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Presidency raises alarm over imminent famine

•Laments as exporters move grains abroad •Says 500 trucks leave Nigeria weekly

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THE Presidency has raised the alarm that Nigeria, currently Africa’s largest producer of cereals and grains, risks famine from early next year.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, who gave the the grim forecast in a radio interview in Kano, said this followed a huge demand in the global market that was targeting the country’s surplus production.

He said: “Huge demand for our grains in the global market is creating an excellent environment for the mindless export of Nigerian grains across our borders and unless this is curtailed, Nigerian markets will be bereft of food by January next year.”

The presidential spokesman said the Ministry of Agriculture had advised the president on the need to draw the attention of all Nigerians to this issue, which, if not addressed promptly, could lead to shortage of grains in the country by January.

“Over the past year, providence has blessed Nigeria with bountiful harvest of grains, more than enough to feed the country and to export to other countries. At present, there is a high demand for grains from Nigeria, from African countries as distant as Libya and Algeria, and from places as far away as Brazil.

“However, the ministry of agriculture has raised concerns about a massive rate of exportation, which could lead to shortage of grains in Nigeria by January,” Mallam Garba said.

He explained that Nigeria currently enjoyed a free market situation. “President Muhammadu Buhari is not in any way opposed to or intent on tampering with that.

“On the other hand, exporters also have  moral obligation to make their produce available to Nigerians who live within our country’s borders, to ensure that our citizens have access to food.”

The president’s senior special assistant on media and publicity informed the radio station that the ministry of agriculture estimated that no fewer than 500 trucks laden with grain leave Nigerian markets every week, headed for countries outside our borders.

The major markets involved in this exportation are: the Dawanau market in Kano, Naigatari in Jigawa, Bama in Borno, and Ilela in Sokoto, as well as three other main markets in Kebbi State.

He further explained that President Buhari had, on various occasions, reiterated his plan for Nigeria to become a food-producing giant, self-sufficient to the point of depending very little on imported food.

“This noble plan could easily be defeated by the pull of the foreign market if food continues to leave our shores to feed people elsewhere.  If care is not taken, Nigeria could face a famine by January,” he stressed.

“Building our country into the edifice we envision it to be will require sacrifice and strategy from every single Nigerian. Let us remember that charity begins at home,’’ he said in the programme.

Asked a question on what the government was doing to avert the frightening situation, the presidential spokesman said  President Buhari had asked the Ministry of Agriculture to present a quick plan for the purchase of surplus grains to be stored in warehouses across the country to save for the rainy day, but opined that there was the need for moral pressure on exporters by traditional and religious authorities to curtail the depletion of the home market.