Emeka Osuji: The Role of SMEs in Nigeria’s Food Security

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Farmers working on a rice farm

May I join other Nigerians to heartily welcome the President from his medical vacation. The President has since resumed duty; a pointer to his love for his job and country. May I also commend the very gentle Professor Osinbajo, then Acting President, for the good job he did. Prof Osinbajo actually changed some of the negative narratives dogging this administration. His launching of the SME Clinic in Aba, a non-APC state, even if merely symbolic, and promise to provide adequate electricity for those born-entrepreneurs was refreshing to the people over there. It was a fitting endorsement of Aba as the SME Capital of Nigeria. In my view, it says something about sense of belonging – a central issue in the agitation in the region. It says that he understands the value of conciliation and that we could successfully address restiveness in the country, if properly advised. Welcome Mr President.

The issue of food security is often presented as a key concern of most governments around the world, and Nigeria is not an exception. Indeed, food security is a cardinal concern of this government. What actually is food security? The World Bank defines food security as the access by all peoples, at all times, to sufficient food for active and healthy life. Similarly, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FOA) defines food security as the physical and economic access to adequate food for households, without undue risk of losing the access.

The foregoing definitions suggest certain elements of food security: Food security is not the availability of enough food in the country. It is not the presence of a variety of staple food items. It is also not the presence of many farmers producing all kinds of food for the market. It is much more than all these. Food security is a compound of food in sufficient quantities; food at prices that are affordable and food that is nutritious. Above all, food security happens only when we have food that presents with all these characteristics in addition to easy and sustained accessibility. Sustainability is therefore akey element in the concept of food security. Conversely, food insecurity is the lack of sustained access to sufficient quantities of food that is nutritional and affordable.

Nigeria has faced food insecurity for several decades. It has also shown evidence of recognition and concern for that fact. This recognition manifested in the introduction, by the then military government headed by Olusegun Obasanjo, of what was tagged Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), in 1977.  This programme was very elaborate and planned to boost food production nationwide. Of course, in line with the command structure of the military federal government, which persists today, every state was compelled to set up a committee to promote the objectives of the OFN. Again, typical of most government projects, the OFN was poorly funded. This and similar challenges, including poor extension services, led to the failure of the programme. The successor civilian government of Shehu Shagari, in 1980, launched the Green Revolution. Like its predecessor, this programme also targeted the expansion of food production through agricultural activity. It was said to have been hijacked by politicians who made it a political instrument of personal advancement. It died without any visible offspring or impact on food security.

Nigeria’s food insecurity has been estimated to rise from 18 per cent in 1986 to 41 per cent 2006. In 2015, Nigeria ranked 91 among 109 countries sampled by the Global Food Security Index in food security. This index is based on affordability, availability, quality and safety of food. Evidently, that was not a very pretty number and so the authorities continued to make the production of enough food a major plank of Nigeria’s development policy. The search for food security has therefore been on the cards of Nigeria’s for a while.

The present administration of President Buhari has made agriculture one its key strategies of development. It plans to boost production of rice, the importation of which is currently restricted, and to gain self-sufficiency by 2018. That date is just a few months away. Our strategy for achieving this target should emphasize closer interaction between the farmers, especially the smallholders, and the Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs). We were told that the massive fertilizer fraud and racket that existed in the past have ended. One hopes that farmers may now get the support they need to apply appropriate quantities of fertilizer as recommended by the institutes developing the crop varieties.

It is important to sustain the gains made in the development and orientation of smallholder farmers by continually training them on new seed varieties and farm practices. Nigeria is not famous for its educational planning and investment. This is evidenced by the perennial crises in the sector culminating in endless strikes, and the low budgetary importance the sector enjoys. These have had widespread negative effects on the way we invest in education. Smallholder rice farmers must be encouraged to invest in their own personal development. We should sustain the protection of local producers by faithfully implementing the restriction of imports. The use of import quotas, which government applies to circumvent its own policies must no longer be allowed. Agriculture is very important to this President and there is much hope that he will address the challenge of enabling environment in the sector – transportation, milling, inputs, etc. As for the farmers, it is their duty to update themselves with available opportunities they can exploit to increase output.


Mr Emeka Osuji is a columnist on Business Day


Culled from: Business Day


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author not of NDLink

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