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Solving Nigeria’s food security challenges

When the concept of food security is mentioned, what immediately comes to mind is the provision of adequate and quality food to feed the people.…

When the concept of food security is mentioned, what immediately comes to mind is the provision of adequate and quality food to feed the people. This implies that when there is food security in Nigeria, citizens would have something to eat, three times a day.
Food security is a long term project. We have to look into the future and ask how many people we would feed over what period of time. It is also important to know the number of domestic animals we would feed over the same period of time. The kind of national food security we are thinking of in Nigeria must sufficiently feed all the categories of consumers and consequently create jobs and increase people’s income. It is also a sure way of reducing tension in the country.
 In order to fully understand and appreciate the issue, let us look at it from a more holistic perspective. Food security is aimed at driving away hunger, which in turn generates anger. We know of situations in some parts of the world where the lack of foodstuff or high prices on them caused riots and led to greater political upheavals. These are the sort of things a functional national food security is supposed to prevent.
Many years ago, some nations could not even feed themselves and had to partially depend on foreign food aids. As a result of that, they were virtually made objects of ridicule. However, over a period of time and with a greater degree of seriousness and planning, they became food secure, to the extent that they made very significant advancements in the fields of general development and technology that earned them tremendous respect the world over.

 Constituents of food security
Without prejudice to the socio-cultural backgrounds and our different food menu preferences across Nigeria, we need to know what constitutes basic units of food required to quench our hunger and drive away anger.
The type of food you eat (yam, amala, garri, tuwo, beans in whatever form, or tea) does not necessarily matter, what matters is that there should be something to eat.
However, for the purpose of this discourse, let us adopt rice as a staple meal. This will enable us understand and appreciate the enormity of what we require to feed Nigeria’s population in the next decade under a functional national food security programme.
Recently, the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe, was quoted as saying that Nigeria’s present consumption demand for rice was five million tonnes, but we only produce three million tonnes; hence we need to import the balance of two million tonnes to meet our demand.
Unfortunately, the presidential initiative on rice (2001 – 2007), which aimed at producing and processing enough quantity of rice for domestic consumption and export, was not attained. Similarly, the Nigerian National Rice Development Strategy Plan (NRDSP), which was established in 2009, aimed at making Nigeria self-sufficient in rice production, but we have continued to import millions of tonnes of rice annually.
The recent launch of the Anchors Borrowers Programme by President Muhammadu Buhari in Kebbi State in November, 2015 aimed at improving the overall production of rice in Nigeria. This is commendable and should be built into a functional national food security programme.
Poultry is another interesting subsector to base our hope for food security and job creation. This is particularly important because other sectors will be carried along. The beauty of a poultry-based programme is that,, to keep birds, you require inputs from farmers of maize, rice, soya beans, groundnut, vegetables, as well as services of drug sellers, marketers, veterinarians and several other service providers. This will create jobs and empower people.
Cotton is another important industrial crop with a wide industrial value chain that will contribute substantially to the economy of the country. When textile industries in Nigeria were active many years ago, they were among the biggest employers of labour. Unfortunately, despite the long history of cotton production in Nigeria and its performance as a commercial crop, that subsector of the economy has been neglected, and we have not gotten it right yet. And there is the need to cater for the growing clothing needs of the country.
To achieve national food security in Nigeria certain classes of food must be produced. They include carbohydrates, proteins, fats/lipids.   Subgroups that supplement the functions of the major groups are also important.  They are fruits, nuts, and vegetables, as well as     condiments such as spices, conditioners, tenderizers, etc. Beverages such as tea, coffee, juice, zobo drinks and others in this group should also be produced in adequate quantities and quality.
 It is also important to consider the targets or beneficiaries of all these farm produce and related services. Here, human population, animal population, industrial consumers, ranging from small scale to large scale, export markets, and any other target under whatever arrangement mutually beneficial to the producers, are to be considered..
Proper planning, good estimation and drawing up appropriate plans and strategies for meeting the production targets to reach these beneficiaries are required. This is where our universities of agriculture and other institutions with similar or collaborative objectives will assist in guiding the programme
Populations to be fed under an effective national food security programme
In general discussions on food security, emphasis is usually placed on feeding the human population. Without underestimating the importance of taking care of the human population, we must not shy away from the responsibility of feeding our animal population, including those in various zoos.
This way, we can appreciate the enormity of the responsibilities on our shoulders as a nation.
It will be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari stated in his inaugural speech that his government would prioritise employment generation for the youth. In his October 1, 2015 address, he reminded the nation of God’s gift to us of a large population (9th most populated country on the planet): arable land, water, forest, oil and gas, coastline and solid minerals. Surely, all of these are items that can be exploited by being developed into empowerment sources for our people. And if more than half of this population is made of young energetic men and women, why then can we not mobilise them for positive cause of building this nation rather than allow them to become political foot soldiers.
The question now is: Who and who are going to produce all the above raw materials which must be processed or manufactured into different items of food, clothing and other essentials required by Nigerians and possibly for export. Shall we as a nation continue to rely on importing these items?
But, what if there is no seedling to plant or processing technology to apply? There is no food security.
In order to get fully prepared for the sort of food security programme being envisaged for 2025 and beyond, sound strategies must be put in place.

  Roles of relevant institutions and agencies
 Ministries, government departments and agencies responsible for ensuring a national food security programme are known, what we need to portray are the methods by which they achieve their goals. Chief among which is the interrelationship among them on one hand, and other establishments, including non-governmental organisations on the other. This applies to the federal and state governments, and to some extent, the local governments.
There are key ministries that are central to the success of any agricultural project in Nigeria. The role of agriculture is pretty obvious. But there cannot the agriculture without water; hence the Ministry of Water Resources comes first, even as the Ministry of Environment is very important. Even though each one has its primary area of responsibility, they just have to work together for a common purpose.
The private sector will not be left out because it has become clear that agriculture, especially farming, has become a private sector affair. But government departments and agencies, financial institutions, even donor agencies and development partners, are all part of the success of the envisaged comprehensive food security programme.

  Research, extension and teaching
In Nigeria, there are many institutions handling agricultural research in different sectors and for different agro-ecosystems. These are all very well known activities carried on over a long period of time, some even started in the early decades of the 20th century.
The purpose of the establishment of the universities of agriculture has been adequately captured in the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, research strategy plan as follows: “As part of government’s efforts to rapidly attain national food self-reliance and sufficiency through scientific transformation of Nigerian agriculture, the universities of agreculture are thus charged with the task of pioneering new institutional approaches in the functional integration of teaching, research and extension for rapid and sustainable attainment of the desired national goals. The universities were also to develop curricula that would assure right professional attitudes of their products such that they should be job creators rather than job seekers. The tripodal mandates of teaching, research and extension underlie the establishment, constitution and functions of the universities,”
I am sure the present government, with its emphasis on agriculture and youth employment, would want to smoothen integration between the universities of agriculture and the national institutes for agricultural research, as well as other relevant institutions on ground, and offer operational guidelines to enable the entire agricultural development process to succeed.
Under this approach, the universities of agriculture should endeavour to prove their uniqueness in spearheading the development of curricula for training and skills development, which the research institutes and other institutions should adopt in training all cadre of agro-entrepreneurs all over the country towards self sufficiency and food security. But that may necessitate some incentives by the government or those individuals and companies that offer prizes to best graduates. Let these prizes be translated to capital or opportunities with which to start off businesses. Agriculture, as we say, is business, not charity.
Universities of agriculture should take the challenges of coordinating and synchronising appropriate reactions to the ugly campaign that Nigerian farm produce or products are not of good quality for the industries or export, as was rampant sometime ago on our wheat, cotton and other produce. This may be done through periodic workshops.
This is an abridged version of the lecture delivered by Dr. Mustapha, OFR, CON, at the 22nd convocation of the University Of Agriculture, Makurdi.

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