The Federal Government and stakeholders rallied round to ensure food sufficiency although towards the end of the first quarter, there was an outbreak of catepillar disease. TAIWO HASSAN writes
One interesting issue that kick-started the first quarter was the debut of madein- Nigeria rice, which was greeted with accolades from industry stakeholders.
But not sooner had the local rice made a debut than the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu, in a statement, said that Nigeria would experience famine this year, following the rate at which neighbouring African countries were buying off grains from the country.
Obviously, the statement credited to the presidential spokesman sent negative signals to industry stakeholders and Nigerians in general on the need to preserve grains for local consumption to avoid imminent food shortage in the country.
FG fangs on grain hoarders
To guard against grain hoarding, the Federal Government adopted stringent measures to discourage grain merchants who feed fat by penetrating into the rural areas to mop up grains from farmers and hoard it with the motive of re-selling to government or other users at exorbitant prices. Commenting on the grain palava, Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, said that government would not buy any grain from hoarders and trade speculators who are already hoarding grains with the hope to make huge benefits from such unrealistic business transaction.
It was learnt that the measures were part of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s strategic policy to forestall scarcity of grains and ensure food security throughout the dry farming season and subsequent farming activities in the country. Deputy Director of Information, Mrs. Blessing Lere-Adams, in a statement, explained that to ensure that the country enjoys food security and self-sufficiency, government was poised to doing everything possible to ensure that nobody short-changes government.
Fertilizer price slashing
Another major event in the first quarter was the announcement by the Federal Government that it had reduced the price of Nitrogen Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK) fertilizer from N7,500 and N9,000 to N5,000 per bag to boost agricultural production in the country.
The anouncement was greeted with wide jubilation by farmers and agric stakeholders in the country. Besides, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, while addressing journalists in Abuja, said that the exercise was aimed at making food production easier and enhance profit for farmers in the country. Ogbeh noted that government had taken delivery of the first shipment of 800,000 tonnes of NPK fertilizer from Morocco on January 27, adding that the blending would take place in all parts of the country to enable farmers have access to fertilizer at a very low cost.
Wheat importation ban
The Federal Government also disclosed that it was ready to put an end to the importation of wheat in order to boost local production and encourage farmers.
Ogbeh disclosed this during the International Conference on Wheat, organised by the Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops (SARDSC) project of the AfDB in Abuja recently. The minister said that the country was currently producing high quality wheat and there was no need to allow the influx of foreign wheat into the country. He said: “As a result of this, the Flour Milling Association of Nigeria submitted a written commitment to the ministry, stating that they will off-take all the wheat produced by Nigerian wheat farmers.”
But this Federal Government’s stance on ending wheat importation did not go down well with the Masters Bakers Association on Nigeria, which reacted that nonaccess to foreign exchange at the inter bank market to enable them import wheat flour is fuelling increase in cost of production and prices of bread in the country.
The chairman, Masters Bakers Association, Lagos State chapter, Jacob Adejorin, said that the reason for the increase in bread price was not far fetched as many of its members are facing difficulties in sourcing flours and other key raw materials for bread baking in the country.
Another major event during the review period was the confirmation by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development that new caterpillar species known as African Army worm had invaded 22 states in the country. The reports of caterpillar invasion on African soil continued to dominate the continent’s agricultural sector, while scientists are still unravelling the discovery of the new caterpillar specie on many farms.
The African armyworm (Spodoptera exempta) also called nutgrass armyworm is an African moth, capable of destroying entire crops in a matter of weeks.
Also, the caterpillar destroys young maize plants, attacking their growing points and burrowing into the cobs. Assistant Director and Desk Officer, Maize Value Chain, FMARD, Dr Adeleke Muftau, informed newsmen about the outbreak, stating that this pest usually found in maize posed a threat to national food security and availability of maize in the country.
A cursory look at some of the measures taken so far by government and stakeholders shows that agric sector is on right track if the latter follows through with its agric agenda.
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