Q3: Uncertainty pervades agric sector

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Buoyed by volatility experienced in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) ‘s ban of Form M for maize imports, flooding, exploitation of donkey trade, insecurity, skyrocketing prices of staples and many others led to challenges in the third quarter. Taiwo Hassan reports

No doubt, the footprint of the crisis caused by the COVID- 19 is yet to be abated in the country’s food basket couple’s with challenges in Q3. Regrettably, the negative impact of the pandemic has led increase in prices of consumable goods, which are stylishly going beyond the purchasing power of low income earners even as President Muhammadu Buhari confirmed the situation.

Floods

During the third quarter of the year, the outcome of excessive rainfall in the country brought tales of woes on farming communities in the country with the flood causing havoc to agricultural produce as farmers abandoned their farms for safety. However, concernes by the flooding, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) raised the alarm that the nationwide flooding was a pointer to food shortage across the country.

AFAN National President, Arc Kabir Ibrahim, in a chat with New Telegraph, explained that impending challenges facing the country’s agric sector, mostly flooding, portend a serious impediment to bumper harvest in 2020 farming season in the country. The AFAN president urged the Federal Government to look inward for sustainable strategies to avert food shortage and famine during the year.

He chided the Federal Ministry of Agriculture Rural and Development (FMARD) for delay in the commencement of this year’s farming season. He said the floods in June up to early September all over the nation washed away crops and livestock.

CBN ban on Maize importation

In fact, in the quarter under review, one of the most topical issue that hit the country’s agriculture sector was the announcement by the CBN to discontinue issuance of Form M for the importation of maize into the country. The CBN had directed authorised dealers to discontinue processing of Forms M for the importation of maize with immediate effect. This move, it was learnt from the apex bank on its Twitter handle, was to increase local production of the commodity, stimulate rapid economic recovery, safeguard rural livelihood and increase jobs, which were lost as result of COVID-19.
A statement signed by Dr. O.S. Nnaji, Director, Trade and Exchange Department, CBN said: “All Authorised Dealers are hereby requested to submit the list of Forms M already registered for the importation of Maize/Corn using the attached format on or before the close of business on Wednesday July 15, 2020.” .

Poultry farmers’ lamentation Following the ban on forex for maize importation, poultry farmers and maize suppliers lamented the effect it is having on the value chain. In a chat with this newspapers, some agric stakeholders noted that the shortage of maize had resulted to underfeeding of birds. The poultry farmers expressied displeasure over the import prohibition, insisting that there was inadequate supply of maize in the market. Director General of Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Onallo Ankpa, said since June this year, there had been scarcity of maize.

A poultry farmer, Mr Sunday Pius, who rears both broiler and layers, said his birds no longer fed properly due to the unavailability of feeds as a result of the scarcity of maize. “The skyrocketing prices of staples and grains such as maize selling for 18,000 per 100Kg scare the living day lights out of us.

“All these compounded by the COVID-19 still around us as much as when it impeded access to our farms during the complete lockdown portend a serious disaster to the food system. We can take the following decisions to mitigate the catastrophe should it occur God forbid.”

Maize quota imports

Also in Q3, amidst the scarcity of maize in Nigeria, one of the concessionaires of the 19 silos in Nigeria, Charles Ugwu, appealed to Federal Government to grant them some quota so that they can join in the importation of maize to address maize deficit in the country. Recall that the Federal Government on May 21, 2019, concessioned 19 silos with the target of generating N6bn over a 10-year period. The then Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said the concessionaires would provide performance bonds as collateral, and a guarantee against non-performance, whilst the ministry would retain the contractual rights to terminate for non-performance. Ogbeh noted that the country had 33 silos, the government would retain six, while eight would be concessioned later, while 19 had been concessioned. The 19 concessioned silo complexes are in Ado-Ekiti, Akure, Bauchi, Ogoja, Ikenne, Jos, Gaya, Sokoto, Gombe, Makurdi, Ibadan, Ezillo, Bulasa, Kaduna, Kwali, Jahun, Lafiagi, Igbariam and Uyo. Ugwu, while speaking with New Telegraph, said he was recently granted access to the silo in Ezilo which he is currently refurbishing. “They just gave us the certificate, papers and approval to enter the silo and begin to take it over. “In the case of Ezilo Silo where am involved, we are refurbishing the place by bringing it up, servicing it and getting it ready. “But we are appealing to government to give us some import quota for maize and soybean to enable our own area that has challenges with the supply of feed for the birds for poultry farmers, pig farmers and other animal husbandry so that we can supply feed to them, because feed basically depends on maize and soybean.”

Huge revenue losses by agric investors

In what looks like a fallout of the negative impacts of the novel COVID- 19 lockdown on the country’s agric sector, investors also rued the continued closure of the hospitality sector, saying it was disrupting their agric products supply chain businesses with revenue losses running into billions of naira. Particularly, the closure of businesses of hoteliers, event centre owners, bar and clubbing joint operators, event planners and merry makers had grave consequences on agric value chain supply as suppliers of chickens, vegetables, barbeques, eggs and food to these outlets have seen their supply and distribution chains businesses adversely affected. In fact, the agric investors told New Telegraph that the COVID-19 lockdown caused economic damage to the country’s agric output, which was already on the positive side last year, following the border closure policy of the Federal Government and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s intervention in the sector. Chairman of Lagos chapter of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Dr. Femi Oke, said its members in the areas of supply chain were lamenting the damage the lockdown had caused on their investments. For instance, Oke pointed out that those in poultry supplies were groaning that they could no longer supply chicken and eggs to these outlets, which are their biggest customers in terms of patronage. “Wehave lostbillions of naira in agric sector to this COVID-19 lockdown. Our members’ businesses have been disruptedbothinsupplyanddistributionof agricproductstotheircustomerswhich also affected their income,” he said.

FAO’s position

Also, in Q3, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations warned Nigeria and other countries to expect food crisis post-COVID-19 following conflicts and weather stocks. In a quarterly crop prospects and food situation report, the UN food agency stated that some countries, including Nigeria, should expect high level of severe food crisis in 2020/21. The FAO report said conflicts and weather shocks remained critical factors underpinning the high level of severe food crisis in countries requiring external assistance for food. The report also offered a special feature with regional roundups of the pandemic’s impacts. Despite these issues highlighted by the FAO, it, however, stated that Nigeria and others in Africa expected new record-high global cereal production and comfortable stock levels for 2020/21.

Panic buying

Also in the period under review, the Jigawa State Governor, Abubakar Badaru, and his Kebbi State counterpart, Atiku Bagudu, said bulk purchase of food items as palliatives for COVID-19 contributed to the high cost of food in the country. The governors spoke alongside their Plateau State counterpart, Simon Lalong, during an interview with State House correspondents after a meeting of the National Food Security Council held at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. The meeting was presided over by the Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari. “Even farmers that keep some to consume have probably exhausted them and have to go to the market and buy. So, the demand is becoming higher. “This is also exacerbated because there is bulk buying. CACOVID, states bought a lot to distribute as palliatives; Federal Government is also buying.

Fertiliser portal

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Muhammad Sabo Nanono, also revealed that the ministry through the Department of Farm Inputs Support Services (FISS) had established an online portal called the National Fertilizer Management Platform for the registration of Fertilizer dealers in Nigeria. He stated that the initiative would ensure accessibility, transparency, accountability among fertilizer value chain players in order to create sanity in the fertilizer space.

Last line

For Q3, it was a period of uncertainty in the country’s agriculture sector as there was no positive performance recorded but only negative activities affecting local farmers and agric stakeholders.

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