5 May 2008

Nigeria: Food Crisis - How Prepared is Nigeria to Tide Over the Crisis?

Lagos — In the early 19th Century, Abraham Maslow, an industrial psychologygist, came up with the theory of Physiological Needs of Man and top on the list was the desire for food as the first basic need. According to him, after a man has satisfied his need for food, he begins to crave for clothing, and then for shelter. Thus, in Maslow's theory, the three basic needs are food, clothing and shelter.


This theory has been the motivation behind man's industry in his journey through life. But Thomas Malthus, in the same period, alerted the world of the danger of populating the world without check. In his classical economics thesis, he avowed that while population is growing at geometric rate, food supply was growing at arithmetic progression.

This, he said, would lead to hunger if man kind does not put measures in place to check population growth. This thought was, however, overtaken by technological progress which brought about commercial farming. But Malthus' theory, if not universally applicable, stare mankind in the face. Today, it is no longer just Maslow's theory of Physiological Needs or Malthus' theory of Population Explosion that is mankind's problem, but also the desire of man to protect the environment. The West in attempt to reduce its dependance on the continued rising price of products from hydrocarbon, has diverted lands originally used for crops to feed mankind, to crops to feed automobiles - cars.

As a result, a new face of hunger is staring the world at large in the face. A perfect storm of food scarcity, global warming, rocketing oil prices and the world population explosion, is plunging humanity into the biggest crisis of the 21st Century by pushing up food prices and spreading hunger and poverty from rural areas into cities.

Rising populations, strong demand from developing countries, increased cultivation of crops for bio-fuels and increasing floods and droughts, have sent food prices soaring across the globe.

Apparently frightened by the current food crisis in the world and in the country, the Federal Government at the time of writing this report, said plans have been concluded to find a lasting solution to food crisis, just as it said that President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua should not be held responsible for the problem.

According to the government, what Nigeria was currently facing was a global development and that the Nigerian government has risen to the challenge as proactive measures have been taken to salvage the situation. Nigeria has never had food security. It has, as usual, been importing rice, beans and other food items. Because the sources of supplies of these importation are in food crisis, it has a spill over effect on Nigeria.

Speaking with journalists weekend in Abuja, Minister of Commerce and Industry, Engr. Charles Ugwuh who noted that the food crisis which started with sudden increase in the price of wheat, however, spread to other parts of the world and resulted to food riots in several developing countries, such as Haiti, Togo, Cote d'Ivoire, Gabon, and Senegal.

The Federal Government in panic said: "There is arrangement to release at appropriate intervals, grains from strategic reserve, in order to meet expected shortfall and reduce the prices of staples in the country. Also, the campaign to sensitise Nigerians on the looming dangers of food shortage and advise them to conserve food, is in the pipeline. But the question is if grains are released from the strategic reserve, how does the government hope to replenish its stock?

"Whatever may be the cause of the global food crisis, its impact on Nigeria is real. Already, the price of wheat flour and rice both of which are now staple food in Nigeria, have gone up. No responsible government will sit down and fold its arms in the face of this looming danger.

"It is in this context that Mr. President set up the ministerial committee under the chairmanship of Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to proffer solution to the escalating prices of wheat and wheat flour," he said.(see center spread interview)

FG not insensitive to increase in food prices - Ruma The Federal Government also said that it is not insensitive to the rising prices of food in Nigeria. Dr Abba Ruma, the Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources said government had put in place both short and long-term measures to bring about improvement in food security situation in the country. He said President Umaru Yar'Adua responded positively to the issue of food scarcity in the short-term by ordering the release of food stock from the National Food Reserve to the public at a subsidised rate.

The minister said under the long-term measure, government has mapped out 16 different strategies to meet food security challenges for a period of four years. He said the long-term strategy will lead to total departure from the culture of waste observed in the past, and would focus on wealth generation and service delivery. Ruma said part of the long-term strategy was the promotion of large scale commercial agriculture of between 500 and 3,000 hectares.

The project, he added, would have direct tie to the small scale farmers with a target of 10,000 hectares for a period of four years.

According to him, the strategy will lead to the emergence of specialised cooperative societies

that would re-engineer the agriculture sector. The minister said the exercise would rekindle youth participation in agriculture and deliver food on the table of the ordinary Nigerians.

He said the strategy would accelerate the establishment of a special intervention fund with a

take-off grant of more than N200 billion over a period of four years. Ruma said the strategy would also engender the development of agricultural land mapping programme and self-sufficiency strategies for food crops. "It will increase storage capacity by completing the 25 ongoing silos project and construction of 60 specialised warehouses," he added.

The minister further said that part of the strategy was to ensure that fertilisers were produced in the country. He said the fertiliser manufacturing company in Port Harcourt was expected to release more than 700,000 tonnes of urea before the end of the year.

He said the strategy would also lead to the rehabilitation of degraded irrigation infrastructure under the River Basin and Rural Development Authorities, to ensure all-season farming, among


He named the challenges facing agriculture in the country to include high cost of production, low quality of farm inputs and weak agricultural extension services. According to him, they also include general market failure and the lack of properly structured commodity markets. Ruma said agriculture in Nigeria was mainly rain fed, adding that the sector had not taken full advantage of its more than 2.5 million hectares of irrigation potential.

He noted that the sector recorded high post-harvest losses of 50 per cent for vegetables and fruits, 30 per cent for tubers and roots and 20 per cent for grains.

Investigation showed that the amount needed by the Federal Government to achieve food security for a four-year period is N950.28 billion.

A breakdown of the figure shows that N159.5 billion will be needed for the rehabilitation of irrigation facilities of the 12 River Basin Development Authorities. The sum of N413.2 billion will also be required for increased production of selected crops over the four- year period. The estimated cost of some private partners' participation in the initiative was put at N356.24 billion.

NATIONAL Union of Food, Beverages, and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE), has advised the government at all levels to refocus their attentions to agriculture and save the nation from imminent famine arising from the current global food crisis, warning that faced with hunger and starvation, the masses of this country would revolt.

General Secretary of NUFBTE, Comrade Idowu Yussuf, told Financial Vanguard that it is only a programme of massive mechanized farming across the land and a well thought out programme designed to lure the youths back to the rural areas that could save the nation from the impending food crisis calamity.

According to him: "Government must have a focus on how to feed the citizens. We have vast and arable land across the country for farming. Not just subsistent farming, but mechanized farming. There are lots of able-bodied university graduates, and school leavers in Nigeria who are roaming the streets looking for non-existent white collar jobs, most especially those who read Agriculture in the university who could be deployed to the farms, for large scale farming. In the early days of our nation's independence, there were lots of farm settlements across the country.

These farm settlements should be reestablished and able-bodied and jobless Nigerians could be deployed there to work and produce food for the country. I remember in the First Republic, there were lots of farm settlements set up in the South-West by Chief Obafemi Awolowo and this enabled the youths to learn mechanized farming. Some of them went into poultry, piggery and real production of food stuff amongst others.

If this could be reactivated, we have fertile land that can be used for farming; we will not have any problem. The problem is that since the discovery of oil in large and commercial quantity, the government over the years, has diverted attention to oil revenue and relegated agriculture to the background."

"The irony of the whole thing is that successive governments, most especially from the first coming of Obasanjo as a military head of state, has been having one kind of agriculturally-based programme such as Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) which critics turned to Obasanjo Farms Nigeria Limited, and Green Revolution of Alhaji Shehu Shagari's government. But the government never paid serious attention to this programme.

It has always remained a political tool. One cannot quickly forget that at Obasanjo's second coming, he promised the farmers, including himself, that government would pump money into agriculture to produce cassava for export even when the nation has not been able to feed its teeming population. Israel is a country which is not blessed with the type of fertile land that we have, yet they produce enough not for their citizens, but for export.

The basic needs of most ordinary Nigerians are food, shelter and clothing. These are the three basic necessities of life. They are not interested in building sky scrappers, ridding flashy cars and acquiring all the wealth of this nation.

Now that there is food shortage across the globe which has led the government to release some of the grains in strategic reserve, it is enough lesson to the leaders of the country that we need to go back to farming because something drastic has to be done to ensure that the nation's population does not die of hunger and starvation. If we do not act with dispatch, there may be famine in this country."

Comrade Yussuf noted that: "The government has to refocus on agriculture. The youths should be encouraged to go back to the farm. Even our soldiers, as done in some countries, should also be deployed into agricultural programmes. There is no need keeping them in the barracks doing nothing. They also should be engaged.

Also, Youth Corps members should be deployed to agric extensions which unfortunately, have also been abandoned. I can tell you, with adequate reward and encouragement, most of these people may prefer to stay in the farm and be gainfully employed there.

If this food crisis is not properly handled, the crisis that it would cause in this country, the government would not be able to handle it. If there is famine in the land, I tell you, the peasants would revolt. The information is that now, there is shortage of wheat globally which is already worsening the issue, meaning bread would soon disappear from our table. Those who have wheat are no longer willing to export.

"They are now more interested in their consumption. So, the government must wake up and see that we address this impending catastrophe. We should not forget the saying that a hungry man is an angry man. If workers and the masses face famine, they would revolt. It is not too late to start. Thank God, we are still very early in the year and planting season is just beginning. The government can put agriculture as a top priority and encourage thousands of our jobless men and women to go back to the farm instead of searching endlessly for non-existent white collar jobs.

Over the years, there have been steady and rapid rise in migration of youths from the rural areas to urban centres in search of better and quality living standard most especially because life in the rural areas is no longer attractive. The lure of city life has become irresistible.

Now, the people you see in the villages are elderly men of 70 to 80 years of age. They can only farm what they can eat alone, subsistence farming. The youths have left the rural areas in search of greener pasture as people would say.

The government should first and foremost make the rural areas habitable with the basic infrastructure such as electricity, pipe-borne water, motorable roads and other necessities. The moment this is done, people would relocate to the villages where they would have enough to eat at little or no cost at all. When people are engaged productively, there would be less crime as they say an idle hand is the devil's workshop."

2008: The year of global food crisis Millions more of the world's most vulnerable people are facing starvation as food shortages loom and crop prices spiral ever upwards. And for the first time in history, say experts, the impact is spreading from the developing to the developed world. More than 73 million people in 78 countries that depend on food handouts from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) are facing reduced rations this year. The increasing scarcity of food is the biggest crisis looming for the world," according to WFP officials.

At the same time, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned that rising prices have triggered a food crisis in 36 countries, all of which will need extra help. The threat of malnutrition is the world's forgotten problem", says the World Bank as it demands urgent action.

The bank points out that global food prices have risen by 75 per cent since 2000, while wheat prices have increased by 200 per cent. The cost of other staples such as rice and soya beans have also hit record highs, while corn is at its most expensive in 12 years. The increasing cost of grains is also pushing up the price of meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. And there is every likelihood prices will continue their relentless rise, according to expert predictions by the UN and developed countries.

High prices have already prompted a string of food protests around the world, with tortilla riots in Mexico, disputes over food rationing in West Bengal and protests over grain prices in Senegal, Mauritania and other parts of Africa. In Yemen, children have marched to highlight their hunger, while in London last week, hundreds of pig farmers protested outside Downing Street.

If prices keep rising, more and more people around the globe will be unable to afford the food they need to stay alive, and without help, they will become desperate. More food riots will flare up, governments will totter and millions could die.

"Food scarcity means a big increase in the number of people going hungry," says the WFP's Greg Barrow. Without doubt, we are passing through a difficult period for the world's hungry poor.

" The WFP estimates it needs an additional $500 million to keep feeding the 73 million people in Africa, Asia and Central America who require its help. "We need extra money by the middle of 2008 so we don't have to reduce rations," says Barrow. He also points out that age-old patterns of famine are changing. "We are feeding communities of people we didn't expect to feed," he explains.

"As well as being rural, the profile of the new hungry poor is also urban, which is new. There is food available in the markets and shops - it's just that these people can't afford to buy it. This is the new face of hunger." The food shortages will also affect western industrialised nations such as Scotland, Barrow says.

Scarcity means that some foods will get very expensive, or disappear from supermarkets altogether, meaning a move to seasonal, indigenous vegetables." Of the 36 countries named last month as currently facing a food crisis, 21 are in Africa. Lesotho and Swaziland have been afflicted by droughts, Sierra Leone lacks widespread access to food markets because of low incomes and high prices, and Ghana, Kenya and Chad among others, are enduring "severe localised food insecurity".

In India last year, more than 25,000 farmers took their own lives, driven to despair by grain shortages and farming debts. "The spectre of food grain imports stares India in the face as agricultural growth plunges to an all-time low," warns India Today magazine. The World Bank predicts global demand for food will double by 2030. This is partly because the world's population is expected to grow by three billion by 2050, but that is only one of many interlocking causes.

The rise in global temperatures caused by pollution is also beginning to disrupt food production in many countries. According to the UN, an area of fertile soil the size of Ukraine is lost every year because of drought, deforestation and climate instability. Last year, Australia experienced its worst drought for over a century, and saw its wheat crop shrink by 60 per cent. China's grain harvest has also fallen by 10 per cent over the past seven years.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that, over the next 100 years, a one-metre rise in sea levels would flood almost a third of the world's crop-growing land. A recent analysis by the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, also pinned blame for the global food crunch on the accelerating demand for allegedly green bio-fuels and the world's growing appetite for meat.

Meat is a very inefficient way of utilising land to produce food, delivering far fewer calories, acre for acre, than grain. But the amount of meat eaten by the average Chinese consumer has increased from 20 kilograms a year in 1985, to over 50 kilograms today. The demand for meat from across all developing countries has doubled since 1980.

The world's grain stocks are at their lowest for 30 years, Cameron warns. "Some analysts are beginning to make some very worrying, very stark predictions. And these analysts say politicians should start to rank the issue of food security alongside energy security and even national security."

Another key driver is the soaring cost of oil, which last week topped $117 a barrel for the first time. As well as increasing transport costs, oil makes crop fertilisers more expensive.

According to the World Bank, fertiliser prices have risen 150 per cent in the past five years. This has had a major impact on food prices, as the cost of fertiliser contributes over a quarter of the overall cost of grain production in the US, which is responsible for 40 per cent of world grain exports. Tackling hunger has become a "forgotten" UN millennium development goal, says the bank's president, Robert Zoellick. But increased food prices and their threat - not only to people but also to political stability - have made it a matter of urgency," he says.

Scottish farmers warn that food security is becoming an issue for the first time since the Second World War. This is a perfect storm and the effects are being felt right now," says James Withers, the acting chief executive of the National Farmers' Union in Scotland.

"At the same time as demand for food increases, the amount of land we have available to grow food on is reducing," he adds. "An area twice the size of Scotland's entire agricultural area has been swallowed up by Chinese towns and cities in the last 10 years." John Scott, a Scottish Conservative MSP who farms in Ayrshire, goes further. "It's almost Biblical," he says. "With all the wine lakes and butter mountains, we've had our 20 years of plenty since 1986." The prospect of global food shortages is now Malthusian, he suggests. One response from the UK and Scotland should be to grow more of our own food, and to try to reverse the decline in self-sufficiency from 75 per cent in 1986 to 60 per cent now.

It is possible for the UK, and the world, to feed itself, argues Robin Maynard from the Soil Association, but it will require big changes. He invokes the wartime spirit that saw gardens turned into allotments, and 50 mixed farms feeding Britain.

This is a wake-up call," he says. The choices we make now will determine whether we can feed ourselves in the future. If we get it right, we can have a thriving food economy." Richard Lochhead, the Scottish government's environment secretary, has launched a public discussion to develop Scotland's first food policy. "I am conscious our generation has not experienced food shortages, but we should never take food for granted," he says.

"That is why the Scottish government will never allow food security to fall off the national agenda. We recognise the vital role of our primary producers in ensuring the long-term capacity and capability of our food supply."

Why are we growing food to feed cars instead of people?

The global drive for a new green fuel to power cars, lorries and planes is worsening world food shortages and threatening to make billions go hungry. Bio-fuels, enthusiastically backed by the US, UK and other European governments, have been sold as the solution to global warming. Making fuels from growing crops has been marketed as the way to cut climate pollution while continuing to drive.

But now experts are warning that this could all be a disastrous mistake. Converting large amounts of land to crops for bio-fuels is reducing food production just when the world needs to increase it.

Last year, a quarter of the US maize crop was turned into ethanol to fuel vehicles - and the US supplies more than 60 per cent of the world's maize exports. According to the World Bank, this is putting pressure on countries' precarious food supplies.

"The bio-fuels surge makes things worse by adding high demand on top of already high prices and low stocks," said one of the bank's leading economists, Don Mitchell. "Ethanol and bio-diesel produced in the US and European Union don't appear to be delivering on green promises either, making them very controversial." There are plans by more than 20 countries to boost production of bio-fuels over the next decade.

The US is talking about trebling maize production for ethanol, while the European Union is aiming to make bio-fuels 10 per cent of all transport fuels by 2020. The dash for bio-fuels came under fire last week from the UK Government's newly appointed Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor John Beddington. In a speech in London on Thursday, he said that world food prices had already suffered a "major shock" as a result. Bio-fuels were often unsustainable, he argued. "It's very hard to imagine how we can see the world growing enough crops to produce renewable energy and at the same time meet the enormous demand for food."

Some of the proposed bio-fuels schemes were "hopeless", warned Beddington, formerly professor of Applied Population Biology at Imperial College, London. "The idea that you cut down rainforest to actually grow bio-fuels seems profoundly stupid." The Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, has also weighed into the attack on bio-fuels. "They are not a panacea," he told the National Farmers' Union last month. "Unless they are truly sustainable, they may well harm the environment more than protect it."

Like environmentalists and organic food experts, Cameron latched on to one of the most telling statistics, highlighting the competition between food and fuel. "You could feed a person for a whole year from the grain that produces just one tank of fuel for a sports utility vehicle (SUV)," he said. The same figure was used by Robin Maynard, from the Soil Association, which certifies organic food. "The US currently grows one-sixth of its grain harvest for cars, which is madness," he told the Sunday Herald.

"It is perfectly possible for the world to feed itself, but it depends on how we are growing food. If we continue to grow crops to feed cars rather than people, we're in trouble."

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