When the Federal Government pledged to end hunger at the commemoration of the 2015 World Food Day, the country’s economic realities were not so stark. However, with the recession giving way to high cost of food products, TADE MAKINDE and RITA OKONOBOH examine how well the country is preparing to banish hunger against the backdrop of the United Nation’s plan projection to end global hungerby 2030.
BIOLA Olaiya, a tailor, was at home on a Sunday when he heard someone persistently knocking at his gate. Irritated, he went to open the gate.
“Right in front of me was a man that I had never seen in the neighbourhood. He was with three children and they were dressed in matching outfits. I thought he was one of the numerous religious preachers who usually go from house to house sharing tracts, because he carried a bag.
“Before I could ask who he wanted to see, the man started praying and ended up asking me to give him money to feed his three kids.
“I told him I didn’t have money. He pleaded that I should give him anything I had when he noticed that I was about to send him away. I gave him N500. Immediately, the man started crying and began to pray fervently for me. It was a really embarrassing situation,” Olaiya narrated.
To state that begging to feed, – whether ‘formal’ or ‘informal,’ – is on the rise would be stating the obvious. In fact, with the state of things: unpaid salaries, high cost of food items, and insurgency, Nigerians are finding life and living very difficult. The situations of many Nigerians aptly fit into Mahatma Gandhi’s quote that “there are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
If we do not make efforts to grow our own food, we will go hungry —Dangote
Just days ago, Africa’s wealthiest man and Chairman of the Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, was reported to have called for urgent actions to be taken, as the nation risked dire consequences as a result of hunger due to over-reliance on importation.
According to Dangote, who lamented that 98 per cent of milk and dairy products consumed in Nigeria were imported, “by 2020, it is estimated that the Nigerian population would have risen to between 207 million and 210 million. If we do not make efforts to grow and process our own foods, God forbid, we will go hungry.
We have been in talks with the Central Bank of Nigeria on ways we can add value to our local produce, and we have marked massive dairy production for the next three years. We cannot solve all Nigeria’s problems, but at least we can embrace and add value to areas where we have comparative advantage,” he said.
Like Dangote, politicians, businessmen, clerics, stakeholders and even the international community have continued in their urgent calls for actions to end hunger in Nigeria. The North East, for instance, is daily faced with the struggle to feed its people because of insurgency. Many farmlands, which have for decades been a major source of survival, have been destroyed by terrorists. However, with much still needed to be done, efforts are ongoing through collaborative efforts in local and international quarters to address the situation as soon as possible.
Once upon a past without hunger
In the past, it was quite uncommon for Nigerians to beg for food. A time it was in Nigeria that all the regions were known for particular agricultural products that they produced in large quantities to meet both local and foreign demands. That was before the discovery of oil in the 60s, when agriculture was the mainstay of the nation’s economy. Virtually all regions produced one farm produce or another and what was produced was for the benefit of all. Proceeds from local and foreign sales of these products were invested in education, health, communication and hospitality, among other sectors. That was the era of growth for the nation.
At the pace Nigeria was developing pre-Independence, many were optimistic that the country would be the hope of an industrialised continent as it had the mineral and human resources to help develop Africa. The country achieved much from an agrarian economy. But when oil was suddenly discovered in 1959, things changed. The black gold that should have been an added means of revenue that would help speed up the growth of Nigeria.
Today, it is a common sight to see Nigerians begging for food. The moment a strange face approaches, the first thought is that “he or she wants something,” lamented a respondent who spoke with Sunday Tribune. Most often, this is so. Many Nigerian now find it difficult to eat three square meals per day let alone feed their families.
For decades, the call for a return to the farm had been the sing-song of many governments so that the country could be self-sufficient in food production. Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution and other such agricultural projects were idealised but all failed to hit their targets.
The way forward
Expectedly, Nigeria as a major importing nation, with less reliance on homegrown produce and insufficient infrastructural development, is in recession. Since 2015, many companies had packed up and moved to other countries, putting thousands of hitherto employ people into the unemployment market. While economic experts began to suggest diversification from oil to agric and non-agric products, sadly, the economic benefits of an agric-focused nation has not yielded much difference because such does not happen in few months or few years.
A farmer, Ade Fasehun, from Esa Odo, Ilesa, Osun State, in a reaction to half-hearted agricultural policies of past governments expressed concern about the various programmes targeted at improving local production of food, especially as many have failed.
According to him, “the much-hyped national programmes, designed to galvanise agricultural revolution in times past failed abysmally and will continue to fail because the governments did not plan them for Nigerians, so to say.
“As is our style, we like to make noise over nothing. Most of the time, government just creates the impression that it has done something, but it doesn’t really do anything. former presidents (Olusegun) Obasanjo and Shehu Shagari are back in their respective homes after introducing their agric revolutions, but Nigerians are still hungry.
“It will be so because those projects were embarked on to create jobs for a select few – their cronies, contractors and supporters – while those who should benefit, in most cases Nigerian youths, are hardly ever able to benefit.
According to Fasheun, policies in Nigeria always fail at the level of implementation. That, he stated, is one of the reasons past agric initiatives collapsed.
During Jonathan’s regime, Adesina put up a scheme that allowed youths to access loans. I registered and tried to access the loan, but I was not given.
The conditions included providing farm land, which I did, but because I did not know anyone in Abuja to compel a bank to approve my loan, I was not given. Among those of us who registered, a journalist, medical doctor, and a politician’s son who did not even live in Nigeria, were given several millions of naira. I don’t know what these lucky ones were able to do with the money, but as a farmer, I felt I was more qualified for the loan than them.
“This was just three years ago. If I had planted maize then, my favourite, there would have been meal for poultry farmers. When you don’t favour those who should directly benefit from favourable conditions, you will never get it right. Operation Feed the Nation and Green Revolution died with OBJ and Shagari because youth, those who constitute the economically-active age, were sidelined. We need to support those who need support and not those who will just run away with money and end up killing the food dreams of the largest black nation on earth,” he explained.
Fasehun also expressed worry over the success of Nigeria’s attempt at food sufficiency,noting that “the retired governors, party chairmen, etc, in their 60s and 70s are the successful farmers. Ordinarily, they should be retired because men and women within the ages of 18-30 are more suitable for that. Now, compare the number of old men farmers to Nigeria’s over 50 million unemployed youths
“What do you think will happen when the old ones are out of the picture? Starvation. If you think we are starving now, you have not seen hunger. The age range of people that should be directly involved in agriculture have been ignored, not just now, but since the days of OFN and what have you. Now, the ignored youths have to survive; they have taken to betting of all sorts. How do you want to get such a person to go to farm when you don’t allow level play field?” Fasehun wondered.
He further called for youths to be directly involved in agricultural scheme rather than through third parties.
“I can only imagine what the multiplier effect will be if just 10 farmers are adequately empowered to farm for one year and their produce are mopped up by the government, through distribution agencies. If just three of these youths are successful, multiply by 774 local governments, we will have made progress. You can also be sure that other youths will be encouraged to embrace agriculture. Replicate same at state and federal level and imagine the end result,” he stated.
What government can do
But that government, is insistent that efforts are being made to turn things around.
In a statement credited to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), the government said ongoing efforts geared towards ensuring national self-sufficiency in staple foods such as rice, wheat, fish, meat and dairy products, resuscitating the cotton, textiles and garment sector to contribute to employment generation are ongoing and government is encouraging states to look inwards.
As Nigeria works towards reaping over $5 billion annually from cassava production in the next few years, speaking on the determination of the present government to achieve food security, media Adviser to the Minister for Agriculture, Dr Olukayode Oyeleye, in an interaction with Sunday Tribune, highlighted the efforts of the ministry to ensure food security. According to him, the ministry was working on ensuring that states tapped into their agricultural wealth, making bank loans available to farmer in its collaboration with the Bank of Agriculture to drive down the interest rates, major interventions in rice production and even in the production of soil-specific fertilizer which will ultimate result in better output.
“We cannot deny the fact that climate change is making an impact on food production and the consequences. It goes without saying that crops will respond to climate changes one way or the other. However, enormous progress can be made to achieve zero hunger by 2030. If in two years, rice importation was driven down significantly, then 14 years is a long time. There are now rice varieties that increase production from two metric tonnes per hectare to four metric tonnes per hectare. How much we are able to make use of the available resources is what is important.
According to him: “The ministry is also working hand-in-hand with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to resuscitate the various river basin authorities. It’s an ongoing thing and action plans are in place. For instance, this dry season, there will be much difference. More earth dams will be built so that more water can be captured. Various states of the federation that do not have dams will have earth dams built to capture water so that people involved in dry season production will have access to water. Last year, irrigation played a major role in wheat production,” he stated.
We are optimistic about achieving zero hunger —IITA
At non-governmental institutions’ level, optimism is high that Nigeria, given the right condition, can achieve food sufficiency even with other environmental and natural issues like climate change.
Head of Communication, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Katherine Lopez, speaking with Sunday Tribune on how climate change affects food production, stated that there was a lot of ongoing research on climate change.
“There is research going on in terms of climate change as it affects food production. We have been working on developing varieties that are resistant to the rigours of climate like drought, high temperatures, among others. We have developed varieties of important crops which are tolerant. That means these varieties of important crops such as maize, cowpeas, that grow in very hot temperatures or cassava which needs little water can grow in spite of the lack of water,” she said.
In her comments on efforts to achieve zero hunger by 2030, Lopez, who highlighted further efforts of the IITA and other stakeholders in food production, noted that “We have an initiative at the IITA headed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, that is the Zero Hunger Nigeria Initiative. He’s providing support in that regard to the IITA. On October 4th, we had a meeting in Abuja where we discussed the implementation plan. There are nine committees addressing different areas like infrastructure, financing, research and others.
“So, we’re optimistic that zero hunger can be achieved if we all work together – the institute, the ministry, government and other stakeholders. Some governors and the FMARD are working on that initiative with the former president and it will take off soon. We are saying now that the future is agriculture. That is, the next big thing for Nigeria. We are also making sure the food we produce meet the nutritional needs of the millions of children who need vitamins and macro and micro nutrients lacking on food,” said Lopez, who explained that IITA is partnering institutions like the African Development Bank to ensure that agricultural yields improve considerably by providing farmers with produce.
“We need a new generation of modern farmers who would use advanced technology. We’re working on a project with the African Development Bank which would help the youth start up businesses wherever they are and it is an African-wide initiative. There are lots of stories of youths going into agriculture and succeeding,” she said.