• Monday, May 20, 2024
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The fury of floods and food insecurity

Food insecurity

When in November 2008, the United Nation’s sponsored Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa warned that within a few years Nigeria would be amongst the 14 countries listed as vulnerable to food insecurity; our political helmsmen took it with a pinch of salt. Back then, the more visible factors were the fast-spreading desert encroachment up North, moving southwards with the dangers of drought, the increasing havoc of gully erosions in the South East geopolitical zone, oil spillage and the attendant deleterious effects on fishing and farming in the South-South. Yet, more than a decade before, eminent environmental experts had similarly raised the alarm that man would witness freaky and unpredictable weather sooner than later. With the depleting ozone layer and the resultant increasing trapped heat within the atmosphere, ice will melt in the Arctic and more rainfall is to be expected.

Few thought that flood would engulf an unprepared nation and deal its hapless citizens a devastating blow. But now it is a clear and present danger. From Adamawa to Kogi State and several other parts of the country the ravaging floods are wreaking havoc, submerging homes and flushing away erstwhile fertile farmlands. Apart from the consequential health hazards, food insecurity will loom larger with a dark spectre to add to the global worry of harrowing hunger.

Shedding more light on this new challenge recently, the Minister of Environment Mrs. Hadiza Mailafia said: “The consequences of the flood is that there are huge losses to farmlands, there are likely threats to food insecurity. In the estimation of government, over 5,000 farmlands are washed away by ravaging floods across the country”

Yet, according to the Director-General of the Nigerian Metrological Agency, Dr. Anthony Anuforom, some state governors had ignored the earlier warning given by NIMET. Specifically, on March 1, 2012 the Agency made public the Rainfall Prediction for the year. And it wrote to some state governors between August 3 and 6 that soil moisture had been saturated in those states and could therefore be subjected to flooding. Only Lagos state took the necessary warning seriously by alerting the citizens. Those who did not take the necessary steps have paid dearly for their act of negligence.

Let it be noted that the menace of flood has become a global phenomenon and challenge. From China through India to Indonesia, Malaysia, European countries and the United States flooding shoots its ugly head in the twinkle of an eye. The difference however, is that in those listed countries there are more pro-active mechanisms for stemming the tide of flood and more prompt and practical means on the part of their Emergency Management teams to assist the victims. But it is a far cry from that here in Nigeria. Now, a scary scenario of food insecurity looms at our doorstep. What is the way out of the murky flood waters?

Anuforom had advocated that a new policy framework for adopting weather and climate information for planning purposes and precautionary measures be taken seriously. Well said. Sharing of credible information has become a necessity. But more importantly is for governments to act quickly on the implementation of such information. For instance, the United Nation’s organ for climate change, World Metrological Organisation has since 2009 evolved a framework to drive the collaboration between NGOs and related agencies to disseminate information generated by metrological agencies.

Indeed, the Ministry of Economic Planning, as well as that of Agriculture and Water Resources has to collaborate in information sharing and implementation in this regard. Our farmers have to be made aware of the implications of climate change. The months of planting and harvest have since shifted and they are supposed to know what to do. So has the requisite farming techniques including the right application of the best forms of fertilizers-both organic and chemical-and the use of fungicides and insecticides. It is apparent that farmers need to have updated knowledge on the use of hybrid seedlings that are high yielding, early maturing, disease-resistant and free from health complications. Should we adopt biotechnology to increase farm yield, protect crops from different pests and even grow some in infertile soils? Now is the time to answer such pertinent questions.

In the light of this, much more effort is required with regards to easily adaptable food preservation methods for different farm produce in different parts of the country. Yam and cassava tubers, onions, rice, maize, sorghum, tomatoes, potatoes, beans have their different preservative methods which the farmers have to know. Therefore, Nigeria needs more agric extension workers to drive this empowerment process down to the rural farmers. That is why yours truly has been advocating that students studying agriculture and related fields at our tertiary institutions be made to enjoy scholarships.

With avoidable post-harvest food losses put at above 40 per cent in some parts of the country we have to build more silos. The rural roads have to be upgraded to make them accessible for transporting of the excess farm yields to the urban areas. Potable water supply is equally required in these areas. If this is done, it would be advisable for several of our agro-allied companies to be located close to the source of raw materials, at the rural areas. They would therefore, require stable power supply for the processing and preservation of their products. The overhead costs including that for security would be minimal.

This is the time for the mass media and other Civil Society Organisations to start asking questions on how the huge sums of money in hard currency sent by the donor agencies as well as ecological funds made available to state governments are utlised. It is in this same country that we have heard a former governor confess that he made the wrong application of such fund for his party’s campaigns instead of upgrading infrastructure to combat desert encroachment.

Another area of concern is the abysmally low budgetary allocation for the critical agriculture sector. Ordinarily, it should not be less than 20 per cent. But few, if any state or previous Federal Government administration has earmarked up to that equivalent amount for the sector. Worse, is the deliberate delay in the release of such critical funds and the implementation of projects for which they are meant? And it is sad that we do not base our responses to food shortages on empirical evidence from agric research institutes because they are grossly underfunded. We must learn from other countries.

For instance, India ranks second worldwide in farm output. Agriculture and allied sectors like forestry, logging and fishing accounted for 18.6percent of the GDP in 2005, employed 60percent of the total workforce and despite a steady decline of its share in the GDP, is still the largest economic sector and plays a significant role in the overall socio-economic development of India. Yields per unit area of all crops have grown since 1950, due to the special emphasis placed on agriculture in the five-year plans and steady improvements in irrigation, technology, application of modern agricultural practices and provision of agricultural credit and subsidies since the green revolution.

India is the largest producer in the world of milk, cashew nuts, coconuts, tea, ginger, turmeric and black pepper. It also has the world’s largest cattle population (193 million). It is the second largest producer of wheat, rice, sugar, groundnut and inland fish. It is the third largest producer of tobacco. India accounts for 10percent of the world fruit production with first rank in the production of banana.

The required level of investment for the development of marketing, storage and cold storage infrastructure is estimated to be huge. The government has implemented various schemes to raise investment in marketing infrastructure.

China is the world’s largest producer of rice and is among the principal sources of wheat, corn (maize), tobacco, soybeans, peanuts (groundnuts), and cotton. The two most important sectors of the economy have traditionally been agriculture and industry, which together employ more than 70 percent of the labour force and produce more than 60 percent of GDP.

Though the U.K.is not known as a major global player in the field of agriculture, it does not joke with research and development, even in that sector. It boasts of four of the top six universities in the world and has set aside 40 billion pounds sterling as part of the Ten- Year Funding Framework for Science and Innovation.

Even if we succeed in combating and tackling the current challenge of flooding across the country, we should start thinking ahead. To curtail the resultant food shortages, government should take NIMET alarms on weather changes seriously, provide stable infrastructure, fund the agriculture sector and invest much more on Research and Development. A country aiming to be ranked as one of the top 20 advanced economies by year 20202 and yet cannot feed her people would be a laughing stock in the comity of nations.