• Friday, July 19, 2024
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Nigeria’s food crisis demands bold action

Nigeria’s food crisis demands bold action

In a world where technological advancements have transformed our capacity to produce and hybridise food, one might expect global food security to be a resolved issue. Yet, the harsh reality starkly contrasts with this expectation. With the global population reaching 8 billion in 2023, the pressure on food supply chains has never been greater. Nigeria, in particular, faces an alarming crisis. Despite its vast agricultural potential, food insecurity is rampant, particularly in the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe, where 3.3 million people are struggling to find enough to eat. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warns that without immediate intervention, this number could surge to 26.5 million nationwide by the 2024 lean season.

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In the face of these daunting statistics, a critical debate is brewing: should Nigeria open its borders to food imports? Critics argue that such a move could cripple local agriculture and destabilise the economy. However, the severity of the crisis demands a pragmatic approach, where the immediate need to feed the population might outweigh the long-term concerns of economic protectionism.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is ensnared in a severe economic crisis. Food inflation has soared to a staggering 40.53 percent in April 2024, exacerbating the plight of millions who struggle to afford basic necessities. Militias disrupt farming activities, and climate change induces frequent and devastating floods, further straining the already tenuous food supply. The 2022 floods alone destroyed about N700 billion worth of agricultural investment, underscoring the vulnerability of the nation’s food system.

Against this backdrop, the idea of opening borders for food imports gains urgency and relevance. Protectionism, the belief that restricting imports protects local industries, often leads to higher prices and reduced availability of goods. In the case of food, such policies can exacerbate shortages and drive up inflation, making it harder for Nigerians to access affordable, nutritious meals.

 “However, the severity of the crisis demands a pragmatic approach, where the immediate need to feed the population might outweigh the long-term concerns of economic protectionism.”

Conversely, open borders for food imports offer several compelling benefits. Increasing the supply of food through imports can stabilise domestic prices, reduce inflation, and ensure a more reliable food supply, especially in times of poor harvests or natural disasters. Countries like Singapore exemplify the success of such strategies. Despite importing over 90 percent of its food, Singapore consistently ranks high in global food security indexes due to its diversified import sources and robust food policies.

However, the path to open borders is not without its challenges. Local farmers, particularly small-scale producers, may struggle to compete with cheaper, imported goods. Over-reliance on food imports also makes Nigeria vulnerable to global supply chain disruptions, trade disputes, and price volatility.

To navigate these complexities, Nigeria must adopt a balanced approach. Supporting local farmers with subsidies, technology investments, and infrastructure development can enhance their competitiveness and productivity. Establishing strategic food reserves can buffer against global supply disruptions and price shocks, ensuring food availability even during international market instability. Diversifying import sources can mitigate the risks associated with trade disputes and supply chain disruptions.

Read also: Food crisis worsens in Plateau, Benue as insecurity escalates

The myth that protectionism is always beneficial for a nation’s economy, particularly in the context of food, does not hold up under scrutiny. For Nigeria, opening borders for food imports can offer a viable solution to the pressing issues of food inflation, food insecurity, and climate-induced agricultural challenges.

By stabilising prices, ensuring a more reliable food supply, and encouraging local agricultural innovation, open borders can contribute significantly to economic stability and growth.

However, it is crucial to address the potential downsides proactively. Supporting local farmers, establishing strategic reserves, and diversifying trade sources are essential measures to ensure that the benefits of open borders are realised without undermining domestic agriculture or economic stability.

While open borders for food imports are not a panacea, they can be a crucial component of a broader strategy to enhance food security, stabilise prices, and promote sustainable economic growth in Nigeria.

By learning from the experiences of other countries and implementing well-thought-out policies, Nigeria can navigate the challenges and leverage the opportunities presented by open borders to build a more resilient and prosperous economy.

Nigeria stands at a crossroads. By embracing a multi-pronged approach—opening borders strategically, investing in domestic agriculture for long-term sustainability, and building reserves for immediate needs—the nation can tackle food insecurity head-on.

This decisive action has the potential to not only fill empty plates today but also cultivate a future where every Nigerian thrives with access to safe, affordable food.