Nigeria: Maintaining Food Security

23 April 2020

Oluchi Chibuzor writes on the need to boost food production in the country.

Food insecurity across many households in the world remains a challenge and the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to bring this to the fore.

Clearly, the rapid spread of the COVID-19 poses a serious challenge to global food security. This challenge can only be overcome through coordinated efforts by players in the food production system irrespective of their farm size.

Highlighting the negative impact of the pandemic on global food supply, the FAO chief, QU Dongyu, referring to the 2007 to 2008 global food price crisis, had said uncertainty at that time triggered a wave of export restrictions by some countries, while others started importing food aggressively.

Dongyu, said this contributed to excessive price volatility, which was damaging for low-income food-deficit countries, as some countries are refusing to sell their products.

In response to the harsh realities of COVID-19, countries like Vietnam, recently stopped new export contracts, while they reviewed the country's supply situation and export policy.

The news of potential Vietnamese export restrictions, according to FAO, tended to buoy sentiment in other origins, especially in Thailand, where prices had already been well underpinned by a drought-reduced offseason crop.

These food staples are major areas that the nation's agricultural policy had targeted in recent times in its backward integration drives for which the nation has a comparative advantage to produce locally.

With the country, having adjusted properly to the border closure which according to government was intended to force the teaming population back to the occupation that laid the foundation for the nation's prosperity and national development.

This, according to experts, was instrumental for Nigeria escaping the vulnerability of this period without having to depend on global food supply, when price of oil has dropped significantly far below the 2020 budget benchmark.

They, however, attributed this success to the nation's agricultural policies which must be sustained to ensure the emergent agro-based economy potential is realized.

Consequently, consolidating on post era of food importation and encouraging the robust local food production systems for what the country eats and consume should not be compromise by any government, they added.

Nigeria, been a country dependent on staple food like rice, maize, wheat and so on, the President, All Farmers Association Of Nigeria (AFAN), Alhaji Faruk Rabi'u, said would have been in crisis assuming the country had continued the importation of these items at this critical period that some countries are putting restriction measures in place to sustains local supply.

He acknowledged the need for people to believe that Nigerian farmers can feed the nation, as COVID-19 has shown that farmers can feed the nation.

According to him, "When the President announced the border closure people was agitating while closing it, with the advent of COVID-19 we have been able to provide palliatives to people; are we not lucky to have close our border before the occurrence of coronavirus? and now we put ourselves back to the hand of farmers.

"We are feeding as a nation and still we are eating, it means the farmers are doing very well to feed the nation. So the farmers need to be supported, because the truth is that we do not know when the pandemic will stop and are not praying that this thing should continue, but the farmers have tried to support the nation.

"Now we are eating Nigerian rice, maize, tomato, beans and so on, so nobody will say there is no food in the market."

He maintained that the truth is that farmers should be supported especially at this period of the pandemic, now that government is battling with coronavirus and not much attention is given to other sectors.

He added: "We the farmers will partner with investors to bring tractors to share and other inputs to farmers at various local governments. We believe that Nigeria would stand on its feet now that the bearing of agriculture issues is on our hand."

Adding his voice, the General Manager of Elephant Group Plc, Dr. Rotimi Fashola, said the progress recorded in the agricultural sector in the previous season made government to purchase grains that was distributed as palliatives.

According to him, "Prior to 2020 there has been a consistent increase in production in paddy and rice milling output. There has been an increase in number of milling factories. This intervention made possible by CBN led to development in agriculture generally."

A dealer in agro produce who pleaded anonymity, said, the nation should be grateful that it has stopped importation of some essential food items to some reasonable measures.

"It is good that we increase our domestic food production capabilities. A country that cannot feed itself cannot survive in the period of emergency like this. With grains bought from farmers and stored in reserves made it possible for us to have what to distribute as palliative measures," the source added.

But for the Founder, Soilless Farmlab, Samson Ogbole, food production should not be seasonal because hunger is not seasonal. He, however, admitted that both small-holder and big farmer should be given equally opportunity.

"The reality today is that lockdown today is affecting the small holder farmers more than it is affecting the rich farmers because government is buying from the commercial big farmers," he added.

For Rabi'u, "The issue of continuing to import food, with the situation now, has shown Nigeria that enough is enough to continue to import food; while giving other country employment and our people are crying of unemployment. This agriculture is the highest sector that would give employment," he stressed

Generally, all over the world, smallholder farmers hold the key to feeding any nation and are mechanism to drive rural development.

These smallholder farmers face a lot of challenges which includes land holder rights issues, lack of access to markets and financing, and climate change, insecurity just to name a few.

Speaking further, AFAN president said all this must change with all stakeholders, investors coming together to support all the government policies that has help the country to stockpile food items leading to the distribution of grains.

In most cases, smallholders also do not enjoy the same availability of technology that many of their counterparts in the west have, and are limited to primitive agricultural methods by comparison.

For AFAN president, relevant government agencies and state governments must take agriculture seriously, "because before the introduction of the Anchor Borrower's Programme, rice production was between 20 to 25 percent of our local consumption, now it has risen to 95 percent so by this the initiative is a good programme. We need to start from somewhere."

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