Nigeria with a population of over 180 million and arable land of 82 million hectares spends $22 billion on food importation to meet the rising food demand resulting from population growth and cultivation of about 32 to 34 million hectares which is approximately 41% of the arable land. According to the World Bank, sustainable food security is access to enough food for an active, healthy life at present, as well as an ability to provide enough for the future.
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has as its core determinants of food security the following;
- Food Availability, which focuses on people having satisfactory access to food regardless of population growth;
- Food Accessibility, with two (2) major conditions of economic access in terms of food prices and the purchasing power of the people and physical access (infrastructure needed for the production and distribution of food);
- Food Utilisation, measured by the under-five years of age nutrition level and the quality of food, health and hygiene and lastly;
- Food Stability, which balances the risks (climate change, drought etc.) to production outputs.
Currently, Nigeria’s state of food security is in a dangerous position having moved from a self-sufficiency position in the ’60s to one of dependence on food imports to meet the feeding needs of the growing population that stands at over 180 million.
In spite of revenue generated from oil and gas, agriculture still remains the base of the Nigerian economy as it provides the main source of livelihood for most Nigerians. It is currently the largest sector in terms of labour force demography compared to other sectors.
However, according to the Borgen Project (An international initiative for reducing extreme poverty),
- The insurgency in the country has led to a large number of displaced people without access to food. Over 8.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
- The amount of food-insecure households is highest in the rural region of Borno at 64.2 per cent. In late July of 2017, the government declared a state of food and nutrition emergency in the state.
- One-third of children under five are stunted. This statistic is particularly concerning because it is twice the rate of Thailand and three times the rate of Tunisia. Stunting in children is a common symptom of undernourishment and can only be alleviated with a steady supply of adequate food.
- Households headed by females are more inclined to have high rates of food insecurity. In the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, 55 per cent of female-headed households are food insecure. This is because women in low-income countries often have less opportunity to gain employment that would allow them to feed their families.
Nigeria is facing two key gaps in agriculture that are affecting food security, which is an inability to meet domestic food requirements and an inability to export at quality levels required for market success. The former is a productivity challenge driven by an input system and farming model that is largely inefficient. The current crop of farmers belongs to an ageing population in addition to not having enough seeds, fertilizers, irrigation, crop protection and related support to be successful. The latter is driven by an equally inefficient system for setting and enforcing food quality standards, as well as poor knowledge of target markets.
Bridging the Gap
In 2011, the Federal Government of Nigeria launched the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) with a view to solving the food insecurity in the country by focusing on small-scale rural farmers and assisting them to increase their productivity. The singular aim of the policy was to boost domestic food production. The plan lasted till 2015 and had significant achievements such as the setting up of NIRSAL credit guarantees for farmers, revival of the bank of Agriculture, setting up a Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) to register smallholder farmers and provide targeted input subsidies as well as the re-establishment of select commodity marketing boards that were hitherto moribund.
In spite of the gains recorded, the challenges the ATA sought to achieve still persists. Nigeria is still import dependent and food wastage levels are still on the high side in production areas. In view of the afore-mentioned, the Federal Government developed a strategy document titled the Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) in 2016 to build on the gains of the ATA and tackle head on the challenges that still exist with a focus on agriculture as a sustainable business and a key to long-term growth and security by 2020; utilising innovative methods to get Nigeria to food self-sufficiency.
However, a lot needs to be done to meet the 2020 target. According to the Global Innovation Index report, Nigeria ranked 119th position in the Global Agricultural Innovation Index compared to Israel who ranked 17th moving 4 places up. It is of no surprise given that Israel has made giant strides in agricultural inventions that have aided in increased crop yields even in the face of heightened Middle East tensions and unfavourable weather conditions due to global warming similar to what Nigeria faces.
These inventions by Israel are now being exported to countries and they include the grain cocoons which are a cheap collection of bags that help to keep grains market fresh and nullify wastage due to heat and micro-contaminants. Most local farmers lose about 50% of their produce due to inadequate storage facilities. Another of such invention is the re-usable plastic trays which collect dew from the air as water reducing the water crops need by 50%. These trays are suitable for arid areas.
In Nigeria currently, agricultural inventions are centred on Agric-tech companies who are bridging the funding gap for farmers and linking investors to the Agric sector. This has helped to finance land acquisitions and machines for planting and harvesting. Additionally, research on seed varieties that are able to give increased yields have been positive and the results seen in increased rice production. Therefore, there needs to be a consistent drive to transform policy documents to realistic goals and utilising technology that has been proven in similar countries like ours in order to achieve food sufficiency.