The quantity of food items stored in the 23 national reserves across the country are extremely low and cannot effectively address the rising prices of food in Nigeria, various officials at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and operators in the sector have said.
According to them, Nigeria’s store houses for food have the capacity to take over one million tonnes of agricultural produce but the reserves currently have only about 8,000 tonnes of food valued at N1.5bn.
On Wednesday, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, stated that the Federal Government was considering opening the nation’s food reserves as part of measures aimed at reducing food prices in Nigeria.
“We shall be looking into our reserves if in the next few days the situation persists, to see what we can bring out to lower the prices because another bumper harvest will be coming up at the end of March,” the minister had said.
But operators in the sector and officials at the FMARD noted that the quantity of food items in the reserves were very low and should be restocked.
When asked if the country had enough food in its reserves to open up in order to address the rising food prices, a senior official at the FMARD, who spoke to our correspondent in confidence on Saturday, said, “No, we don’t have.”
One of the officials added, “It is very low; in fact, extremely very low! And the reserves are low because sometime last year, we distributed about 38,000 tonnes to IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), and the Poultry Association of Nigeria and we were not able to replenish our stock due to lack of adequate budgetary provision.
“For instance, the budget of 2016 can only give us 3,000 tonnes when we have a capacity of almost about a million tonnes. But the ministry is making an arrangement to get extra funds from the Federal Ministry of Finance to see whether they can give us money so that we can take off what the private grain stock holders have with them now and put in the reserves.”
On the conservative value of foodstuff in the reserves, the official said, “As it is now, we have about 8,000 tonnes and this will give you just about N1.5bn. To fully stock the reserves of about one million tonnes capacity will require trillions of naira, which is why it is not something that only the Federal Government should do.
“I think there has to be a partnership between the federal and state governments or the federal and private sector players through public private partnership.”
Another official at the ministry, however, noted that the government might not commence the distribution of food from the nation’s reserves at the moment, unless there was an extreme situation or scarcity.
The source said, “It has to be extreme, but you know that presently we are expecting dry season harvest from the ongoing dry season farming in many states. Therefore, before the next harvest, the price of food should come down because the produce from the various dry season farms will be coming in at the end of March this year.
“It is important to let Nigerians know what the ministry is facing and how we are tackling the issues despite the very limited resources at our disposal. Also, people should know that there isn’t much in the reserves so that they won’t relax with the hope that government has enough in its store houses, no!”
The official explained that on occasions when food from the reserves were shared, the government usually adopted measures that forestall a hijack of the distribution process by middlemen.
The official said, “It cannot be hijacked by any middleman because we do direct sales to the public or give directly to beneficiaries who are primarily those that need it, so that they won’t have to go to the market. We don’t give it to those who don’t need it.”
According to the source, the quality of different food items in the reserves are good enough, adding that Nigeria has a total of 23 functional store houses.
“We have 23 reserves, comprising of 13 old and 10 new ones, while another 10 are under construction. They are located in almost every state in Nigeria except for Rivers and Enugu, which are the states I can remember for now that don’t have. Other states have food reserves,” the official said.
Confirming the drop in food reserves and measures being put in place to increase the production of agricultural produce, the Project Manager, Micro Reforms for Africa, who doubles as the Abuja Liaison Manager for Fertiliser Producers and Suppliers Association of Nigeria, Mr. Gideon Negedu, told our correspondent that food prices would crash soon once the various industry-wide programmes began to have effect.
Negedu said, “We know there are challenges, particularly with respect to food availability and cost, but I can tell you with all confidence that food prices are going to come down tremendously because the cost of production is going to fall seriously. So as far as production and input is concerned, the price of food will come down.”
When asked to specifically state when Nigerians will start experiencing the crash in food prices, Negedu replied, “Very, very soon. When I mean very soon, I’m saying very, very soon because it’s going to be unprecedented.”
Similarly, the Coordinator, Nigeria Agribusiness Group, Mr. Emmanuel Ijewere, also confirmed that food prices were going to crash and agricultural produce would become available once the regulatory framework on fertiliser production and other initiatives in the industry began to take shape.
“There is a new paradigm going on in Nigeria. We are creating a seamless opportunity for win-win outcomes for private and public sector investments in the agribusiness space. This will not only result in adequate fertiliser, but will make food affordable to many,” he said.