13th October, 2011
Most nations of the world face a very bleak future regarding the provision of adequate food to feed the growing population. This fact was poignantly brought home recently by three Rome-based United Nations agencies, the Food and Agricultural Organisation, FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD, and the World Food Programme, WFP.
In a warning contained in the joint annual report of the agencies titled â€˜The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011,â€™ the agencies said food prices would continue to rise and this would make not only poor farmers more vulnerable to hunger and poverty but also consumers and some countries. The report issued on Monday this week adds that small, import-dependent countries particularly in Africa, are at risk. Nigeria is a major import-dependent country in Africa, as the nation spends trillions annually on all manner of imported products, most of which could be produced locally.
For instance, Nigeria now imports between 700,000 and 900,000 metric tonnes of fish annually to meet its shortfall of 1.8 million metric tonnes, according to Dr. Abba Abdullahi, President of Fisheries Society of Nigeria, FISON. With a coastline of approximately 853 kilometres across nine states, Nigeria in the past met the fish need of its population. But the reverse is now the case as the federal and state governments have failed to encourage aquaculture to save the colossal foreign exchange now spent on fish importation.
It is not certain if efforts by the UN agencies could lead to achieving the Millennium Development Goal, MDG, of reducing the number of people suffering from hunger and poverty by half by 2015. Nigerians constitute the vast majority of the 600 million people in developing countries said to be undernourished, considering the nationâ€™s huge population and the level of poverty, unemployment and absolute neglect of agriculture in the country.
Year after year, government officials bemoan the neglect of agriculture and overdependence on imported food items without necessarily taking concrete steps to redress the situation. Recently, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Akinwunmi Adesina, lamented that Nigeria imports more than N1 trillion worth of fish, rice, wheat and sugar annually. He added that the nation loses N1.6 trillion annually from non-export of agricultural commodities. With arable land and a vast coastline, rice, wheat and sugarcane could be cultivated and fishing carried out locally to meet local demand and the excess exported.
Rather than embark on meaningful agricultural programmes to boost food production, our leaders keep dancing around in senseless cycle. The nation depends heavily on crude oil that fetches easy money. Even at that, we still find it difficult to refine our crude oil locally and shamelessly have to rely on imported petroleum products to meet local demand.
Let President Goodluck Jonathanâ€™s so-called transformation agenda bring about massive transformation of agriculture to feed the growing population and create jobs for jobless youths. It doesnâ€™t take rocket science to transform agriculture into an income and employment generation sector of the economy. Agriculture could become the mainstay of the countryâ€™s economy if all tiers of government consciously invest heavily in it.