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FOOD SECURITY IN NIGERIA: AVERTING AN IMPENDING GLOOMY DAYS BY ALEX ENEMANNA

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FOOD SECURITY IN NIGERIA: AVERTING AN IMPENDING GLOOMY DAYS BY ALEX ENEMANNA

Food is one of the most critical elements to the survival of any living creature. It is a very important factor to be contended with in human physiological and emotional well-being.

It was Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist and philosopher in his popular 1943 paper titled “A Theory of Human Motivation” that among air, water, shelter, sleep, clothing and reproduction classified food as the first line of the most pressing human wants in his five hierarchy of human needs.

Even among us today, there is always this palpable fear of uncertainty, loss of sense of esteem and tension when individuals or families are confronted with a situation in which sourcing for food poses a challenge. Of course the concomitant health and emotional, at advance stage, social effects cannot be undermined.

Paradoxically, with our massive arable lands put at 37.33% according to World Bank collection of development indicators 2014, sufficient availability of productive workforce, soil fertility, our dear country has since 1973 grappled with challenges of adequate production of food for domestic consumption for her citizens and for export for revenue generation. Not even several interventionist programs by the successive administrations, most of which were initiated by military government have helped in salvaging the ugly situation.

For instance, there were five agriculture policies in the period between 1972 and 1985. They include the National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP) 1972-1973, Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) 1976-1980, Green Revolution Programme (GRP) 1981-1983, Go Back to Land Programme 1983-1985, and A restoration of the elements of NAFPP after the military coup in 1985.

The policy goal of NAFPP was to make Nigeria self-sufficient in food production. Consequently, land reform and mass literacy policies were recommended for farmers.

Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo’s Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) of 1976 sought to increase local food production and thereby reduce imports. Under the program, citizens were encouraged to cultivate any empty plot of land, urban dwellers being encouraged to garden undeveloped building plots. Expectedly, this agenda could not wield the magic wand to lift the country from the oblivion of food insufficiency since the core focus was basically subsistence farming.

The return of democratic governance in 1999 has not brought any visible and significant change in the sector either. The popular Obasanjo Reform in key sectors of the economy, agriculture inclusive achieved a very minimal result and collapsed like a pack of cards just like many others. In 2011, the administration of President Jonathan launched an Agricultural Transformation Agenda which was managed by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The intended outcome of the agenda was to promote agriculture as a business, integrate the agricultural value chain and make agriculture a key driver of Nigeria’s economic growth.

The major reasons why these gigantic interventions could not see the ray of light cannot be extricated from obvious lack the inclusion of key stakeholders, weak agriculture development policies, short duration of agriculture development policies, inadequate monitoring and evaluation of programmes and of course lack of political will for incoming governments to carry on with the policies of the government they succeed, yet we are told government is a continuum.

Even with these steps, our dear country has continually been a matter of global concern in terms of right quantity of food and nutrients for our citizens. The legible indices of chronic hunger and acute shortage of food have continued to stare us at the face with audacious impunity. Citizens have simply resorted to faith and divine intervention as each day comes by.

Hardly is there an average Nigerian family today where hunger and glaring deficiency of stomach infrastructure (apologies to Fayose) does not have a well furnished accommodation in one corner of the house. Most affected is the Northern Nigeria, particularly Borno state where insecurity has reigned supreme over a decade.

According to the Borgen Project, in Borno State, 64.2 percent of households are food insecure. In late July of 2017, the federal government declared a state of food and nutrition emergency in the state. The report also said about 400,000 children in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe under 5 at risk of severe acute malnutrition in 2016.

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Instructively, Borno case is a reflection of the larger picture across the country even though no emergency has been declared in their cases. From Anambra to Delta, to Kogi, Kwara and Rivers, the situation is not different. According to World Food Programme (WFP) Nigeria’s human development indicators are poor. The country experiences persistent poverty affects more than half the population, most severely in the Northeast and Northwest regions. Around 110 million in the total population of about 182 million Nigerians, representing over 60 percent of the total population, live below the poverty line. A 2018 report by Brookings Institution which placed Nigeria above India as the country with a higher number of poor people, making the giant of Africa and the 10th global oil producer the poverty capital of the world is a clear testimony to this claim.

In addition, Nigeria is also subject to periodic droughts and floods; this has had an adverse impact on agricultural output and increased the vulnerability of populations, especially in rural areas. In 2018 for instance, rice farmers who benefitted from CBN’s anchor borrowers fund in Sokoto State, (another interventionist agenda of the Federal government) lost an estimated 61,197.5 tonnes of rice valued at N27.5 billion due to flood during the cropping season.

The flood was said to have affected 19, 000 rice farmers across the 23 local government areas of the state. Hear Alhaji Ibrahim Salihu, the state Chairman of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), “Based on the estimates, the cultivated farms’ yields lost to floods are 61,197.5 tonnes, because farms were submerged by rainwater and crops destroyed before harvest. According to bags, yields lost are 3,059,875 bags, while if converted to money each bag of 100kg is N9,000 at open market, therefore, at least about N27, 538, 879, 000 was lost,”. Isn’t this a monumental national loss?

Also Sokoto State said it lost an estimated 61,197 tonnes of rice valued at N 27.5 billion because of the flood during the last year cropping season. Adamawa too was affected.

Also tied to the alarming hunger statistics in our country today is the high levels of conflict that has plagued the country especially the Northern region which has over 80 percent signature of our total staple food production as a nation. In the last decade when insecurity assumed a deadly proportion in the North East, especially with the emergence of Boko Haram, agricultural activities have seriously been jeopardized with the mass displacement of farming populace and the production of army of internally displaced persons (IDPs) whose productive ventures have been in dormant and inactive mood.

No thanks to the constant clashes between the herdsmen and their pastoral locals who usually accuse the former of trampling on their right by wanton destruction of crops. This has without any iota of doubt led to the death of many compatriots especially in Benue, the food basket of the nation. January 2018 was the height of it in which about 70 people were killed as a result of bloody clash with herdsmen.

This is not just unhealthy for a country already mired in food crisis but an open advertisement of our faultlines as a country housing diversity of human crop whose desire to be at peace is far-fetched. Instructively, both are key stakeholders in the quest for food sufficiency for entire citizens. The corn, cassava, rice, millet etc producer needs the man whose job is to ensure the availability of meat in the open market.

Inadequate preservative methods for food items such as cereals, yam, beans, rice, plantain and others have resulted in avoidable wastage thereby further deepening the insecurity level of food. Lack of food processing apparatus sometime leave farmers with no choice than to consume significant fraction of their harvest within short period. Food processing is an important aspect of agriculture that prevents wastage of food items that cannot be easily stored in their original form by transforming them into other form that can enable their preservation.

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Mangos, citrus and pineapple can easily be preserved when converted into fruit juice. Nigeria wouldn’t have any business expending a chunk of our GDP importing orange juice from Malaysia when orange fruits are wasting in Makurdi, or importing mango juice from Cyprus when mango fruits are wasting away in Nasarawa. If we must achieve a sustainable food security, efforts must be made to avert any wastage which appears to be the order of the day.

Modern agriculture has become so highly industrialized and dependent on energy. Gone are the days of crude method of land cultivation with hoes and cutlasses. Sadly, we are still deeply entrenched in manual farming methods, even among so called Universities of Agriculture across Nigeria. Students are subjected to one full year of manual land cultivation method in the name of practical, a practice Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike Abia State still maintains till date.

With thousands of hectares of lands lying fallowly uncultivated for years across the country especially in the Northern Nigeria, from Kogi to Plateau, Niger, Zamfara, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto, Jigawa etc, our youths who have found a safe haven in sundry crimes and internet fraud can be productively engaged to contribute in making our dear country attend sufficiency in food production.

The number of youths who flock Betnaija lottery centres on daily basis must give any concerned citizen sleepless nights. This has also fuelled the era of growing insecurity where our people can no longer sleep with their two eyes closed. If there was a deliberate plan to incorporate the critical stakeholders, with a strong political will devoid of hypocrisy and politicking, the about 23.1 per cent youth unemployment would have drastically reduced.

It is appalling and indeed a large scale national shame that the shelves of big shopping centres in Nigeria especially some of them with South African affiliation have been dotted with imported fruits, some of which we produce here. This is how we have inadvertently sold our jobs, contracts, GDP figures etc to our neighbours. Our people today find pride in buying banana from South Africa while we at the same time look the other way and let out agricultural fortunes and pride kiss the dust. We have deliberately neglected to package our own for foreign market just because few individuals feed fat from our misery.

The future seems bleak. The population implosion and the waning interest among young people to delve into farming as a career is a clear pointer to this direction. The wind of hunger has slowly permeated into the grassroot like a wildfire and no one is immuned from its toxic effects. There must not be further hesitation in taking adequate measures in enhancing food security in the country.

The government must do more to strengthen our agriculture research institutions and reposition for optimum performance. Developing climes like ours have begun indepth research into the discovery of high yielding seeds and latest global agricultural methods. We must not be left behind.

Adequate feeding improves our mood, look, productivity and also has a symbiotic relationship with crime reduction. A hungry man does not sing hallelujah. All hands must be on deck towards permanently banishing food shortage in our land. The time to achieve a zero hunger in Nigeria is now.

ALEX ENEMANNA
Alex Enemanna, ABN TV Abuja Correspondent

Enemanna is the political editor ABN TV (online media platform).

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