By Salisu Na’inna Dambatta
As media reports (based on information from the National Bureau of Statistics NBS) continously indicate that prices of assorted foodstuff are spiralling, the urban-based media outlets seem to be missing the fact of the arrival of freshly-harvested stables foodstuff to the market. This is softening food prices.
The rich soils of Nigeria, tilled by the hardworking small-holder farmers, have yielded lots of food, which farmers are harvesting for the benefit of the society. It brings food sufficiency and security to the nation, a desire of the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government. He is the Chairman of the National Council on Food Security.
For over 40 days now, fresh, newly harvested groundnuts have arrived the market. It is roasted or boiled for sale to consumers, as plenty of it is equally milled to produce cooking oil.
In this era of all-year round maize harvests, wet season maize is also now in the market, complementing the lot grown through irrigation farming. Dwellers of cities in the country eat it boiled or roasted. Farmers spread it on shoulders of our highways to dry.
Early millet is now being harvested. Its price, which technically is higher than the price of parboiled rice, will soon race downwards, just as the price of white beans had crashed in most open air assembly markets in villages and towns in the Savannah zones.
Indeed, those who grow, buy or eat yam will testify that its prices have softened, occasioned by the arrival of new yams from farms across its main growing areas of Niger, Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states, plus parts of the Federal Capital Territory. However, the pygmy (so-called because its tubers are small) variety from the old Zaria province is also on sale in markets near that city.
The prices of other fresh or new roots and tubers, particularly Irish potato and cassava, the king of crops, are equally becoming lower, perhaps too rapidly for farmers to make profit out of their labour and investments to produce the crops. Even fresh, hot and juicy ginger, which some middlemen buy and export, is now cheaper than a month ago by about 40 per cent. New garlic is also on sale. Readers of this item should visit the open assembly markets to experience this fact.
Tomatoes, pepper and spring onions (onions with leaves) are increasingly becoming cheaper by the day as just-harvested consignments arrive markets. While consumers are paying less for more of these commodities, farmers are reeling from the exorbitant cost of what they call “CBN Fertilser,” which goes for as high as N13, 000 per bag. That bag should be 50 kilogrammes without tampering, and sold officially for N5, 500. It is not always for dreams, hopes and expectations to match reality in such matters. The selfish and a greedy few ensure that.
Those who delight in eating sugarcane or cashing on its value chain to make money, are now savouring the sweetness of the medicinal juice of the freshly cut and polished stalks.
Experts said of the sweet crop: “One of the most important health benefits of sugarcane juice is that it is a diuretic that helps treat urinary tract infections, kidney stones and ensure proper functioning of the kidneys.” So, eat sugarcane. It is cheaply available.
Given the importance of food security, it is right that the Federal Government has introduced many initiatives and incentives to promote agricultural activities in the country. The only snag is that there is always a clique of stealthy hijackers between the farmers and those praiseworthy initiatives and incentives. This is a stubborn, perrenial, issue.
If the incentives are fully unhindered and delivered to all categories of farmers in this country, National Food Security can be achieved within two harvest cycles, sustainably, and for ever. The government and its agencies do their best, but the racketeers and syndicates, which can be traced and stopped by the relevant security services, always hamper and truncate that best effort.
Consequent to the activities of the agricultural inputs syndicates, subsidised inputs hardly reach the farmers as intended in time, or at all. Of course, the exception, advisedly, could be the Anchor Borrower’s Scheme for rice. Even it is not uniformally successful as many participants in the Scheme have failed to pay back the loans, leading to Court cases in some localities, the model was happily a huge success in its epicenter of Kebbi state.
All in all, Nigeria is fated to have yet another bumper harvest, thus maintaining its position as a self-sufficient nation in all its main stables, and an informal exporter of grains to our neighbours in West and Central African countries. Such commodity trading across our borders ought to be formalised and properly documented for the advantages doing so can bring.
It is important to formalise that trade because the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has consistently reported that the exportation of agricultural commodities yields the second largest inflow of trade-based foreign currency, after crude oil. This fact is based on the formal trade, the informal is believed to be many times over larger.
A synergy between the relevant authorities and commodity markets such as the Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange, among others, can yield the desired results of streamlining and formalising Nigeria’s growing international trade in agricultural commodities.
Salisu Na’inna Dambatta is a farmer and veteran journalist