Grains are no longer easy to come by in Benue State as their demand continues to rise daily
This follows the current scarcity of grains like rice, beans, guinea corn, maize, soybean and millet among others in the state known to be one of the major producers of the commodities in large quantities.
Although some stakeholders have denied mopping up the grains harvest for the purpose of hoarding to make huge gains, or stockpiling to cause food shortage, they are blaming the scarcity on the federal government’s policy of shutting the borders.
A major grain merchant in Makurdi, Jacob Ayati, said the decision of the federal government to close the borders against importers of rice, a common Nigerian staple food, has put excessive pressure on local demand of the commodity as well as other grains.
Ayati reiterated that despite efforts by the local farmers to produce in large quantity for this year’s harvest, they just couldn’t meet the demands of merchants coming from all over the federation to buy produce from the state.
According to him, it was the spill-over effect of the non-availability of foreign rice to bridge shortage of the locally produced variety that led to the huge demand for the other grains and caused prices to skyrocket this harvest season which is when grains merchants normally made purchases at cheaper rates.
He said a 100kg bag of rice paddy which usually sold for N8,000 in the past harvest season is currently sold for N22,000 and a 100kg bag of soybean now sold at N16,000 as against its former price of N6,500 in the markets during harvest.
Ayati added, “Many farmers went into large-scale production of grains last year in order to meet the demand which they foresaw for this harvest season, yet they could not meet up with the high demand for grains this year.
“Personally, as a grain merchant, I have not been able to buy up to the quantities that I usually purchase every year due to scarcity and high cost of the grains.”
The merchant further stated that in the past, he could buy 200 bags of soybean for N1.6 million to store in his warehouse for resale during the peak period in April but presently, he would need as much as N3.2 million or more to purchase same number of bags and that was if he could even find such quantity to buy.
Ayati said that the federal government should declare a state of emergency on food production in the country as there could be hunger in the land soon.
He also stressed that, “the rate at which the grains are becoming scarce and the cost is rising daily, even at the time of harvest, one wonders what would happen in April or May when there will be more demand for the commodity.”
Another grains dealer, Mama Felicia, who resides in Otukpo area of the state, decried the scarcity of the produce. She told Daily Trust that when she went to buy beans, beniseed and soybean for storage as she usually did at this period to store until April when she would now resell to make higher profit, she discovered that she couldn’t even find the quantity of grains to buy.
“I should have finished making my purchases by now but as we speak I have only bought two 100kg bags of beans at an exorbitant rate which is twice what it cost in the past. As for the beniseed and soybean, I can’t even find them to buy,” she said.
Also speaking to our reporter, Vitalis Ternongo, a large scale farmer said he produced so much grains which included rice, soybean, guinea corn and beans this year but that the demand was more than the supply.
He noted that the mass entry of big men into the grains storage business as well as increased demand for the commodities by food/beverages producing companies since the wake of the recession in the country had in no small measure contributed to the huge demand now resulting into scarcity.
“I have kept back some of my produce to sell in April when the prices of grains would have further appreciated. I also fear that there would be serious hunger in the state and country this year following what is trending now,” he added.
Ternongo blamed government at all levels for playing politics with agricultural policies which should aim at encouraging farmers to produce more food.
In the same vein, the Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Benue State chapter, Mr. Aondona Kuhe, said farmers have been selling their grains at the local markets this year at exorbitant prices due to the competitive demand by buyers.
Kuhe said: “The grains farmers are selling in their local markets at exorbitant rates following high competition and excessive demand. There would definitely be food crisis in the near future.”
With the ban on the importation of rice, other grains have become substitutes. Definitely, there would be hunger soon,” he said.
But the Benue State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, James Anbua, in a recent interview with Daily Trust in Makurdi, said the state would not experience hunger in the days ahead because it had produced enough food.
He also stated that the state’s improved policy on agriculture had resulted in the bumper harvest of almost all the food and cash crops planted.
“We recorded between 4.5 and 5.00 metric tonnes per hectare at harvest this year as against 1.5 metric tonnes per hectare yield when we took over governance of the state. So, I can assure you that there would be no hunger in Benue State this year because we have produced enough food,” Anbua said.
The commissioner noted that the state government had made arrangements for storage facilities and collection centres for the various produce with particular preference to the rice value chain so that farmers now sell at prevailing market prices.
He added that his ministry has educated farmers at the grassroots to be wary of foreigners and merchants who are currently mopping up grains from markets in other states of the federation for the purposes of hoarding to cause hardship in the future.
Meanwhile, consumers of grains in the state have lamented the high cost of the produce just as most of them in their various responses urged the government to urgently wade in to salvage the situation.
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