World Food Day and challenges of food security in Nigeria

Despite frequent assurances on food security by successive governments there are indications that Nigeria can’t feed its teeming population as its continues to gapple with myriads of challenges in the agriculture sector, IDACHABA SUNNY writes.

Majority of Nigerians are hungry and there is no doubt about it even though it is not a new phenomenon in the country.

The development got to a peak after the immediate past administration failed to curb the incessant farmers/herders clashes that impacted negatively on food supplies in the country despite that administration’s claim of stabilising agriculture in the country. The trend was further exacerbated by the fall-out from flooding in which large plots of farm lands were washed away in many parts of the country.

Lately, the situation got to a frightening dimension following the removal of fuel subsidy and floating of naira which has escalated the cost of food items, its supplies and agriculture-related inputs.

Nigeria’s preparedness
Just a fortnight ago, Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark the 2023 World Food Day which was on the theme, ‘Water is Life, Water is Food; Leave No One Behind’. This brings to fore the role that water plays in food production all over the world.
In Nigeria, while it is convenient to conclude that man has no control over natural disasters like flooding, evidences have shown that not only is the government ill-prepared to mitigate water-related disaster against food production, it seems from every policy directive of government, there has not been conscious move towards taking advantage of the abundant water resources/body abundant in the country.

For instance, during a visit by the minister of water resources, Professor Joseph Utsev, to the governor of Kwara state, AbdulRahman AbdulRazak as part of his working visit to the state to create awareness about the essence of river basins all over the country, Governor Abdulrahman lamented the non utilisation of the river basins when he said, “One of the main challenges I want your ministry to take up is the dredging of River Niger and Benue down to the Delta. It is essential for the ministry to start that immediately because of the damage it is causing to the national economy and food security.

“Issues of internally- displaced persons are of concerns. People are leaving their traditional abodes because of the water level. We know that on both banks of River Niger and Benue, rice is being farmed a lot. Two years ago, we saw how OLAM Farm in Benue state was devastated. The issue of dredging is not just about the navigation; it is also about agriculture and building the Marine Economy from those rivers,” the governor said.

Acknowledging the important role of river basins to achieving food security the governor said, “Without river basin development authorities, we cannot achieve the level of food security we want to achieve. That is something we really need to do. All your programmes on water and sanitation are basically essential things. If we get that right, we will have less traffic in our primary healthcare facilities across the nation. So, your ministry is key to food security, good health and human capital development.”

The challenges
It could be recalled that Nigeria has 12 river basin authorities, but investigation by Blueprint Weekend reveals that while these basin authorities are established to fully complement food production in the country, many of them are still under-performing despite funding.

For instance, it was just at the twilight of the immediate past administration’s life that then minister of water resources, Suleiman Adamu came up with a plan to revitalise River Basin Development Authorities (RBDA) for effective service delivery across the country.
He spoke in Imo state during the inauguration of a 500,000-litre per day capacity water scheme to serve about 10, 000 people in Ezealapkaka, Ehime Mbano local council; Agbala integrated Songhai farms and other projects across the state and its environs.

He said, “The revitalisation of the Agbala integrated Songhai Farms will serve as training centre geared towards educating farmers on modern, effective and efficient farming methods that would increase agricultural production and ensure food security.”
Since the life of that administration came to an end, that policy appeared to have ended with the administration. However, statistics from the Ministry of Water Resources shows that Nigeria has a total of 264 dams with a combined storage capacity of 33 BCM of water for multipurpose uses of which 210 are owned by the federal government, 34 by the states and 20 are owned by private organisations, but not much of their impacts are felt by Nigerians.

According to the national president of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Mallam Ibrahim Kabiru, “Farmers in Nigeria have been impacted by the lack of access to water to the extent that there is no real enabling environment for sustainable all-year-round agricultural production in the entire country. The farmers will be better served by improvement in the utilisation of existing dams than even building new ones,” Kabiru said.

Lamenting the situation, Jude Obi, president, Association of Organic Agriculture Practitioners of Nigeria said, “Feeding has become a daily struggle for most Nigerians as food prices keep surging every moment. Hunger and malnutrition are worsening and currently at an alarming rate. Most households now skip meals to survive.”

Global reckoning
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), statistics has shown that one person out of every nine people in the world does not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. The report says that the vast majority of the world’s hungry people live in developing countries like Nigeria where 12.9 per cent of the population is undernourished.

It could be recalled that FAO has been proactive in promoting events worldwide through the creation of awareness about people suffering from hunger with a view to ensuring food security and nutritious diets for all.

It is no longer debatable that hunger is mankind’s number one non-communicable ailment, killing more people yearly than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined. Take hunger out of the people’s myriad of problems and half of them are solved. But the current high inflation rate with its attendant negative effects on prices of food items has further worsened the living condition of the average Nigerian.

Currently, inflation has risen by 50 per cent in recent months across the board with more than 64m Nigerians being at risk of an emergency food crisis and over 107m pushed below poverty line. As recently as 2020, Nigeria ranked 98 among 107 countries, and 103 out of 116 countries in 2021 according to the Global Hunger Index report released last year.

Therefore commemorating the annual ritual would only make sense if government at all levels goes beyond paying lip service, increases its spending in the sector and creates conducive environment for massive private sector participation.

Fresh assurances on food security
In the meantime, the federal government has been assuring of increase in food sufficiency in line with the SDG 2023 target. To that extent, the government said that it has ordered the release of 200,000 metric tonnes of grains and other inputs to be sold at cheaper prices all over the country as a short and immediate terms arrangement. This is to ensure that staple food is readily available and also affordable by all Nigerians.

President Bola Tinubu stated this during the nationwide address he gave in July. He said his administration would disburse N200 billion out of the N500,000 billion approved by the National Assembly for the cultivation of major staple crops in the country with a view to addressing food inflation.

In that broadcast, the president said that, “Our plan to support the cultivation of 500,000 hectares of farmland and all-year-round farming practice remains on course. To be specific, N200 billion out of the N500 billion approved by the National Assembly will be disbursed.”

He said from the amount, the sum of N50 billion would be invested in the cultivation of 150,000 hectares of rice and maize while N50 billion each will be earmarked to cultivate 100,000 hectares of wheat and cassava.

According to him, to further ensure that prices of food items remain affordable, a multi-stakeholder engagement was set up with various farmers’ associations and operators within the agricultural value chain.

“To this end, I have ordered the release of 200,000 metric tonnes of grains from strategic reserves to households across the 36 states and FCT to moderate prices. We are also providing 225,000 metric tonnes of fertiliser, seedlings and other inputs to farmers who are committed to our food security agenda,” he noted.

He said that his administration also intends to support the cultivation of 500,000 hectares of farmland since all-year-round farming practice has remained a regular practice.

“This expansive agricultural programme will be implemented targeting small-holder farmers and leveraging large-scale private sector players in the agric business with a strong performance record,” he said.

Therefore as Nigeria joins the rest of the world in marking this year’s World Food Day, Nigerians should not be among the world’s famished people because of the abundant resources at her disposal.