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Boosting food security in times of hunger

State of emergency declaration on food security – A governance perspective

Mr. Adeola Soetan ( Project Co-ordinator, Feed Nigeria Initiative, FNI, in an interview with FoodBusiness International Magazine, Vol. 1 No 8, 2009)

The fact that Nigeria’s economic situation is currently in a tailspin is stating the obvious. The stark reality is there for us all to see; affecting virtually every aspect of our daily struggles, from transportation, education, healthcare delivery to food security. This is therefore, a perilous period when the economy is caught in dire straits that calls for urgent attention, instead of engaging in any puerile blame- game from the powers that be.

It is painful that Nigerians are hungry amidst abundant natural resources and the government seems to be doing nothing about it

Amongst the spin-off effects are epileptic power supply, decrepit infrastructure with pot hole-riddled roads, and the raging insecurity incubus with thousands of farmers unable to access their fertile farmlands. There are other factors such as low incentives and inadequate micro-credit schemes for farmers. All these have become the rule rather than the exception. That is the painful reality, as at this day.

In addition to these challenges is the lack of requisite knowledge for the farmers to actively engage in technologically-driven, modern agricultural practices. Many lack access to high-yielding, early-maturing and disease-resistant hybrid seedlings. They are also ignorant of the methods of organic farming at a time the food research institutes are poorly funded. Such is the serious food insecurity situation that there is a gross disconnect between the findings of such food-related institutes and the average Nigerian entrepreneur and consumer.

It is therefore, no longer news that there is harrowing hunger in a land blessed with abundant sunshine, seasonal rainfall and a vast land mass of 923,678 square kilometers. What with Rivers Niger and Benue criss- crossing spaces from the northern Sahel Savannah through the rich soil of the north central states of Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa and Kogi down south to the tropical rain forests of Anambra, Rivers, Ondo, Osun, Ogun states with several tributaries of rivers flowing to the vast Atlantic Ocean.

Yet, based on the unique indicators of food security, including availability, affordability, quality, safety, natural resources/ resilience measured in 113 countries Nigeria did not rank amongst the top five countries in Africa, in 2022. Morocco scored 63 points followed by South Africa (61.72), Tunisia (59), Kenya (57), Ghana (52.6) and Mali (51.9).

In fact, according to the Global Hunger Index GHI, between 2020 and 2022 an average of 21.3% of Nigerians were suffering from acute hunger due to lack of the much-needed money and resources. Subsequently, according to the report on the GHI, 2023 Nigeria ranked 109 out of 125 countries.. And as at January of that same year about 25 million citizens were at the risk of haunting hunger. With a score of 28.3 in the GHI, “the prevalence of food insecurity as the population is rising Nigeria has a level of hunger that is serious”. But what is the way out of wood? That is indeed, the million -naira question.

In a well-researched cover story of the aforementioned FoodBusiness International Magazine published by Strata Media Ltd, with the edition of Vol. 1 No 8, 2009, as put together by Messrs. Zebulon Agomuo, Lanre Agboola and yours truly, it came with the caption:” As Hunger Looms”. The main response by experts then was that agricultural revolution has become a must; a sine qua non to fashion the best way forward for Nigeria.

For instance, it is interesting to note that agriculture funded the first National Development Plan (‪1962-1968‬). The Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) was first launched in 1972 barely two years after the end of civil war, when Nigeria was facing its first food and fibre deficiencies. The two main objectives of the ADP were to increase food production, and to raise the income of small-scale farmers through capacity building.

From the ‘60s to the early ‘70s agriculture contributed over 60% of the Gross Domestic Product, GDP. But it dropped over the years to 28.3% in 1999 and 23.69% in 2022 further down to 21 % in 2023.

With the government having the constitutional mandate to ensure food security it embarked on several food- related programs over the years. Popular amongst these was the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) in 1976,under the Obasanjo-led military regime, “as a result of the chronic inability of the agricultural sector of the economy to satisfy the food needs of the country” Back then, there was hope for a revival of interest in agriculture.

Another food program was the Directorate of Food Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) established on 7th February, 1986 by the Federal Government under the General Ibrahim Babangida-led military junta.

Years later, the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) as led by the then President Goodluck Jonathan and driven by the highly resourceful Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina had agricultural policies meant to transform agriculture from rustic farming to mechanized farming. It encapsulated “ empowering local farmers to adopt modern and cost-effective technologies; ensure the production of improved quality fertilizers as well as marketing reforms.” But it was replaced with the Agricultural Implements and Mechanisation Services (AIMS) as influenced by the Minister of agriculture Audu Ogbe, under the Buhari-led government to the angst of the farmers. And that was because it did not make the desired impact, even with the Central Bank of Nigeria propelled Anchor Borrowers Programme.

The way forward out of the days of hunger, according to experts is the imperative of visionary leadership. In his candid opinion, the Director General of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) in 2009, Prof. Azikiwe Onwualu emphasized on the need to establish agric support centres in each senatorial district. That will engage the army of job-seeking youth who should be trained in modern farming techniques, including organic farming and hydro-phonics by the well-motivated farm extension workers. Farmers should have sustained stimulus measures, have access to early-maturing, disease-resistant hybrid seedlings with bumper harvest, as well as soft loans with single-digit interest rates.

Beyond that, they should add value to the raw food materials to process them to intermediate products made to international standards to boost their exports. That means increasing the capability of exporting processed cocoa beans, cashew nuts, yam and cassava flour or combination of some of these like Xtralarge Farms does with its Wonder Meal. That is a natural blend of local rice and plantain flour that has become a sought after food for patients suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.

To face the bitter facts on ground, the President Ahmed Tinubu-led government should focus on conceding to the demands for the holistic restructuring of Nigeria. It should therefore, hands off agriculture to the states and local councils but provide the enabling environment of stable electric power supply, good access roads, internal security to boost food security and industrialization.

Its plan to control food prices amidst the high inflation rate, including that of food is one huge joke taken far. It cannot work and the empirical evidences are there for all to see. As aptly stated by Adeola Soetan of FNI back in 2009: “Without agricultural revolution in the country, democracy cannot become a successful and sustainable phenomenon”. Right on point, you would admit.