insecurity in the country. The widespread crisis and the risk of famine persist in the North East as a result of the ongoing conflict, but the federal government and humanitarian actors are expected to continue with high assistance needs.

The food crisis is a global concern, even before the menace of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the problem of food insecurity is even more severe in certain regions across the world. This is largely due to some inherent factors in those areas such as violent conflicts and instability, environmental, development and governance deficits and economic shocks, among others.

To address the situation, the government, as earlier stated, should seek the involvement of agencies which directly provide intervention schemes to the millions of Nigerians in need of assistance. It should also incorporate thousands of others that have been grossly impoverished because of the pandemic.

Food insecurity can exacerbate already existing conflict issues, create new vistas for violence, hence, urgent policies and programmes should be targeted at solving the deepening crisis.

There’s no denying the fact that the abundance of food is an indispensable prerequisite for the survival of mankind and its economic activities, including food production. It is different from other commodities because of its inevitability for survival and existence.

Unfortunately, most of the food needed in Nigeria is produced by peasant farmers who lack capital, skills, energy and other viable ingredients to produce in large quantities that will meet local consumption and export for foreign exchange.

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