Daily Trust (Abuja)

21 October 2012

Nigeria: Food Crisis - No Grains in Over N140 Billion Silos

Bauchi — Government plans massive food import as farmers fear poor yields after devastating floods, while corruption-infested multi-billion naira silos projects are without grains

Farmers in Tofani and Kofa villages of Kusada Local Government Area of Katsina State may not be able to harvest one-third of some of their yearly crops this year - no thanks to the disaster that dovetailed the ice rain and windstorm, which destroyed their farmlands, Sunday Trust has learnt.

As a result of the disaster, most of the farmers fear that they would be able to contribute just little to the food basket of the country, a situation that could lead to food supply crisis. As at the last count, 207 farmlands were destroyed in Tofani, while in Kofa village over 500 farmlands were ravaged by the ice rain. The unusual actually lasted for just six minutes, according to the village head of Kofa, Alhaji Rabi'u Bello Kofa. Virtually, the entire farmlands in the two communities were affected by the calamity. A total of 18 of the 34 LGAs of Katsina State were devastated by flood and rain related disaster this year, with Mani and Mai Aduwa local government areas identified as worst hit areas.

However, most of the farmers who spoke with our reporter believed that the quantum of the damage caused by the flood and flood related disaster would not cause serious harm to the state's yearly harvest. Alhaji Adamu Jibia told our correspondent that "Even in the affected villages, it is not everybody that is affected. Here, in Jibia, for instance, we are expecting a bumper harvest this year because we did not experience flood. I am sure the story will be the same in most of the areas that are not affected by the disaster. Take Funtua zone, only three local governments were affected and the floods affected only houses, not farmlands."

Complementing Jibia's view, another farmer, Malam Yusuf Musa, said with exception of Kusada Local Government Area, where ice rain destroyed large numbers of farmlands in Kofa and Tofani villages, farmers in the remaining 17 affected local government areas would still get some farm produce. He remarked that "the disaster will not cause any shortfall of food items in the state this year." Also, the Katsina State Commissioner for Agriculture, Alhaji Musa Adamu, said the damage caused by flood would not affect the yearly production of the state, saying "when the unfortunate incident occurred the state government had taken necessary measures of controlling the situation."

On the contrary, Malam Galadima Kadi Tofani told our reporter that of the eight farmlands he cultivated this year, he only harvested less than 100 bales of millet, corn and beans and maize. Tofani explained that, in previous years, he harvested no less than 5,000 bales of the aforementioned farm produce.

Another farmer, Malam Adamu Dabo Tofani said, "I was harvesting on the average 120 bales of millet and corn in previous years, but this year I was only able to take five bales to my home after harvesting period. For cotton, I harvested only a ton as against the three to four tons I used to harvest annually on the average."

Dabo added that many of his colleagues could not harvest a third of their usual annual output this year, saying "they have lost all their farm produce to the disaster. Most of the affected farmers in this village have started sending their children to cities like Kano, Abuja, Lagos, Port-Harcourt and Kaduna to search for odd jobs so that they can sustain their families till next year."

Malam Zakari Ya'u is a large scale cotton farmer in the village. He was harvesting between 10 and 15 tons of cotton annually. He told our reporter that following the disaster, he was able to get only five sacs of cotton this year.

The village head of Tofani (Magajin-Tofani), Sani Alhaji Kofa told Sunday Trust that none of the affected farmers can harvest 10 bales this year, following the disaster of ice rain and windstorm that affected virtually the entire farmlands in the village.

He said, "We have started feeling the consequences of the disaster in this village because some people have started begging for food, while others have begun to send their children to cities in search for odd jobs," he said.

Kofa lamented thus "tell me how can a breadwinner of a 30-member family house sustain the house after he had lost almost the entire farm produce to the disaster? We have a farmer who used to harvest 300 to 500 bales of assorted grains millet, corn and beans annually, but ended up getting 10 or less this year. The situation is alarming in Tofani. I have lost two farmlands to the disaster. Last year, I cultivated five and a half tons of cotton, 11 bags of assorted beans and 38 bags of maize in one of the farms, but this year I got three bags of cotton, one bag of beans and three-and-a half bags of maize."

Sani added that "if it were not because I have other means of income, I would have been in Abuja by now searching for a job to feed my family, like many other villagers."

Commenting the on relief materials donated, Kofa commended Governor Ibrahim Shema, Kusada local government council, the District Head of Kusada and Bebejin-Katsina, Alhaji Nuhu Yashe for their concern to the victims of the disaster. He said Kusada local government council has donated to the victims of the disaster and so also the District Head.

For the state government, he added, "one of Governor Shema's Special Advisers, one Hajiya Bilki, who invited us to her house told us that relief materials comprising 30 bags of maize, 30 bags of millet, 30 bags of rice, 10 cartons of milk, 10 cartons of sugar and 10 cartons each of palm and groundnut oil were released to the Kusada Local Government Area."

He called on the state government to assist victims of the disaster with more food items, particularly millet, maize and corn, saying "the concern of the affected people was not clothing materials, blankets and or provisions such as detergent, soap and milk; our main concern is food items."

Speaking to Sunday Trust, the state's Commissioner for Environment, Alhaji Aminu Ibrahim Safana, said government has donated N6 million and N4 million to the two worst hit areas of Mai Aduwa and Mani local government areas respectively, while the rest of the 16 affected local government areas were allocated N2.5 million each.

In Kebbi State, farmers are still counting their losses few months after flood washed away their farmlands. At the peak of this year's rainy season in August the state witnessed its own share of flood. Many farmlands and residential houses were destroyed in parts of the state.

Speaking to Sunday Trust, a farmer, Alhaji Yakubu Saidu, said the flood washed away more than half of his farmlands. He said he was planning to tabulate the loss incurred from the flood during the dry season farming. "Last year, I got 300 bags of grains but this year so far I got only 150 on the same farmland. What I invested on the farm last year was the same with what I spent this year," he said.

On his part, a leader of onion farmers in Aliero Local Government Area, Alhaji Uba Sarki, said though onion is a dry season crop, their grains were seriously affected by the flood. He said, "We thank Allah for everything. The major crop we plant here is onion, but because it is a dry season product we plant grains to augment it. This year, apart from the problem of flood, we had acute shortage of fertiliser, which also adversely affects our output."

But the state's Commissioner for Agriculture, Alhaji Sani D. Kanya, said the state government had put in place measures to assist farmers recover the loss they incurred. According to him, "We were sensitised earlier before the flood disaster. So, both the state government and the farmers took measures to contain it. However, it affected the farmers, as many of their farmlands were destroyed. To assist them, we have introduced dry season farming. We are encouraging and supporting farmers to go into irrigation farming in order to recover the damages caused by the flood disaster," he said.

Empty grain storage silos despite over N140bn investment

The flood and the poor harvest this year have raised questions over the storage silos project purportedly executed across the country since 2009. During the late President Umaru Musa Yar'adua administration, a whopping sum of N50 billion was included in the 2009 budget projections of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources for the construction of grain storage silos across the country. By 2010, reports said an additional N96 billion had been released, making a total of N146 billion. At that time it was projected that ongoing silos projects and the construction of new ones in order to bolster food security was meant to raise the national strategic storage capacity to 1 million tonnes.

The original intention was to have the grain storage silos located in different grains producing states, among them Ekiti, Kebbi, Zamfara, Borno, Imo, FCT and Bayelsa States. They were supposed to have 100,000 metric tonnes capacity. Other silos with the storage capacity of 25,000 metric tonnes were to be constructed in Yobe, Bauchi, Osun, Nasarawa, Taraba, Ogun, Anambra, Kogi, Sokoto, Akwa Ibom, Adamawa, Kano and Katsina States. The silos were meant to store rice, beans, maize, soya beans, millet, wheat, and other food items.

For over 20 years now, government had made plans to build silos in order to boost food security, but the project has always been bungled due to corruption. For instance, a case involving a silos meant to be built in Akwa Ibom had to be taken to an Abuja High Court over an allegation that the cost of its construction had been inflated by over N500 million. Also, in 2010, there were allegations against the Ministry of Agriculture that the sum of N96 billion had been removed from Ecological Funds to fund the silos project, but the grain silos have not been constructed.

In Bauchi State, there are four grain silos. There is one in Boto, one in Bauchi, one in Azare. A N1.5 billion silos was recently built by the Federal Government at Wailo village in Ganjuwa Local Government Area.

A senior official in the Bauchi State Agricultural Development Projects said the Silos in Bauchi had no grains because government buys grains if there are surplus after harvesting. He said the last time the state government purchased surplus grains was in 2008 and it was sold to farmers at subsidized rates. But since then, government has not bought grains from farmers and we don't know what will happen this year because floods have washed away many farmlands. We fear that there may be no surplus grains, even as the Wailo silos are awaiting commissioning. The staff added that sometimes silos are used to keep pilgrims luggage after their return from pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia in order to secure their properties.

However, the State's Information Officer Ministry of Agriculture, Alhaji Abdu Sale said "In Bauchi State all our silos are functioning and government purchased grains after harvest, and we are now in the period of harvesting crops..."

In Kaduna State, silos built since 2009 have been lying empty. Three years after its commissioning, the one in Angwan Maigizo, Jama'a Local Government Area, Birnin Gwari in Birnin Gwari LGA and that in Saminaka in Lere LGA have been abandoned. A resident of Angwan Maigizo, one Nuhu Bawa, had complained to our correspondent thus: "No single grain had been stored here since the commissioning in February 2009. The few bags of grains which were lodged for testing during the commissioning have decayed. We want Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa to swing into action by ensuring that work commences at the silos because the problem most farmers in Kaduna State have is lack places to store they excess produce. A lot get wasted along the line. The place that is supposed to help the farmers preserve their food had been taken over by grasses. These well-planned flowers in the premises of the grain silos are now losing shape as the vicinity is gradually becoming infested with snakes."

Sunday Trust learned that of the 21 staff employed to work at the grains centre, only one elderly man, a security guard, is remaining at his post. Others had left in search of greener pastures.

Just as it is in Bauchi and Kaduna, so is the story of the silos built in many other states. Sunday Trust's checks revealed that the silos in Makurdi, Benue State, store grains far below its capacity. The silos in Lafia, Nasarawa State are still under construction. In Ekiti State, the one constructed along the Federal Polytechnic Road, Ado Ekiti has been lying there empty, as no activities are taking place at its site.

All attempts made by our reporters to find out what quantities of grains government has at its grains reserve centres across the country did not yield positive results. After sending a questionnaire to the office of the Minister of Agriculture and after waiting for many hours last Friday to obtain responses to the questions, our reporter was told that no official wanted to comment on our queries.

Government's approach to imminent food crisis

The federal government has told Nigerians not to panic over the speculations that there may be food crisis or famine following the massive destruction done to farm produce by floods across the country because it has already put in place a Flood Recovery Food Production plan to support farmers in the flood affected areas.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwumi Adeshina made this disclosure during the National Agricultural show held in Nasarawa State on October 13, 2012. He added that when the flood water recedes, government will embark on a flood recession food production intervention.

He said "Let me assure Nigerians we shall not have a food crisis or famine. We will recover from the flood. We have already secured 100 metric tons of seeds of extra-early maturing maize, which matures in 60 days, to plant on 5,500 hactres of farm lands in affected areas. This will allow affected farmers to have a harvest and feed themselves quickly before the next planting season. This will produce 11,000 tons of maize and will be complemented with an additional 500,000 tons to be produced under irrigation in the dry season"

The Minister added that, in the past one week, government has mobilized from within and outside Nigeria, over 20,000 metric tons of rice seeds, enough to plant 400,000 hectares of rice farm lands in flood affected areas. This, he noted would allow the production of 1.2 million metric tons of rice as government also plans to provide seedlings for cassava, yams and also make available food from the strategic grain reserves to affected states.

Dr Adeshina said "what does this add up to in terms of food production for our country? When we started, we informed the country that we would add 20 million metric tons of food to our domestic food supply by 2015. Today, from our efforts this year alone, from maize, rice, cassava and sorghum we are adding a total of 8.1 million metric tons of food. That is 41% of the total target that we set for 2015"

He observed that as part of the flood recovery food production initiative, the Ministry of Agriculture will distribute 1,000 pumps to farmers to use for flood recession food production in the dry season. "The Agricultural Transformation Agenda in Nigeria is well on course. We have been able to attract $ 7.8 billion of private sector investment commitments into the agriculture sector in the past one year. The World Bank is providing $500 million. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have selected Nigeria as a priority country for its investment in agriculture. The International Fund for Agriculture Development has put up $80 million. The USAID has committed $60 million. And the DFID, Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation have committed technical support facilities" he said.

Other reporters, Ismail Adebayo, Yusha'u a Ibrahim, Katsina, Ismail Mudashir, Birnin Kebbi and Ahmed Mohammed.

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