Recently, the international community celebrated World Food Day. As the name suggests, it is an event specifically designed to commemorate the founding of Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in 1945 Each year, on 16 October, the world use the occasion to remind itself that there is a compelling reason to ensure that the poor and vulnerable for whom food is fast becoming a luxury is saved from the aftermath of the lack of that basic necessity.
To demonstrate the vital role food plays in sustaining humanity, events are organised in some 150 countries across the world by governments and stakeholders to attract the attention needed to take action. For most Nigerians, beset by the skyrocketing cost of staples, the event was an opportunity to remind all, government at all levels especially, of the need to address the issue of the high cost of food.
The theme for this year’s event is “Safe food now for a healthy tomorrow”. It is based on appreciating the individuals who have contributed to creating sustainable surroundings where no one is left hungry. It is also celebrated to raise awareness on the issue of hunger and healthy food habits for all. According to the United Nations, this year’s events will take place across the world with multiple partners such as the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) the World Food Programme (WFP) as well as governments.
The Indian sage, Mahatma Ghandi, emphasising the importance of food to humanity once said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread”. This is true in the India of his days and even today in places like Nigeria where most families live below the one dollar per day threshold.
The high level of food insecurity in Nigeria, in the opinion of this newspaper, is caused mainly by insecurity which is preventing most farmers from accessing their farms, especially in the northern part of the country. Food insecurity is lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. And there’s fear that Nigerians will experience worse levels of food insecurity by next year because of poor harvest by farmers.
However, it’s heartwarming, in our view, that the federal government has set aside the sum of N600 billion as loans to support 2.4 million farmers across the country through its Agro-Processing Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support project (APPEALS). The government argues that the gesture will support farmers in the country, to improve their productivity aimed at boosting the country’s food security and increasing exports.
The government also said that it distributed farm inputs to states at the beginning of the 2021 farming season, an effort which it said has recorded a boost in the production of major staple crops especially, maize and rice, which rose from 12.8 and 12.3 to 13.94 and 14.28 million metric tonnes (MMT) respectively.
According to report by National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), there has also been a boost in the production of cassava, which rose from 58.47 MT in 2018 to 73.91MT and is even projected to rise to 93.6 by 2023. Growth has also been recorded for groundnut, tomatoes, and sorghum production. Cattle beef, dairy and fish production also rose by 166 per cent, 146 per cent, and 11 per cent, respectively between 2020 and 2021. All these government policies and programmes, on paper, are lofty even as they are far from the realities on ground which is that there is an urgent need for the government to apply realistic measures to stem the tide of rising food prices amid dwindling disposal income available to a majority of the people. The FAO had warned recently of a looming food crisis in the country. This is aside a recent report that at least 9.2 million people in Nigeria face different levels of food insecurity between March and May this year amid armed conflicts.
As a newspaper, we call on the government to take steps to the major causes of food insecurity and the attendant malnutrition. The consequences of continued neglect of the agricultural sector and insecurity are devastating. The sector should be treated as serious business through an intensified policy thrust geared towards ensuring that, in addition to an infusion of high-yielding farm inputs, farming must be made attractive to the youthful workforce.
To make this happen, the government must address, in a conscientious manner, the issue of insecurity so that farmers can return to their farms without the fear of being kidnapped or killed. In our considered opinion, the government must strive towards averting, by all means, the looming food crisis.