Nigeria has 33 silos meant for storing grains against periods of poor harvest but all the silos are empty, as fear of famine stalks the country.
“For about two years now I do not think the government has been storing grains because we have not been producing enough for our consumption. The country is already experiencing limited supply of maize, as we speak,” said Tunji Ademola, national president, Maize Association of Nigeria (MAAN).“We really do not know the current situation of the silos across the country. Before now, the silos were operating below 10 percent capacity and the government was planning to concession them,” said Ademola.
In reaction to recent concerns that the country is going to run out of grains, Audu Ogbeh, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, said on the sidelines of the just concluded COP22 held in Marrakech, Morocco, that Nigeria needed about N30 billion to buy up grains and store at least 25,000 to 30,000 tons in the country’s silos which would dry up before next year January.
But farmers say the 33 silos across the country are largely empty and the country does not currently have a bulwark against famine.
“The silos were not put to maximum use because of the high cost of running them. It cost billions of naira to maintain a silo,” said Rotimi Fashola, senior partner, TT Fash Consults Limited. “The government is currently managing only four of our silos, with 26 put up for concession for proper participation of farmers and three are still under construction. Companies have bid for the silos already and are awaiting government modalities on the grain specification for each of them,” said Fashola.
The Federal Government constructed 33 silos in 2009 to ensure food security and guarantee all-year-round supply of food to Nigerians.
Nigeria has a total of 33 silos with a storage capacity of about 1.3 million metric tonnes. Silos were constructed in Ekiti, Kebbi, Zamfara, Borno, Imo and FCT states with 100,000 metric tonnes capacity.
Other silos had the storage capacity of 25,000 metric tonnes. These included Yobe, Bauchi, Osun, Nasarawa, Taraba, Ogun, Anambra, Kogi, Sokoto, Akwa Ibom, Adamawa, Kano, Ebonyi, Gombe, Edo, Oyo, Benue, Niger, Cross River, Katsina state amongst others. The silos were meant to store rice, beans, maize, soya beans, millet, wheat, and other food items.
Silos in Borno, Yobe and Bayelsa are still under construction due to insecurity and natural disasters, according to a document seen by BusinessDay.
According to stakeholders, most of the silos had not been put to maximum use, as they mostly operate below 10 percent utilisation capacity and wrongly located.
Aminu Dikko, director-general of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), said at a breakfast meeting organised by the Nigerian-British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) in Lagos, that many of the silos were not properly located, owing to political and other primordial considerations.
Nigeria’s major grains are rice, wheat, maize and sorghum, with a production of 15.56 million metric tons and demand of 25.5 million metric tons per annum, according to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. This shows a demand-supply gap of 9.9 million metric tons per annum.
Despite bumper harvests by farmers this year, Nigerian grains such as maize and wheat are becoming scarce in the local market, as food and beverage companies such as Nigerian Breweries, Nestlé, Guinness, International Breweries and flour millers pay for them at the point of harvest or before they are moved to the market.
This is leaving less and less grains to sell to Nigerians who need the same crops as food on their tables, despite bumper harvests of major crops this year.
Abiodun Olorundenro, chief executive officer, Green Vine Farms, said “If we had been storing up grains, the government would not be talking about famine next year. The silos are there but nothing is happening there.” “The output of maize this year is quiet low and this is as a result of the army worm infestation that destroyed a lot of maize farmland in the South-West and North-Central this year. The government ought to have released dry maize from the silos now if they had them stored,” Olorundenro said.
Silos provides platform for the purchase and management of grain stock at guaranteed minimum prices, which is usually made known to the famers before production and stored at the national reserve silos.The stored foods are released only at the approval of the president during period of national disasters and to give assistance to friendly sister countries in their period of needs.
However, contrary to the Federal Government’s fears that pressure on Nigerian grains from West African neighbours could trigger famine in 2017, farmers say Nigerians will not go hungry in 2017 for lack of food to buy. Farmers who spoke with BusinessDay hinged their belief that there will be no famine in 2017 on the fact that more farmers are going into all-year farming as well as the fact that many more Nigerians are going into farming now, as agriculture has become attractive and receives a lot of support from government, private sector and international organisations.
They further observe that some of the external grain purchase pressure will be taken off Nigeria by Mali which has recently recorded a bumper harvest of grains. Mali has produced a record grain crop of 8.96 million tonnes for the 2016/17 season, an increase of 11 percent that will leave it with a surplus over 3.77 million tonnes, provisional agriculture ministry statistics showed a fortnight ago.
Rice, maize and millet account for the bulk of the West African nation’s grain production. “Despite exporters buying up grains in large quantities this year, I do not see the country experiencing famine next year. There was bumper harvest in major crops even grains this year and the figures from third quarter GDP attest to that,” said Emmanuel Ijewere, chief executive officer, Bests Foods Limited and co-ordinator, Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG).
Third quarter figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that the contribution of agriculture to the gross domestic product (GDP) jumped from 22.5 percent in the second quarter of 2016 to 28.7 percent. Growth in the agriculture sector was driven by output in crop production, accounting for 95 percent of overall nominal growth of the sector. The Central Bank of Nigeria has initiated the Anchor Borrowers Scheme, which has boosted rice production in Kebbi State, and promises to repeat the feat in 13 other states. More than 65,000 farmers are involved in the Anchor Borrowers Scheme in Kebbi State alone.