Audu-Ogbeh, Nigeria's Minister Of Agriculture

Food is an essential element in human living. Abraham Maslow, an industrial psychologist in his hierarchy of human needs placed physiological need which comprises of food, shelter and clothing above other needs. It is a key ingredient to be contended with in the physical and psychological well-being of man. It is a daily pressing need of every living being irrespective of age, gender or social status.

Unfortunately, our country has had a bumpy ride in an effort to provide enough food for its rising population. Despite the availability of land, a major component in food production, this dream has yet to come to reality. Most Nigerian families still wallow in hunger and starvation, mal-nutrition and death. According to a report UNICEF released in 2016, 2.5m Nigerian children were suffering from Sever Acute Mal-nutrition (SAM) warning that 20 percent of the number could die if urgent steps were not taken to address the issue. Mostly affected are children from North East, where boko haram has held swear in the past nine years, people fled their homes and agricultural activities brought to a halt.

Few of our citizens who have defiled all odds to produce enough food for their families and for sale are not finding it rosy. Delapidation in infrastructure especially road has made it extremely difficult for these industry players to convey their produce to the market where they are needed. This is after they have invested so much to produce these foods, including
labour, fertilizer and pesticides for a bumper harvest. The loss they have incurred in terms of waste of their produce is unquantifiable especially at a moment when power supply is epileptic, preservative measures absent and agriculture incentives unavailable. This is discouraging and morale dampening.

With the huge amount the government spends annually, totaling about N1trn, representing 14 percent of our budget on massive food importation alone, one would have thought the government would grab any opportunity to encourage farming to boost production for sufficient availability of food for our citizens. Regrettably, this has not happened. The farmers provide virtually everything for themselves. Even the much taunted fertilizer subsidy is a lip service. Many farmers still buy a bag as much as ten thousand Naira as against three thousand Naira official rate. They don’t have access to loan. They create their own dams for irrigation farming and the government is doing little or nothing to help them. Previous governments introduced measures to ensure food security. Most notable is the chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s Operation-feed-the-nation and president Shehu Shagari’s Green Revolution Initiative. Sadly, they were short lived as successive governments jettisoned the policies.

As things stand, our options are very limited. The crude oil which has been our mainstay since 60s is no longer a money spinner. This is because of the low price the commodity commands in the international market. The world is gradually moving into alternative energy and Nigeria cannot afford
to be left behind. All parts of the country is blessed with one cash crop or the other that has the potency of not only providing enough food for our domestic consumption but for international market. The West is rich in cocoa, North, animal husbandry, yam and other crops while the South is rich in palm and cassava produce. If they were well harnessed, the economic woes which we have found ourselves in would have been a thing of the past especially in this era of dwindling oil revenue. Prior to discovery of oil in 1956 in present day Bayelsa state, we survived mainly in agriculture.

The constant clashes between herdsmen and arable farmers are not healthy in our quest to produce enough food for our citizenry. Both are food producers and play critical role in this all-important project. Both needs each other, much as the society needs them. There must be mutual respect for each other to bring to an end this regular rivalry that has done no one any good. Food prices today have hit the rooftop. It is not unconnected with the security challenges that have slowed farming activities in the North East, some parts of North Central, South West and South East. Farmers are being viciously maimed, brutally killed and their women serially raped right in their farms.

In 2012, Nigeria experienced flooding despite the early warning by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET). Available records show that 2012 flooding directly affected 30 states, killed 363 citizens, injured 5,851 and displaced 3,871,053 persons. The total value of destroyed physical and durable assets the flood caused in the most affected states was estimated to have reached N1.48trn. The effect was visibly seen in the daunting food scarcity that greeted the year. This year, NIMET has through its Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP) said about 16 states face dangers of flooding. This has gradually started manifesting in some states especially Lagos and Niger where the people are being sacked from their homes. Concomitantly, farm lands would be washed off and farmers who are displaced will not be able to nurture their plants. The authorities must do something to avert this looming disaster.

As noted earlier, we have the capacity to produce enough food for ourselves and for export. The lands are lying fallow and labour readily available. Most of the youths who are potential security threats all over the streets could be engaged in more profitable ventures. Nigeria churns out about 2 million graduates yearly without making adequate provisions for them. With modern farming equipment and other incentives especially loan, these youths could be the magic wand to our endless quest for food sufficiency. United States and Netherlands are the world largest food exporters because they did not use their youths for political thuggery but as assets for nation building through the right actions and policies.

It is commendable that Nigeria recently exported 72 tonnes of yam valued at N18m to US and UK. This is no doubt a step in the right direction especially as we continue to talk about diversifying the source of forex to break loose from petro dollars. As analysts have said, we need to think deeper about how we can get more value by processing the yam. As some of them opine, if the same volume of yam is processed to pharmaceutical grade starch – the major component of tablets and capsules, the return will be at least N102m. That’s some N84m more than the raw export value.

Hunger breeds social ills. History has it that French Revolution (1789-1790) was as a result of increase in prices of essential commodities. Nigeria cannot afford to toy with the stomach of her citizens at such a critical period. Food security is the best security any government can offer her citizens. As the saying goes, a hungry man is an angry man.

Enemanna is a student of International Institute of Journalism Abuja

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