Speaking at the commemoration of the 2017 World Food day in Abuja, the Minister of State, Ministry of Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed declared that thousands of children would die annually if nothing significant was done to address the issue of malnutrition.
According to her, Nigeria is home to the third largest number of chronically undernourished children globally with about 2.5 million children under the age of five affected by severe acute malnutrition.
Studies have shown that malnourished children tend to have lower intelligent quotient (IQ) and impaired cognitive ability with resulting negative effect on their performance in school.
As I pondered over the negative effects of malnutrition, the following questions came to my mind: Is the country investing in food security? If yes, what are the challenges the country is facing and how are we tackling them?
This piece seeks to critically examine the issue of food security with a view to proffering solutions.
It is no longer news that our country is currently experiencing food crises due to overpopulation.
In recent times, it has been observed that the country's population has grown exponentially whilst food production has drastically reduced.
It is therefore imperative that an urgent action be taken if we are to survive as a nation.
Thomas Robert Malthus a British philosopher in his famous book titled: "Essay on the principles of population as it affects the future improvement of the society" categorically and emphatically warned humanity on the negative effects of a growing population.
Malthus postulates that population will grow at Geometrical Progression while food production will grow at Arithmetic Progression.
In other words, there is a great correlation between population growth and food production.
The food that we consume in this country is being produced through the efforts of peasant farmers who are mostly subsistent in their operations.
Nigerian farmers are beset by various challenges which include but not limited to the following: Crude method of farming, lack of technological know-how, lack of access to land, lack of access to loan facilities, post harvest and food loss and lack of storage facilities. Because the country could not produce enough food to feed its teeming population there has been massive importation of foodstuffs in the past couple of years and this has resulted in the depletion of our foreign reserves. In an attempt to boost the country's foreign reserves, the Apex bank barred the importation of foodstuffs that could be produced locally. At this juncture, one tends to ask - what is the government doing to ensure food security in Nigeria? It may be recalled that successive governments had one time or the other embarked on some laudable agricultural initiatives in an attempt to drive development in the agricultural sector. These included: Establishment of 12 River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAS) in all the six Geopolitical zones, Establishment of the Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructures (DFRRI) in all the 774 local Government Areas of the Federation, the Green Revolution and Operation Feed the Nation to mention but just a few. However, the success of these laudable programmes was hindered due to poor co-ordination, lack of political will, policy somersault and lack of involvement of beneficiaries in project design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. The question now is: What is the way forward? As part of solutions to the lingering food crises, I would like to list six critical areas which I want our policy makers to consider:
Mechanisation of the agricultural sector: It is imperative that we move away from crude method of farming and embrace mechanized farming. Obviously, large scale agriculture production cannot be achieved without some degree of mechanization.
Empowerment of local farmers: Majority of our local farmers do not have access to credit facilities. The commercial banks should make credit facilities available to farmers with low interest rate so as to enable them procure modern farm equipment such as tractors, harvesters and plough.
The need to review the land use Act of 1978: The land use Act of 1978 is making it difficult for farmers to have access to land. In view of this, it is suggested that the National Assembly should as a matter of urgency take a closer look at the Act with a view to amending it.
Application of modern technology: It is obvious that technology plays an important role in food production. We need to apply modern technology in the production of high yield varieties in cassava, maize, rice, beans, wheat, yam and tomatoes. Moreover, there is need to develop pest-resistant crops in our Agricultural Research Institutes.
The need to adequately fund the Agricultural Research Institutes: The yearly budgetary allocation to most of the Agricultural Research Institutes is so paltry and this has adversely affected their mandate. In order to make the Institutes more functional and result oriented, it is suggested that their subvention be increased.
The need to establish farm settlements: Governments at all levels should establish farm settlements in all the 36 states of the Federation. This is to boost food production as well as creating jobs for the teeming unemployed youths through the value chain.
Finally, it is my conviction that with the right policies in place coupled with political will, the country will surely achieve food sufficiency.