Food Insecurity, Our Albatross

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When he kicked-off his presidential campaigns across the country in March this year, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, with bated breath, voiced his growing disquiet over food insecurity in the country. Given Nigeria’s vast agricultural potentials, he is at a loss to understand why the nation cannot beat its chest in food sufficiency.

Indeed, the president did not mince his words over this touchy national issue in some of the states in the North, such as Sokoto, Yobe, Benue, Nassarawa, among others, where he visited to pour out his campaign promises with his Vice, Namadi Sambo, who also re-echoed Jonathan’s concern over the issues.

Contious, of the fact that agriculture is the mainstay of any viable economy, President Jonathan, full of confidence, told his supporters and audience that if voted into power, he will doggedly revolutionalise the nation’s agricultural sector in order to feed the teeming population of the country.

Before the discovery of crude oil, he noted that agriculture was the mainstay of the nation’s economy, and expressed regret that the sector has over the years not been given the attention it deserves by successive administrations. He vowed to reverse the trend in order to provide job opportunities and food sufficiency across the country.

His running mate, Vice president Sambo, while re- echoing his master’s voice, assured the nation that the agricultural sector will not again be relegated to the back- ground, if they are given the mandate to rule the country .

Sadly, not too long ago, Nigeria was ranked 40th nations with largest number of hungry people in the world, among 119 developing  nations. The report made globally public was released by the US- base International Food Policy Research Institute and a German NGO, Agro Action. As expected, many Nigerians are worried that the country is ranked 40th nations with hungry people, an indication of a serious food insecurity threat in the country.

However, on the overall hunger index, Nigeria was rated as one of the better performing African countries, among the worst 25 countries in sub- Saharan Africa · The report puts Burundi as having the highest number of hunger people worldwide, followed by Sierra Leone, Niger, Eritrea, Congo Democratic Republic, Angola and Liberia.

According to the index, sub- Sahara Africa has higher rate  of child mortality, apparently caused by child malnutrition. On the index, Algeria Morocco was adjudged better than Nigeria in food security, as they were rated as Africa’s best performers in food supplies for the citizenry.

One can recall vividly that the former Assistant Director- General, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Regional Representatives for Africa,  Mr.Oloche Edache, also lamented that well “over 12million Nigerians have no food to eat”, Edache, who said this at the Nigeria Economic Summit Group Session on Agriculture held in Abuja, also said that two of every three Nigerians live below one United States dollar per day.

The F AO representatives noted that poverty is concentrated in rural areas of the country “which is home to about 70 per cent of the nation’s poor people, most of them farmers, and  observed that agriculture was a necessary precondition for the nation’s economic development, which  must be accorded priority attention.

It is highly  regrettable that despite significant food production successes, recorded by the present administration, the gains had not kept pace with demand and has therefore caused food insecurity across the country, This is a challenge that stares all tiers of government in the face, if Nigeria is to be pulled out of the quagmire of a hungry nation rating.

Agriculture, it is generally known, represent a potential for economic growth of almost the same magnitude as petroleum. Yes, agriculture remains the dominant sector of the economy, producing about 90 per cent of country’s food, and providing employment to over 60 per cent of its people, and also contributing 40 per cent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

It is public knowledge that agriculture was the engine that drove Nigeria’s economy prior to the petroleum. Yes, it can do it again, if the government would give it the attention it deserves. Regrettably, the business of agriculture in Nigeria, has for too long, been left to the peasant and small- time farmers. This has not helped Nigeria’s economy.

To come out of the present agricultural quagmire and food insecurity scandal, the Federal Government, must as a matter of urgency, roll out new policies and programmes that would make agriculture to be  private sector-driven.

Again, the policy thrusts of the present administration as regard agriculture should be targeted at creating new conducive macro-environment to stimulate greater investment in agriculture, rationalising the roles of all stakeholders in agriculture and rural development as well as reorganising the institutional framework for government intervention.

Agreed, government is working towards promoting increased application of modern technology to agricultural production, but more concerted effort should be stepped up because the sector provides all the staple food consumed by Nigeria population as well as exports, especially to the ECOWAS member – nations.

To use the current index to mobilise the political will in the fight against hunger in the country, the  various government and civil societies need to focus investment on meeting basic needs in the agriculture and food supplies in order to reduce child malnutrition and child mortality.

Persistent food shortage and other; essential micronutrient had over the years, continue to pose public health problems, resulting in illness, reduce school and hardwork performance and sometimes, premature death. The trend must be halted if Nigeria would continue to be Africa’s  giant.

But, can the Jonathan – led regime pull Nigeria out of her agricultural quagmire, given the present sorry state of the sector in the nation’s economy?  Well, many Nigerians are of the fervent belief that Jonathan may be the “Joshua” that will take the country to the “promise land”. This is why Jonathan’s promises to take the country’s agriculture sector to the next level, should not be yet another electioneering gimmicks usually employed by most Nigeria politicians to win elections, and thereafter abandoned the electorate to their fate.

That said, Nigerians are sleeping with their eyes open to watch if Jonathan would have the political will to bail the country from the neglect meted out to the  agricultural sector, over the years, by successive regimes.