Bolaji Ogundele, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has hailed his administration’s decision to prioritise food self-sufficiency and security in the last couple of years, noting that it helped Nigeria to survive the global food crisis that trailed the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic outbreak.
Buhari spoke on Thursday during the National Food Security Council meeting, held at the State House, Abuja, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak exposed the level of preparedness of nations to shocks of food security.
The President, however, noted that there was a need for more efforts to increase food production and self-sufficiency, assuring that the federal government would continue to promote policies that favour investments in the agricultural sector.
“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 percent in Q2 of 2020 as a direct result of coronavirus, the agricultural sector continued to grow because of government targeted policies.”
President Buhari, who commended Nigerian farmers for contributing to the stability in food security, said the favourable rainy seasons should serve as encouragement for many to 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.”
The President also said efforts will be channeled to innovative ways of 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 said.
President Buhari sympathized with farmers and families that lost loved ones to recent floods in the country, assuring that the government will support those that were affected.
Speaking to State House Correspondents after the meeting on recent losses incurred from the flooding which affected some states across the country, including his own state, the Kebbi State governor, who is also the Vice-Chairman of the Council, Governor Atiku Bagudu, said details of the level of destruction were still being compiled.
According to Governor Bagudu, the impact of the floods was massive, not just on agriculture, but on lives as many lives were lost in the state, adding that reports from various places had indicated that water levels are still said to be raising.
“The quantification is being done because it’s a very diligent exercise by the National Emergency Management Agency, in conjunction with State Emergency Management Agency and that activity is currently taking place to ensure that we appreciate the record and support, as much as possible, all those who have been affected.
“Beyond the expression of condolences and sympathy, the report is being awaited, which will be incorporated in the written presentation to Mr. President. However, it has all been acknowledged by Mr. President in particular and others that the scale of flooding is massive.
“The water levels are still rising, the River Niger, as per the report sent by the Niger Republic, the country has never witnessed this level of water since they have ever known the river. Similar stories are coming about other river and dams”, he said.
Delivering an opening remark earlier, the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, had observed that the general concerns over rising prices of food grains had been allayed by operators of the markets, who had informed the Council that the prices are declining already.
According to him, the most prevailing concern among the market leaders is the need for better coordination, synergy and cooperation across the sector, the lack of which that had claimed were responsible for the widespread misinformation and nationwide speculation.
“Yesterday, my office as the secretariat National Food Security Council, met with the all agricultural commodity association, to ascertain the root causes of the recent spike in food prices and craft mitigating strategies to what could be a potential crisis.
“Although various concerns were raised of the root cause of an increase in commodity cost, we have been informed that prices are actually on the decline as new grains have been introduced to the market.
“For example, new maize which was previously sold for N25, 000 per bag is now being sold between N12, 000 and N17, 000 and it’s expected to fall between N7, 000 and N8, 000 per bag by November 2020, according to the various leaders of agricultural commodity association. The price decline has also been experienced in millet, beans, and sorghum. The hike, therefore, is to be seen as a transient situation.
“With Mr. President being among us, as somebody who knows about farming and agriculture, perhaps more than many of us in the room, we believe his presence is very instructive in addressing not just this hike and transient nature and pricing of foodstuff, but also to underscore the importance he personally and as Mr. President and his administration attaches to the issue of national food security.
“However, it is important to note that the most prevailing concern of the various leaders of the agricultural commodity association was their demand that there should be better coordination, synergy, and cooperation across the sector, this has largely accounted for the gross misinformation and nationwide speculation which is being experienced.
“Not disregarding the impact of other value triggers such as the cyclical-off season period phenomenon, the COVID-19 pandemic, and infrastructure challenges, the importance of collaboration can still not be overemphasized.
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“As I welcome all participants to this crucial gathering, I urge that we all work hand in hand to ensure the protection of our nation’s food basket. Agriculture is a major priority for this administration and the crucial driver for the development of the nation.
“Therefore, the growth of the sector leaves no room for complacency and there is still a long arduous road to go before achieving those goals. However with determination, coordination, and hard work, we have the capacity and will therefore demonstrate the wherewithal to our exceed our expectation,” he said.
The meeting, which was attended by six out of the seven governor-members, also had ministers and other senior government functionaries in attendance.
Although the Chairman of the Council, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), is not attending the meeting, as he chairing another meeting within the State House.
The meeting also had the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, and the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno (Rtd) in attendance.
Other governors at the event included Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos; Alhaja Mohammed Badaru Abubakar of Jigawa; Simon Lalong of Plateau; Darius Ishaku of Taraba; and Dave Umahi of Ebonyi.
Among ministers in attendance were those of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Dr. Zainab Ahmed; Trade, Industry and Investment, Otunba Niyi Adebayo; Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Sani Nanono; Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola; Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq; and that of Water Resources, Engr Suleiman Adamu.
Other senior officials present were the Director-General of the Department of State Service (DSS), Yusuf Bichi; the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ahmed Rufa’i Abubakar; and the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd), are also in attendance.