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Nigeria and her hungry millions

Given the fact that 70% of Nigeria’s 150 million people is living below the poverty line, even as one of every three Africans is hungry,…

Given the fact that 70% of Nigeria’s 150 million people is living below the poverty line, even as one of every three Africans is hungry, it is safe to describe the Daily Trust report figure as conservative. For years now, global hunger has attracted various responses and interventions from various governments, individuals and communities. That is why part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to see extreme global hunger halved by 2015. The Yar’adua administration puts food security as one of its 7-point agenda, and also makes it part of the Vision 20:20:20. In furtherance of this goal, the Federal Government, as reported in the media, has intervened in agriculture with N200 billion, and N460 billion for food security, even as it also voted 13% of the capital projects in last year’s budget for agriculture.

Such efforts are not new. Long before oil robbed us of our thinking caps and sharpened our elite’s proclivity for cupidity, agriculture kept Nigeria going. About 70% of Nigerians were involved in, and made a success of it. It is still the nation’s top employer; after all, regardless of whatever we are, or want to be, the fact remains that a rumbling stomach starves the brain of required energy, and a starved brain promotes anger, anxiety and frustration. And you bet it, food security itself is also economic, socio-psychological and political security. A hungry family makes a frustrated society; the poverty of the poor makes the wealth of the rich a burden to the rich; and where poverty is prevalent, the people come under a hunger hammer. This is true of Nigeria; it is true of Africa, and it is true of the world. For these and many other reasons, none can afford not to be involved in food business one way or the other.

With many farmers in the rural areas losing their farmlands to desertification in the North, erosion in parts of the East and West, and oceanification in much of the Niger Delta, it is not surprising that hunger has become acute in most homes in our father land, where we neither see the father or embrace the land. Besides, the unending drift of unemployed young people from the rural areas to the cities and towns in search of elusive white collar jobs, has left farm work for aging and tired folks who depend on the less productive machete and hoe farming fashion.

With an area of 923,768 sq. km, 910,768 of which is land, and 13,000 sq. kms, water, Nigeria is agriculturally, potentially better placed than a country like Israel that does not only feed itself, but also exports food to many other countries. In spite of this advantage, the country, which Nigeria’s National Economic Council in 2008 said has 76 million hectares of arable land, (another source says it is 79 million), but has less than half of that under cultivation. Yet, the Northern part of the country, besides the challenge of desertification and deforestation, can, outside of such food items as palm oil, bananas, cocoyam, plantain, cocoa, kola-nuts, and a few others, feed this country if we have the right focus and commitment by consistently devoting 10% of our budget, as recommended by the 2003 Maputo Declaration and Food and Agricultural Organisation to agriculture. Sadly, today, Thailand exports one million tonnes of rice to the country annually.

Nigeria, two years ago, was the second largest importer of the food item, coming only behind the Philippines, while for last year alone, N16.3bn worth of rice was smuggled into the country, according to the Rice Importers and Distributors Association of Nigeria (RIDAN). Overall, the country is a net importer of food, spending about $3 billion (N400 billion) on food imports annually.

It does not seem to take advantage of its prime global position in the production of cassava. While we dip our noses, eyes and hands in the oil barrels, the rest of the world is marching on. We just learnt that the rice we know today may be overtaken by a species now undergoing trials in India, which would not need to be cooked before being eaten. We would simply soak it in room temperature water for just 45 minutes, and the rice is ready for the mouth and stomach! Where is the linkage between our agricultural gowns and the towns?

Nwanze’s point that “Nigeria particularly, if everything was right…should not have food crisis”, should be a wake-up call to us. And it appears that Governor Akpabio, who in 2008, said that the global food crisis of that year was “a wake-up call” to Nigeria to go back to agriculture, has come face to face with his own words. A recent media report is that the Akwa Ibom State government is soon to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Israeli government on agriculture. The governor was quoted as saying that it has always been his vision that “Akwa Ibom State should be able to feed itself and particularly with the current economic meltdown and global food insufficiency, it is important for us to make hay while the sun shines,” adding, “I think the future lies in agriculture and it remains the greatest employer of labour.”

In consonance with that vision, the state, between 9th and 12th February 2010 put together its 2nd Agricultural exhibition, with the aim of assessing the performance of the State in the sub-sector. The exhibition noted the need “to work towards food sufficiency… continuous development of infrastructure to support the present development drive of the State government”, and “the need to diversify our economy”, calling for prioritising agriculture, “as it has higher potentials than the crude oil.”

The partnership with the state of Israel, Akpabio mentioned, would boost the socio economic development of the State and provide jobs for the teeming youths there. It is understandable then that for the current financial year, the State government has voted N4.8 billion for agriculture. It has upped the N.3 million soft loan for each participant in its Integrated Farmers Scheme (IFS) to N.5 million. Last year, the state spent N402.7 million on the 620 graduates of the programme, which has so far graduated 1,200 participants.

Antai writes from Abuja.


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