For the last 3 weeks, my local wholesale store has been out of my favorite Basmati rice. I quickly realized that the global food crisis had hit my doorstep. I couldn't help but think that if the richest country in the world is experiencing the effects of the global food crisis, Nigerians, and especially poor Nigerians must be suffering.
THE CRISIS AROUND THE WORLD
While there has thankfully not been any rioting on Nigerian streets as a result of the food crisis, the national bakers association planned a strike for May that would cause bread to increase by 25%. In fact, bread has gone up by 25% every year for the past 3 years and this forced bakers to demand that the government take steps to keep the price of flour down or risk the collapse of their industry.
According to various reports, it appears that the Yar'Adua administration is taking the current food crisis seriously. Although the government is not ready to lift the high tariff on rice importation, it is in government-to-government talks to import rice into the country to remedy the current shortfall. Other additional measures have been taken, such as the release of additional food into the market place to be sold at subsidized prices. Furthermore, through the National Roots Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), the federal government has increased yam production from 27 million tons to 30 million tons and aims to do more. The federal government has also approved the use of N80 billion to import food and help the domestic agricultural sector.
Additionally, the government is laying on the charm offensive with the head of Nigeria's recently created National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) giving an interview to reporters and begging the nation to stay calm because concrete steps have been taken to prevent any food scarcity. Samaila Ingawa, the Executive Director of NFRA, also said that the federal government is working with state governments to release their reserves and is encouraging other states to begin to create such reserves if they are yet to do so. Allowing officials to talk directly to the people about specific plans is always an excellent move in my book and will hopefully increase accountability if federal officials fail to maintain their promise.
WILL IT REALLY HELP?
However, I am not sure what the government can do to truly alleviate the effects of this problem when the price of oil is sky high and salaries are not keeping up with inflation. But, some relief is better than none. Nigerians, like the rest of the world's people, will have to ride out this storm. Yet, I cannot see things improving as long as groups like MEND and others continue to shut down oil interests in the Delta and directly impact the jittery global economy.
AND, MEND IS AT IT AGAIN...
Now, there are reports that MEND has asked former American President Jimmy Carter to mediate an agreement between the Nigerian government and itself. MEND pledged a truce and Carter has now agreed to come to Nigeria but is awaiting an invitation from the Yar'Adua administration. As one who spent a significant amount of their youth in the Delta at my mother's village, Abonema, I have looked at MEND as freedom fighters whose goal has been the achievement of economic justice for the residents of Nigeria's breadbasket, or oil mine, as is the case here. Despite this, I am not sure that bringing Carter into mediate will be beneficial. Carter would lend more credibility to MEND which, unfortunately, would embolden other militant groups and ordinary thieves who have seized upon MEND tactics and used them not for the interests of Delta residents and suffering Nigerians, but merely to line their pockets with the profits of black gold.
If Yar'Adua does extend an invitation to Carter, then I strongly think that Ibrahim Gambari must play a role in whatever talks ensue. Gambari was the runner up in the Nigerian Curiosity Person of 2007. He is a well respected UN big whig and the head of the UN's talks with Myanmar (Burma). In fact, the Nigerian government made a special request in April, that Gambari be reassigned to head a special Niger Delta Summit Steering Committee. His participation in any resulting negotiations would be crucial and would guarantee a Nigerian solution that is geared towards this very Nigerian problem.
To get the global food crisis under control will require a significant amount of strategic action on the part of not just the Nigerian government, but governments around the world and the many large conglomerates that control access to food. As long as the Yar'Adua administration does its part, the majority of Nigerians will get through this storm in one piece. I am not an expert on these things, but considering the fact that in 2005, the United nations forewarned that Sahelian countries, Nigeria included, were at risk of food shortage, the federal government must have expected the current crisis. I can only hope that the measures that have been implemented will be enough to prevent the currently high price of food from transforming into something much worse.
* Please stop by tomorrow for the newest installment in the Music: Nigeria Vs. The African Continent series. This special edition is to commemorate mother's day (US/May 11) and features the musical stylings of one of Nigerians best musical artists.
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