Audu Ogbe, minister of agriculture, on Monday allayed fears of a looming food crisis, saying the Federal Government is already stockpiling grains in the 33 silos which have up to 2.5 million tonnes storage capacity.
Giving an update, according to Metrobusinessnews report the minister said,”We have started storing grains, we have also started planting in many parts of the country, using irrigation. We haven’t got the N30bn loan we are looking for, but we have stated storing.”
Ogbe had weeks back, expressed fears that pressure on Nigerian grains from West African neighbours could trigger a famine in 2017.
Farmers who spoke with Metrobusinessnews, however said Nigerians would not go hungry in 2017 for lack of food to buy.
The farmers hinged their claims on the fact that more Nigerians are engaging in farming, while more farmers are going into year-round cultivation, as agriculture has become more attractive and receives a lot of support from government, the private sector and international organisations.
Other stakeholders say the rush from across the nation’s borders to buy grains from Nigeria should be seen as an incentive to grow more crops, create more jobs and earn more foreign exchange.
At a press conference later Monday,the minister also announced that government has imported 110 rice millers as part of efforts to help expand rice production and drive sufficiency.
He further observed that government is targeting three major crops for the export market, including cashew, cocoa and pulses.
He said,”Government will not allow its citizens to go through harrowing experience,as such we are putting in place enough mechanisms to ensure our farmers have enough to store in silos. There is no reason for us to panic.
“We have 33 silos in the country,with a total capacity of 2.5 million tonnes of grains and we are buying at a time when it is better to buy,which we know better because grains should be allowed to dry reasonably to a moisture level of 13 percent.”
Ogbe confirmed that the government has funds to buy-back grains from farmers and stockpile because the CBN is now helping with private sector collaborations in form of the Anchor Borrowers project.
The minister however confirmed high cost of food at the moment, which he also attributed to export .
He said for the first time, Nigeria is witnessing extra-ordinary purchase of grain into West,North and Central Africa, and that Namibia is also seeking to purchase 37,000 tonns of maize from Nigeria. “The cost will be high for now but the good thing is that it stimulates production.
“This is a challenge which is good. It is good that farmers have a market for their produce,and in that way are making money for themselves.”
On other steps to address hunger concerns, he said arrangements have been made with some state governors to commence planting immediately before Christmas, using irrigation, so that there would be harvest by March and to ensure an all year round planting of millet, maize and sorghum.
To support the proposed all year round planting, the minister announced that government is working out models for farming with irrigation programmes which the Africa Development Bank, (AfDB) and others are already supporting with a minimum of 10 additional dams and lakes in every state in this country in the next two years.
“This is to make sure that we can grow food all year round and not wait for the rainy season.
“The system of waiting for the rains for our farming must be addressed and this leads us to the programme we are putting up within the next two years of constructing dams,dikes and lakes to support all year round farming,” he stated.
In a related development Reuters reports that Nigeria said on Monday that aid agencies, including the United Nations, were exaggerating the levels of hunger in the strife-torn northeast to get more funding from international donors.
In the last few months, Boko Haram insurgents, who have killed 15,000 people and displaced two million since 2009, have been driven back from an area the size of Belgium, revealing thousands of people that aid agencies say are near starvation.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman said “hyperbolic claims” were being made by, among others, U.N. agencies about the region, where the United Nations says some 75,000 children are at risk of starving to death in the next few months.
“We are concerned about the blatant attempts to whip up a nonexistent fear of mass starvation by some aid agencies, a type of hype that does not provide solution to the situation on the ground but more to do with calculations for operations financing locally and abroad,” an emailed statement from Garba Shehu said.
“In a recent instance, one arm of the United Nations screamed that 100,000 people will die due to starvation next year. A different group says a million will die,” he said.
On Friday, the U.N. said it had doubled its humanitarian funding appeal for northeast Nigeria to $1 billion to reach nearly 7 million people it said needed life-saving help.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has worked out an aid plan “in close cooperation with the government”, its deputy humanitarian coordinator Peter Lundberg said on Monday.
“The reality is that if we don’t receive the funding we require many thousands of people will die,” he said.
Shehu said government agencies were distributing food, deploying medical teams and providing education for children in camps for people who had fled their homes.