As Nigeria joins the rest of the world today to celebrate Food Day, there are concerns among various stakeholders over the high prices of food items in the country despite the on-going harvest.
World Food Day is an international day marked annually on October 16 to commemorate the founding of the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).
Although, this year's event has its theme as 'Food Safety, Everyone's Business', and is aimed at promoting global food safety awareness and calling upon relevant stakeholders to take action, affordability of food items as a result of increasing prices remains a thing of concern for many Nigerians.
This year, the COVID-19, flood disasters and drought up north have strained the country's food systems and raised concern over food insecurity, coupled with prices remaining high for most citizens despite the ongoing harvest.
This time last year, prices of most grains were very low.
A 100kg bag of maize which presently sells between N14,000 and N17,000, depending on location, was sold for between N8,000 and N10,000 same time last year.
Similarly, a 50kg bag of local rice which now sells for between N23,000 and N26,000 was sold for N14 and N18,000 last year same time depending on location.
The trend is the same with other food items like sorghum, millet etc.
Traditionally, prices of produce fall at harvest time till around December but consumers believe the reduction in the price this year is far below the usual practice.
Although agriculture has received significant support since 2016, some of the challenges of food production have remained, particularly when it comes to access to market, mechanisation, poor research and development funding, unwillingness of commercial banks to fund the sector, poor value chain development policy and weak access to improved seeds/seedlings.
On Tuesday, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Muhammad Sabo Nanono, in an interview with journalists as part of activities marking the World Food Day, itemised the achievements of the federal government through it agricultural policies and programmes, which included an increase in major staple crops production like maize, rice, cassava etc.
He said the federal government considers the relevance of eradicating poverty and hunger and transforming the food production systems to ensure sustainable food security but admitted that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are contributing to low productivity in the sector.
"This year, hundreds of thousands of hectares of rice, maize and sorghum and livestock and fisheries have been affected by the devastating flood in the country.
"The ministry has raised its national food reserve stock to 109,657MT, a figure expected to be increased to 219,900MT by the end of 2020.
"Since the beginning of the 2020 farming season, the ministry has distributed inputs in states across the country to boost food production Nigeria, last year recorded a boost in the production of its major staple crops.
"According to data from the ministry, maize and rice production rose from 12.8 and 12.3 to 13.94 and 14.28 million metric tonnes, respectively last year," Alhaji Muhammad said.
But experts and stakeholders said the government has a lot to do if the nation must achieve food self-sufficiency.
Mrs Agnes Ajayi, an Abuja resident, said the only time the citizens, especially the ordinary ones would appreciate the government's efforts on food sufficiency, is when they start to enjoy a relatively low prices for farm produce.
She said: "There is no grammar you will speak to a person that cannot afford to buy rice, semovita or maize for his/her family because of high cost and you expect him/her to listen or believe you.
"Some of us that are civil servants and can get little money at the end of the month may tend to understand and be patient with the government but how will you convince someone that has no job or has lost his job or those in rural communities that can hardly feed their families because bandits have chased them out of their farms'.
"Let me be frank with you, that is part of the reasons you see many people joining the protests you are seeing here and there.
"People are hungry, my brother," she said.
Dr Samaila Aliyu, an agronomist in Abuja, said there was still more to be done but noted that the country was moving in the right direction.
"Agriculture has never gotten the kind of support it got in the last three years, but years of neglect means there is a lot of work.
"The rehabilitated fertiliser blending plants and the bilateral agreement with Morocco in phosphate rock guaranteed stable fertiliser prices and also made it available.
"Restriction of imports also provided the opportunity for local produce to appreciate and in the process quality improved," he said.
The agronomist stressed that areas of focus should be on seed and mechanization - not necessarily tractors, but simple, affordable machines that the smallholder can use.
"Extension services also require attention from both public and private quarters.
"With a rising population, Nigeria cannot afford to lose momentum for it to be able to feed its citizens and even tap the export market," he added.
On his part, the National President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Architect Kabiru Ibrahim, described the country's agricultural policies and programmes as "a mixed grill of successes and failures", but noted that "with determination, it will be uhuru for our food system if we take decisive action to reinvigorate it."
He opined that the "selfless and focused implementation of the policy of this administration by better-equipped drivers will lead to the attainment of food sufficiency rapidly and sustainably."
He lamented that 'there appears to be a disconnect between the thrust of the Green Alternative (the country's agriculture policy document) and the psyche of the Federal Ministry Agriculture Rural Development especially around creating the right kind of synergy between the various agencies and MDAs."
The AFAN president said the need to get the National Agricultural Seed Council, Agricultural Research Council Nigeria and other agencies to be part of what he called "a Food Security Directorate" was now more than ever desirable.
A farmer, Mr Peter Adam Eloyi, said the country's food production system was not sustainable, adding that, that will be attained only when we begin to encourage organic agricultural production that profits people and the planet.
"The government policy should focus on developing the organic agriculture sector in line with the Malabo Declaration.
"Investing in sustainable ecological organic agriculture and value chain industry development are the surest ways to guarantee food security in Nigeria," he said.