Despite Nigeria’s widely acknowledged agricultural potential, the country is a net importer of food. Demand far outstrips local production, so that our major food staples;- cereals, whole grains, milk and dairy, roots, animal products, sugar and sugar crops, vegetable oil and pulses are sourced from different parts of the globe. Of our myriad problems, threats to food security and or safety is arguably the most significant,seeing as food is basic for human survival and socio-economic development.
Apart from agro-related challenges such as the continued adoption of obsolete planting and harvesting techniques, inadequate provisions of agricultural input, bad post-harvest/post-production practices, other defective practices along the food production and supply chain, land availability and appropriation, experts have over time identified other threats to food security. Some of these include incessant conflicts in many regions especially agro-ecological zones, insurgency and other versions of insecurity, climate change and attitudinal factors. Despite government efforts and several locally and internationally sponsored agricultural transformation schemes, Nigerian agriculture is still largely unsustainable.
Up till now, except for a few rich, modernized farms, most farms do not have access to agri-tech know-how that can sustainably and effectively improve seed and soil quality, water management and application,waste management, microbiological quality of produce to minimize spoilage and waste and so on. Poor post-harvest handling (storage and preservation) is particularly relevant for highly perishable commodities such as fruits and vegetables. Nutrition and medical research have associated consumption of fruits and vegetables with improved wellbeing, spurring global governmental effort to encourage consumption.
Certain research output however, indicate that most Nigerians’ consume much less than the recommended portions. While this could be attributed to attitudinal factors, it could also be due to post-harvest losses, which reduces the proportion that makes it to retail, hiking prices and reducing availability for consumers. More effort to improve post-harvest handling to reduce losses both at the industrial and household level is therefore, desirable. The simplest first line of action in this regard is to improve electricity supply for storage.Transportation that ensures proper packaging and temperature management during transit is imperative. It is also important to invest in local research to inform best preservation/processing technologies to reduce decay and maintain overall quality of indigenous fruits and vegetables. Good techniques are those that can prevent deterioration and improveshelf-life without altering the nutritive or functional profile of produce items.
Land availability is another important threat to food production in Nigeria. Apart from systemic problems, such as unlawful land grabbing and disputes, land misappropriation and misuse is a growing, bothersome pattern. In some parts of the country, designated agricultural areas are rapidly being converted to residential or other commercial purposes. In some other African countries, when you travel along the countryside, you see plantations, vineyards, animal farms and other agricultural or manufacturing activity. Along expressways connecting Nigerian cities, you mostly see buildings; all kinds of buildings, occupying cultivable and otherwise useful land. Such reckless anthropogenic land degradation and misuse reflects our collective disregard for agricultural innovation and productivity.
Little wonder why in many parts, subsistence and all types of self-production is diminishing at an alarming rate, reducing yields, weakening smallholder livelihoods and affecting the quality of many peoples’ diets.Although conflicts pose major risks to livestock and crop production, insecurity already affects a large proportion of Nigerians’ daily life and has great potential to reduce the quality of life of several others in subsequent years. It is therefore needless to emphasize the need to tackle insecurity at all levels.
Considering Nigeria’s legion of woes, there is virtually nothing we can do about climate change. We should however, develop strategies to minimize the impacts on farming and overall agricultural productivity. It is also important to note that agricultural activities may in fact contribute to/exaggerate climate change, which is why the importance of adopting environment friendly production and mitigation strategies cannot be overemphasized.Despite multiple, complex challenges in addressing this balance, the aim must be to achieve food security without hampering ecological and human health.
Addressing the above identified issues is very likely to boost food supply. Food could however, be available but not accessible, which is why an overhaul of the distribution and marketing steps of the supply chain is necessary. All factors that influence accessibility, affordability and suitability of supply at the national, community and household level need to be optimized to ensure adequate food provisions for Nigerians.
We need useful private-public partnerships that will develop a broad agricultural agenda that can suitably address agricultural production, post-production preservation or processing and distribution. We need meaningful financial schemes, sound institutions, effective trade, better extension and efficient transfer of innovative technologies.Noteworthy is the fact that revamping these steps along the food production to distribution continuum is bound to create desired jobs and continued professional training for many Nigerians. It will also fortify our agricultural sector and boost rural and peri-urban development.
Oluwadara is a writer as well as an academic researcher. She is currently a PhD student at the Department of Food Science, University of Campinas.