By - Makinde Ebenezer
Just recently, the number one citizen of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari made a controversial policy directive to the Central Bank of Nigeria asking them to stop providing foreign exchange for food importation in the country. According to the president, “Don’t give a cent to anybody to import food into the country.” This means that businessman or businesswoman who utilizes foreign currency (Yuan, Dollar, Pounds etc.) to import food to the country would have to look elsewhere for it because banks will no longer be able to provide it.
The directive was issued by the current administration on the ground that the problem of food insecurity in the country has been sufficiently solved. In order words, the president was sure that food importation in Nigeria is irrelevant because the country has attained food security and sufficiency. According to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, quoting the president, “We have achieved food security and for physical security, we are not doing badly.” In the light of this, President Muhammadu Buhari urged states of the federation to key into the agricultural policies of the present regime as a means of achieving further food sustenance.
However, since the directive came from the president, Nigerians across all walks of life including economists and commentators have expressed their opinions on the latest foreign exchange ban by President Muhammadu Buhari`s led administration. Like many policies of government, there are no unanimous views on the issue such that some commentators and policy analysts are commending the president while many others are scorning him for such an insensitive policy. Since the policy was made on the ground that Nigeria has achieved food security, this article attempts to interrogate the extent to which such assumption is right. That is, to what extent can we say Nigeria has achieved food security especially in the light of current political realities in the country?
Food Security in Nigeria: to what Extent?
Food security is not a difficult concept to define and we can agree that it means the availability of food and one`s access to it. A household can be said to be food secure if its inhabitants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation. The UN`s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defined food security as the situation when all people, at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Therefore, food security encompasses food access such that an individual enjoys physical access to food and food affordability where a citizen will be able to afford the physically available food.
Yobe and Adamawa states.
Also, in the 2018 Global Hunger Index, Nigeria ranks 103rd out of the 119 countries in the report an evidence that many Nigerians are suffering from hunger. In the same period, a report by the United Nations Development Programme in 2018 puts Nigeria at 157th position in Human Development Index of the 189 countries covered by the report. With an estimated population of about 180 million, and agriculture as one of the mainstays of the economy, more than 60 percent of Nigerians still live in hunger and poverty. Hunger and poverty are more pronounced in the rural areas of the country where about 80 percent of the rural population live on less than one US dollars per day (Food Security Portal, 2014).
Studies have also shown that though Nigeria has 75 percent of its land suitable for agriculture, only about 40 percent of the land are actually explored and cultivated. More so, majority of farmers in the country engage in subsistence agriculture that they only provide foods for their households with little remaining to sell. In 2016, it was revealed by FAO`s Food Security and Availability Survey (FSVS) carried out in 16 states of the federation that there are considerable food insecurity and vulnerabilities in Nigeria. In the report, while physical access to food was as high as 80 percent among the 16 states of the federation covered by the report, economic access to food was very poor. Median income per person per day in the households ranged from 46 naira in Borno State to 146 naira in Niger State.
Additional evidence has shown that Nigeria only focus on food sufficiency while neglecting the much more important food security. This emphasis on food sufficiency has created a situation where food is not physical available or affordable for those who need it. In the case of rice for example, while Nigeria`s rice production has increased significantly in recent years, domestic rice production has not increased enough to meet local demands. A study published by Journal of Plant Sciences and Crop Protection in 2018 shows clearly that Nigeria needs about 7 million metric tons of rice to cater for increasing demands of which only 49 percent of this can be produced domestically. It was in the light of this that the vice president of the country, Professor Yemi Osinbajo declared in July, 2019 that Nigeria is yet to attain self-sufficiency in rice production.
Poverty and Insecurity: how President Buhari missed the point
President Muhammadu Buhari has over-sensationalized his performance as the president of the country so far. His policy directive banning food importation under the impression that Nigeria has attained food security and self-sufficiency is the latest of many unsubstantiated claims made by the current regime. Though it is very difficult to determine whether Nigeria has become food secure, the available evidences have tended to show that there is still much work to be done in this regard. For example, as argued above, while the country`s rice production has increased significantly in recent time, the available production level is still very inadequate to cater for the need of the population hence the dependence on importation.
However, with the ban on importation, Nigerians would have to pay more to buy many goods. Indeed, before now, rice for example is more expensive to produce in Nigeria such that imported rice is less expensive than locally produced rice. According to the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo on July 15, 2019, “We used to import $5 million of rice every day. Although local rice is enhancing the economy, it is still more expensive than imported rice.” Therefore, the first implication of food importation ban is the fact that there would be scarcity of some edible goods in the country which will lead to increment in their prices.
It is in this sense that some commentators have argued that the latest directive by the president to the Central Bank of Nigeria is insensitive to the plight and predicament of the poor. It will be recalled that about 90 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty according to the report by World Poverty Clock. It remains to be seen how these poor Nigerians would be able to cope with increase in the prices of their basic foods like rice, garri, tomatoes etc. As much as the current administration may want to disagree, the reality is that Nigeria as currently constituted lacks the capability and the capacity to sufficiently meet the domestic food needs of its people.
Close to the challenge of food affordability in the face of acute poverty is the extent to which the available food can be physically access by Nigerians even when they can afford it. The current security situation in Nigeria has created challenges for food production and distribution in the country. Over the years, prevalence of ethno-religious conflicts and terrorism have continued to have devastating consequences on food production in Nigeria. In 2018, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations placed Nigeria in the lists of the 37 countries that need external food assistance due to insecurity.
Apart from Boko-Haram crisis, Farmer and Herder conflict is driving farmers away from their farms with direct negative effects on food production. In a report published by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in 2018 on food insecurity in conflict regions in Nigeria, it was revealed that among other thing, average household in the North East, North Central, South South is highly food insecure, such that many of the people in these regions had to rely on reduced meal size as a coping strategy in the face of food insecurity. The study also found out that people in these three regions were food insecure mainly because of political conflicts in the regions.
This shows that President Muhammadu Buhari missed the point when he said that Nigeria has achieved “food security” and not doing badly in terms of “physical security”. It is indeed very difficult for a country to be food secure without considerable level of physical security such that foods are available across all parts of the country without the impediment of insecurity as we are currently witnessing in Nigeria. The point we are making is that high rate of insecurity in Nigeria occasioned by the activities of Boko-Haram in the North, Farmer and Herder crisis in the South South, North Central and South West, banditry and kidnapping across the country has created a condition where food security is difficult to achieve.
Is Foreign Exchange Ban in the Interest of the Nigerian People?
The recent directive by the current administration is in fact a continuation of its economic policy. It would be recalled that after his emergence as the president of the country in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed his dissatisfaction with the high level of importation of goods in the country. And in the light of this, he placed a ban on the importation of some goods including rice.
However, since the introduction of this policy, the country`s productivity of these basic goods has not been keeping up with growing demands which have led to increase in the prices of goods- a burden on the Nigerian people.
Though a fantastic policy, the failure of Nigeria`s agricultural sectors to increase food production has made the policy unpopular among Nigerians. With the latest foreign exchange ban, farmers in the country may have to step up and increase their output or the people suffer more. Therefore, this latest policy directive will only be a good move by the Nigerian state until there is a sufficient increase in the production of food across the country. However, with continued insecurity across all parts of the country, it is very unlikely that food production will increase to such extent that Nigerians will not feel the negative impacts of the foreign exchange ban.
Indeed, it is problematic for the Nigerian people to move on the same page with their government since much of the brunt and burden of the regime`s policy directives are bear by the people. It is very difficult to trust the good intention of a leader who for example, has continued to campaign against medical tourism while himself a popular culprit in this regard.
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