‘Corrupt Middlemen’ Are Threats To Nigeria’s Food Security – Buhari

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Massive flood which swept away hectares of rice farm in Kebbi and the activities of “corrupt middlemen” are threats to Nigeria’s food security, President Muhammadu Buhari said on Wednesday.

He lamented the spiral rise in food prices at a time that “Nigerians have already suffered grave economic losses owing to the Coronavirus pandemic.”

The massive rice farmland in Kebbi State, a major rice producer with the backing of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), has been ravaged by floods which swept away 450,000 hectares of rice plantation in the lowland and over 50,000 hectares of millet, sorghum, maize and sugarcane in the highlands.

Chairman of Kebbi State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) Alhaji Sani Dododo, said the loss initially estimated at N1 billion, is worth N5 billion.

Dododo said: “Preliminary assessment showed that damage to rice plantations and other produce due to the floods could be over N5 billion, and this is just the beginning.

“NIMET’s report indicated that 102 LGAs across Nigeria are expected to be hit by flood in September, while in Kebbi State, 11 local government areas would be affected.

“I want to use this medium to call on the Federal Government and International Donor Agencies, to come to the aid of Kebbi State Government and its people.

“So that we can go back and engage in dry season farming to at least cushion the effect of the losses incurred during this farming season.”

The President according to a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said: “I am particularly sad over this incident because it’s a setback to our efforts to boost local rice production as part of measures to stop food importation.

“Kebbi State is the focal point of our policy to produce rice locally as part of this administration’s commitment to agricultural revival which suffered relative neglect in favour of food importation.

“With the loss of six lives and still counting, thousands of hectares flooded and estimated economic losses of more than one billion naira by rice farmers, we face a major setback in our efforts to boost local food production.

“This bad news couldn’t have come at a worse time for our farmers and other Nigerians who looked forward to a bumper harvest this year in order to reduce the current astronomical rise in the costs of food items.”

He sympathized with the bereaved families and the farmers affected and promised: “We are going to work closely with the Kebbi State Government in order to bring relief to the victims.”

The President assured Nigerians that the situation is transient, saying his administration already putting in place measures to ameliorate the situation.

“While Providence has been kind to us with the rains and as such an expectation that a bumper harvest would lead to crashing of food prices and ease the burdens on the population, government’s concern is that the exploitative market behaviour by actors has significantly increased among traders in the past few years and may make any such relief a short lived one.

“This year has indeed tested us in ways that globalization has never been tested since the turn of the century. These challenges have disrupted lives and supply chains all over the world, and Nigeria has not been spared.

“The effect has been deeply felt in the delays encountered in procurement of raw materials for local production of fertilizer (damaging standing crops before harvest) and the speculative activities by a number of rice processors who are ready to pay for paddy at any price to keep their mills running non-stop.

”But of all these problems, the most worrisome are the activities of ‘corrupt’ middlemen (with many of them discovered to be foreigners) and other food traders who serve as the link between farmers and consumers found to be systematically creating an artificial scarcity so that they can sell at higher prices.

”In dealing with these problems, the administration has, in line with its ease of doing business mantra, avoided imposing stockholding restrictions, in order not to discourage investments in modern warehousing and cold storage.”

The measures put in place, according to the President, include:

*Approval of the release of food items from the strategic reserves, including 30,000 tons of maize to animal feeds producers to ease the high cost of poultry production.

*Raising some of these issues with the various food producer associations involved, particularly those of rice and other grains.

”With their cooperation, the high food prices should soon be a thing of the past.”

*Investments in the agro-allied sector by the private sector will significantly increase domestic production of farming inputs especially fertilizer, further crash prices, create employment and ease the pressure on our foreign reserves.

”One of these major investments is the Dangote Fertilizer plant which is projected to come on stream by the 4th quarter of 2020.

”Additionally, key government agencies and policymakers with the responsibility and visibility on market activities remain focused on removing structural impediments to the production and free movement of agricultural products.

”President Buhari once again assures Nigerians of his dedication to bringing this issue to a swift end.