Femi Royal: A careful examination of food security issues in Nigeria

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The United Nations Committee on World Food Security defines Food Security as the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life and like International Food Policy Research Institute, economic growth is only sustainable if all countries have food security.

Globally food security is threatened by Climate change, growing global population, rising food prices and according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the world population will reach 9.1 billion by 2050. To feed that number of people, global food production will need to grow by 70% on the 60% World’s arable land. Africa itself will double her population attaining about 2.1 billion people, the world will depend on Africa to meet her food needs because she has the youngest population in the world.

The obvious reality is that hunger prevalence is becoming alarming globally. According to projections from FAO, about 795 million people worldwide-roughly one in nine-are estimated to be chronically undernourished in 2014-2016 (FAO, IFAD and WFP 2015). As of 2013, 161 million children-approximately one in four-were stunted, and 51 million children suffered from wasting (UNICEF, 2015 b)

In Nigeria, the population’s growth rate is at a geometric progression and yet food production is threatened by low farm productivity and worsened by climate changes, crude farming, rural-urban migration that deprives farming communities of young people. The combined effects of climate change causing aridification in the Northern part of Nigeria has induced the herdsmen to move southward looking for pasture for their cattle.

According to FMARD, Nigeria still imports about $3 to $5 billion worth of food annually, especially wheat, rice, fish and sundry items, including fresh fruits. As a result, Nigeria is not food secure. Wastage levels remain high in production areas, reducing the supply of feedstock to processing factories, requiring them to keep importing supplies. The net effect is limited job growth across the agricultural value chain from input production to market systems, and continued use of limited foreign currency earnings to import vast quantities of food.

Ultimately, Nigeria is facing two key gaps in agriculture today: an inability to meet domestic food requirements, and an inability to export at quality levels required for market success. The former problem is a productivity challenge driven by an input system and farming model that is largely inefficient. The latter challenge is driven by an equally inefficient system for setting and enforcing food quality standards, as well as poor knowledge of target markets. (FMARD)

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Key constraints that affect Nigeria’s Agriculture system

Climate Change: Climate change, also known as Global warming is a threat to food security and it is an increase in average global temperature. It has been scientifically proven that global warming is caused by the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air. Agriculture and deforestation contribute 30% of greenhouse emission. The effect ranges from persistent droughts and floods, off-season rains, drying of lakes, reduction in river flow in arid regions, desertification.

Information Gap: Smallholder farmers are very important, one-third of the world’s 7.4 billion people are smallholder farmers and their families produce nearly 70% of all consumed food on 60% of world’s arable land, which means there are 2.5 billion people who live and work on 500 million smallholder farms each with less than 2 hectares. Lack of quality market information to enable identification of market opportunities, coordination among market actors and transparency, Poor understanding of the lifecycle of contamination of crops from early stage soil preparation to post-harvest handling. Many of these farmers lack the know-how to practice sustainable agriculture. Sustainable agriculture practices such as integrated pest management, agroforestry and Good agricultural practices (GAP) are not within the reach of many rural and urban farmers due to poor information access by the farmers. The inability of the framers to embrace these practices affects crop yield and overall productivity of farmlands.

Financing: According to the World Bank, demand for food will increase by 70% by 2050, at least $80 billion annual investments will be needed to meet this demand. Access to finance is a challenge to many smallholder farmers due to the high risks in Agriculture. De-risking Agriculture is very important and necessary and can be facilitated by a public-private partnership.

Post-harvest losses: The term “postharvest loss” – PHL refers to measurable quantitative and qualitative food loss in the postharvest system (de Lucia and Assennato, 1994). This system comprises interconnected activities from the time of harvest through crop processing, marketing, and food preparation, to the final decision by the consumer to eat or discard the food.

Quality losses include those that affect the nutrient/caloric composition, the acceptability and the edibility of a given product. These losses are generally more common in developed countries (Kader, 2002). Quantity losses refer to those that result in the loss of the amount of a product. Loss of quantity is more common in developing countries (Kitinoja and Gorny, 2010). A recent FAO report indicates that at the global level, volumes of lost and wasted food in high-income regions are higher in downstream phases of the food chain, but just the opposite in low-income regions where more food is lost and wasted in upstream phases (FAO, 2013)

In many African countries, the post-harvest losses of food cereals are estimated at 25% of the total crop harvested. For some crops such as fruits, vegetables, and root crops, being less hardy than cereals, post-harvest losses can reach 50% (Voices Newsletter, 2006).

Migration/Urbanization: The rural-urban divide is a perfect reason for increased urbanization. When we have intra-country migration or what we call rural-out migration, there is a reduction in labor force, and usually change in quality of human capital and it is often applicable for cross-border migration because people want to escape from rural poverty and degraded agricultural resources and seek for a better life, it further poses a threat to the urban areas being a leading cause of unemployment, overcrowding, paucity of houses, traffic congestion, crime etc.

Going forward, as the government of Nigeria makes effort to diversify the economy, and elevate its debased Agriculture sector, we must not forget that the sector has been ridden with multiple challenges, some of which are highlighted above which poses a threat to food security on the long and short run.

Agriculture in the 21st century cannot continue to be practiced with hoe and cutlass, it must move from crude systems and transit to further leverage on the global technological advancements, what the World Economic Forum regards as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

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Femi Royal is the founder of MyFarmbase Africa

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