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Agric budget and threat of food insecurity

Last week, President Goodluck Jonathan presented the 2013 proposal to the joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives, where he submitted, among others, that the budget is one that gives priority to food security. However, the N81.41 billion budget provision for Agriculture and Rural Development has apparently not captured the recent flooding mishap nationwide, which has put the nation’s food production capacity in a precarious situation. Michael Simire and Gbenga Ogunbufunmi examine the implications

“It is a budget that gives priority to our concerns for security, infrastructure, food security and human development sectors. It is a Budget that introduces a series of innovative features. This Budget is a push in the right direction borne out of our well thought-out and articulated developmental policies.”

Jonathan

Those were the words of President Goodluck Jonathan last Wednesday in Abuja when he presented the 2013 Budget to a joint session of the two Houses of Parliament – the Senate and House of Representatives.

His emphasis of food security is commendable and apt, given the nation’s persisting inability to produce enough to feed itself. Products like rice, wheat and vegetable oil are being imported in large quantities, and telling on the country’s scarce resources.

Articulating government’s plans for the sector at the National Council On Agriculture held in Enugu in March this year, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, lamented before the audience the staggering amount of money being spent on importation of food items which he put at over N1.3 trillion.

This amount, he said, is expended on basic food items like wheat, rice, sugar and fish despite the country having over 84 million hectares of arable land, perfect weather to grow crow crops all year round  with fertile soil to support planting.

However, looking at provisions for the agricultural sector in the 2013 Budget proposal, it appears difficult to match Mr. President’s resolve to ensure food security with the budgetary allocation.

In the budget’s expenditure proposal, some key allocations are as follows: Works – N183.5 billion; Power – N74.26 billion; Education – N426.53 billion; Health – N279.23 billion; Defence – N348.91 billion; Police – N319.65 billion; and Agriculture & Rural Development – N81.41 billion.

Analysing the sectoral allocations, it is apparent that agriculture is not given the priority attention it deserves; more so, considering the flooding disaster currently ravaging most parts of the country, with attendant consequences.

It is not an understatement to say that the ongoing flood crisis has created serious challenges leading to fears and warnings by experts that the nation may likely face an unprecedented food crisis in the coming year if something drastic is not done address the situation.

For instance, the Delta State Government has expressed fears that, following the extensive flooding being experienced in the state, famine is looming.

Commissioner for Agriculture, Misan Ikubehinje, emphatically said famine is imminent considering the damage done to farmlands, livestock and all aquatic lives, saying most affected are farmers who have farms that link the tributaries of River Niger.

According to him, most hardly hit are the fish, crop and pig farmers who have lost their fishes, an indication that there could be shortage of food. He expressed regret that 90 percent of the farmers did not insure their farms and farm yield, “an indication that that have lost everything to the disaster.”

Mr. President himself attested to this fact that the nation may be facing a potential catastrophe when he declared the flooding a national disaster.

“We are very sad over these flood incidences in the country. It is a national disaster,” Jonathan had said.

The Minister of Environment, Hadiza Mailafia, said over 5,000 farmlands had been washed away.

Also, the Federal Government has warned of the threat of an imminent food crisis, which will only compound an already miserable situation.

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The United Nations Children’s Fund also recently said that about 18.7 million people are facing food and nutrition crises in the Sahel region, which includes a large portion of Nigeria’s vast land area, as a result of the impact of drought, malnutrition and disease. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) predicted an invasion by locusts.

In the 2013 Budget, the Federal Government probably made allocation to the agriculture section using parameters of the previous year, and not taking into consideration the recent nationwide flooding.

According to Jonathan, his administration has instituted key policy reforms to establish staple crop processing zones aimed at attracting the private sector into areas of high production, reducing post-harvest losses, and adding value to locally produced commodities.

He added that, so far, government has succeeded in attracting $7.8 billion investment commitments to the agricultural sector.  These investments and the value chain approach being used to transform the sector, Mr. President noted, have the capacity to create 3.5 million additional jobs in the medium term by 2015.

“You will recall that government provided incentives to support cassava value chains, including zero duty on machinery and equipment to process high quality cassava flour. Cassava bread is increasingly commercially available with 20 percent cassava flour content. In addition, a total of one million metric tonnes of dried cassava chips, are being exported to China this year,” he added, pointing out that achieving self-sufficiency in rice production in 2015 remains his target.

The President said that, in response to government’s new fiscal measures, 13 new private sector rice mills with a capacity of about 240,000 metric tonnes have been established. These mills, he revealed, buy and process local paddy and create employment for Nigerians.

While these policy statements for the outgoing year appear to be feasible in tackling some of the nation’s food security challenges, the unfolding situation essentially caused by the flood requires the need to re-strategise in terms of funding and policy.

A problem of this magnitude would require a purpose-driven plan to deal with it, according to industry watchers.

The N81.41 billion allocated to Agriculture & Rural Development in the budget is reflective of government’s supposed commitment to the sector, which may not be enough to feed the growing population and create jobs for the growing unemployed.

President Goodluck Jonathan last week allocated the sum of N17.6 billion to states and agencies to cushion the effect of floods in many parts of the country.

The breakdown of the figure shows that N13.3 billion goes to the affected states, while agencies involved in tackling the disaster will receive N4.3 billion.

The president made the announcement on Tuesday morning in a national broadcast on the State of the Nation.

He also raised a committee on flood relief and rehabilitation headed by business mogul, Aliko Dangote, and former president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba.

The National Committee on Flood Relief and Rehabilitation has Dr. Mike Adenuga, another business mogul, as the chief fund mobiliser.

The committee has one year to conclude its tasks among which is to raise funds in support of government’s efforts to provide urgent relief for victims of floods across the country.

Other members of the committee are Alhaji Karami Isiaku Rabiu, Alhaji Mohammed Indimi, Ngo Hannatu Cholum, Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, former Minister of Information, Prof. Dora Akunyili, and former Managing Director, United Bank for Africa Plc, Mr. Tony Elumelu.

Others include Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Tunde Lemo, who is representing the bank, Ms. Fatima Wali, former Minister of Information Frank Nweke (Jnr.) and a former presidential adviser, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa.

The affected states were categorised into four groups based on the present assessment.

Category A states will receive N500 million each, while states in categories B and C will get N400 million and N300 million respectively.

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The government splashed N250 million each on states in category D.

States in the A Category are – Oyo, Kogi, Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, Delta, Bayelsa and Anambra.

While Jigawa, Kano, Bauchi, Kaduna, Niger, Nasarawa, Taraba, Cross River, Edo, Lagos and Imo are pooled in category B.

Kwara, Katsina, Gombe, Ogun, Ondo, Ebonyi, Abia and Rivers are the states in category C.

The category D comprised Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Yobe, Enugu, Ekiti, Osun, Akwa Ibom, Borno and the Federal Capital Territory.

The committee which is also expected to advise government on the judicious utilization of funds raised has been authorised by President Jonathan to co-opt any other persons or organizations that it may find useful in carrying out its assignment.

This intervention seems to give the impression that government realises the magnitude of the crisis.

However, developments show that the intervention might simply be a drop in the ocean, as complaints that funding is inadequate have begun to reign the airwaves.

Indeed, members of Delta State House of Assembly described the state’s share of N500 million from the Federal Government’s N17.6 billion assistance to flooded states as meagre, noting that the money was not sufficient in view of the challenges at hand.

They maintained that Delta State was heavily impacted because it was at the mercy of River Niger and River Benue.

The legislators said it could have been appropriate for Mr. President to declare a state of emergency over the flood issue.

The president lamented the effects of the floods, which he said had rendered tens of thousands of Nigerians homeless, and destroyed property, farmlands and infrastructure.

Managing Director, Upper Niger River Basin Development Authority (UNRBDA), Professor Paul Shaba Marley, has warned that the flood that is currently ravaging the country could lead to food scarcity in the country next year.

He said in Minna, Niger State, that the flood is a threat to national food security programme of the federal government and hence farmlands were being washed away mostly in the northern parts of Nigeria.

Marley, who is a Professor of Crop Production, said that the country should take proactive measures for possible food scarcity as the cases of flood would obviously affect food production.

He explained that the volume of water associated with flood is inimical to crop production and that if the water that submerged farmlands did not go down, it would be very difficult to have maximum crop production this year.

He pointed out that the situation would be more felt in areas where  cereals crops are grown in the northern region with low water tolerant crops and therefore portends bad signal to production of cereal crops.

“No doubt the flooding ravaging the country is a threat to the food security programme of the federal government. The development may lead to food scarcity next year,” he said.

Marley stated further: “Except for rice that is highly tolerant to water, other cereals are not. Horticulture crops and other food crops in flood affected areas are being lost and these will cause the country big problem in food production next year because it may take long for the water to rescind.’’

States such as Kogi, Kwara, Anambra, Delta, Cross River, Edo and Bayelsa have been caught up in the floods, and thrown into panic over the loss of lives, livelihood, properties and farmlands.

In its 2012 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP), the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) had in March this year warned about an imminent heavy rainfall and the attendant flooding.

The cause of the flooding has been narrowed down to: the torrential rains, overflowing of River Niger (necessitating the release of water from Kainji and Shiroro dams), and the release of water from Lagdo Dam in neighbouring Cameroon.

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These events, happening nearly simultaneously, caused a perfect storm of water deluge in the affected states.  The incidence of flood and flash floods caused by sudden excessive rainfall is becoming common both in Nigeria as well as many parts of the world. Other reasons include climate change and poor planning by state governments, despite of the early warnings.

The ripple effect of these tragic incidences may be felt all around the country, submitted experts, who stated that Nigerians will feel the impact in their pockets, as cost of living, especially food prices, could go up as a result of the loss of farmlands nationwide.

For instance, reports that 3,200 hectares of rice plantation under the authority of Tada-Shonga Irrigation Scheme in Edu Local Government Area of Kwara State have been washed away by flood gives an insight into the gravity of losses experienced. Vast areas of cassava farmlands have also been reportedly destroyed in many other parts of the country.

Livestock are not excluded from the disaster.  So severe are the losses, that the Federal Government rightly declared an emergency in the flood zones.

To underscore the gravity of the crisis looming, flooding not only eroded the top soil, destroyed farm crops and livestock, it also destroys key infrastructures such as roads and bridges that are important for conveyance of farm produce to various markets. The complete breakdown in movement on the Lokoja-Abuja Expressway as a result of River Niger overflowing its banks and the delays in transportation of goods and people, provides a clear example of the extent of the catastrophe.

To address the looming crisis in food production, observers believe that Nigeria needs to deepen its food intervention scheme. Currently, there are about 20 silos across the six geo-political zones of the country being built under the intervention fund of the Ministry of Agriculture to achieve a strategic food reserve. The grand total storage of grains in Nigeria is currently about 1.3 million metric tons, while the FAO recommended that Nigeria should store about 1-3 million metric tons of grains in storage.

There is no gain saying that Nigeria needs to do more to boost her storage capacities. State governments should also be encouraged to build strategic food reserves and the government needs to project ahead especially in the light of the global climate change phenomenon and the early warnings provided by NIMET.

The agriculture sector must be supported to be able to provide functional farm settlements to stimulate local production, it was suggested. Experts say this becomes necessary as many farmers do not possess enough farm lands, while companies producing their own raw material locally should be given some sort of tax holiday to encourage local food production. This also has additional benefit of import substitution.

There is need for proactive and improved management of dams and drainages in flood prone areas. The water should be released in consonance with recommendations of NIMET based on the expected rainfall. The states should also provide alternatives settlements or make shift arrangement for their people even before the floods start.  While no one can blame the government for natural disasters, it may be held accountable on its response to such.

With the flooding will probably persist as a result of the changing global climate, government must react in the short, medium and long term. With the inclement weather, food security may be the new war frontier facing the Nigerian government. It must win it at all costs.

Government must also react by giving the 2013 budgetary allocation to agriculture a deserved second look so as to, in the words of President Jonathan, accord the issue of food security priority attention.

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