As hunger worsens
Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
After the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned that the web of food insecurity has caught about 7.1 million people across Nigeria, especially around the Lake Chad Basin, the war against terrorism in that area would seem a standard explanation and a mitigation of a seemingly exaggerated condition. A reality check has, however, shown that while the war may be partly responsible, it takes nothing away from the gory picture painted and the FAO alarm is not another case of scare-mongering. Nigerians are not only starving in many places, the situation could get worse if urgent steps are not taken to arrest what promises to be a national calamity.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, growth in agricultural output across the four sub-activities, namely: Crop Production, Livestock, Forestry and Fishing, in the first quarter of 2016 has been relatively lower compared to the corresponding period of 2015. This lower productivity may not be unconnected with the security situation in Nigeria, which has resulted in lower crop output and productivity; not discounting other factors such as dry season occasioned by climate change, herdsmen and crop farmers’ conflicts in different parts of the country, and the farming methodology characterised by manual labour and poor access to modern equipment. So, Nigerians, especially children, remain vulnerable to hunger; and the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has rated Jigawa State first in malnourished children across the country with over 62.3 percent malnourished children. This has thrown up the number of children with severe malnutrition by over 70 percent from 2014 till date. This threatening food insecurity is worrisome and a wake-up call. Given the fact that Nigeria has a large land mass and the soil is acclaimed world over as one of the best for crop cultivation, it is a shame that the country cannot feed her citizens. Every part of Nigeria, even the war zones, has the potential to grow one type of crop or the other and this untapped potential for crops, not discounting livestock and fish farming, should be explored to bridge the gap in food output.
Addressing this issue requires a holistic approach, possibly using a national food security strategic plan especially under this regime which appears to have the political will for executing changes that can bring about improved agriculture. That will is already exemplified by the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, in which the Central Bank of Nigeria has set aside N40 billion for farmers at single digit interest rate of 9%. This is to assist rural agropreneurs move from subsistence to commercial production. To maximise the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, however, government should not only concentrate on production, but also ensure investment in other aspects of the agricultural value chain such as storage, processing and market development. Government at all levels should address the issues of research and capacity building on modern farming methodologies, mechanisation, agro-processing, storage and market development. Also, there is the need for the formation of farmers’ cooperatives to facilitate the processing and access to loans; establishment of agro-service centres to render farm support services to small-scale farmers through the sale of quality fertilisers, seeds and crop chemicals, equipment maintenance and marketing of farm produce. There is an urgent need for the rehabilitation of the degraded irrigation infrastructure under the River Basin and Rural Development Authorities to ensure all-season farming and thereby a shift from food shortage to food security.
Also, as a strategic measure towards ensuring availability of food in the country, various skill acquisition interventions targeted at poverty alleviation should be stepped up and training in the areas of production and processing of local foodstuff for storage must receive priority attention. Essentially, agricultural entrepreneurship skills acquisition should be strengthened by government at all levels and civil society organisations (CSOs). In fact the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), if it would lay claim to any usefulness, should focus on training young Nigerians in the areas of food production and processing.
Furthermore, agricultural science study should be made compulsory at all levels of education to ensure that Nigerians are groomed in the science of food production so that individuals can at least produce for subsistence while some may even get self-employed by producing for commercial purposes as small scale enterprises, from where they could graduate to medium scale and even become employers of labour. The private sector, as big players, of course, should be encouraged to engage in commercial agriculture.
A national food security strategic plan is certainly needed not only to prevent the imminent food crisis in the country but also as a great instrument for wealth creation in Nigeria.