It is not cheerful news for Nigeria. A few days ago, the United Nations organ in charge of agriculture and food, the Food and Agricultural Organisation [FAO] expressed concern over ravaging hunger in Africa’s most populous nation.
The FAO reported that Nigeria’s efforts at achieving zero- hunger by 2030 were being undermined with the FAO’s Country Director, Suffyan Koroma, revealing that more than four million Nigerians were facing acute food insecurity. He alerted also that the situation would be worse between now and December.
Koroma said more than five million Nigerians will experience food crisis, especially in 17 northern states in the new year. It noted that although the country was making progress in food production, there was still problem of how food would reach some of its people.
The states that are likely to be affected by food insecurity according to FAO include:Jigawa, Kaduna,Kano, Katsina, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Gombe, Niger, Kebbi, Taraba, Yobe, Zamfara, Plateau and FCT.
Already, signs of the food deficit are visible. Apart from FAO, the African Development Bank and the British government had earlier described Nigeria as the global poverty capital where more than 80 per cent of the population are living in extreme poverty.
An earlier FAO report added that 2.3 million people in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, the three states hardest hit by the Boko Haram insurgency, faced acute food shortages.
As the FAO report revealed, it was not that Nigeria cannot feed its about 200 nillion citizens, but because of poor coordination, reliance on oil income and misplacement of priorities the nation was finding it difficult to ensure food supply to all its citizens. This is why the FAO lists Nigeria as “one of the 37 countries in the world in need of external food assistance.” The report equally noted that similarly, farmers lack safe water for irrigation and sanitation. Because of poor conditions of rural roads and high cost of transportation, harvests rot on the farms before getting to the city. Storage and value-added are rudimentary and this makes crops like yam, tomato, pepper, cassava, fruits and vegetables expensive.
The drive by the government to mitigate the food deficit is being jeopardised by nature as uncontrollable flooding destroyed crops in the food-producing states like Adamawa, Kogi, Benue, Kebbi, Niger, Delta and Bayelsa this year.Nigeria cannot afford to spend about $22 billion annually on food importation. No nation that wants to develop can continue to live on such extravagancy.
We agree to a great extent with FAO recommendations which include local remedies being imperative in reversing the deficit. Among them is an integrated transport system that will enable harvests to reach their destinations in rural and urban centres.
There is the need to provide quality seed, while the universities of agriculture, the research institutes and colleges of agriculture should be made more effective in food production. Government should guarantee low-priced loans – just as it did successfully with the Anchor Borrower’s Programme for rice – in all aspects of agriculture to encourage farmers in doubling capacity. Of course, the insecurity ravaging the country demands a fresh impetus, for without curbing the Boko Haram insurgency and other forms of criminality, it is near impossible for farming to flourish.
Government should encourage ranching and deal decisively with the insurgents, and encourage the use of technology to process farm produce. It should step up international collaboration to restore Lake Chad, which used to support 2.6 million farmers, livestock rearers and fishermen, according to the FAO.Finally, we urge the federal government and the listed states not to politicize the FAO report, but should address it squarely to ensure food security for all the citizens of the country.
In the immediate however, government at the federal and state levels should work out remedial measures to make food available to the citizens to mitigate the obvious adverse consequences of food shortages in the new year.