The Federal government’s pledge to fully support the plan by the United Nations World Food Programme (UN-WFP) to create a food hub in the country to serve vulnerable people and communities in conflict-affected areas in the country and around the continent is in order. The plan is in consonance with what the global institution and its affiliates have done in other places, especially Asia, where they made similar interventions in the past to save hunger-stricken populations.
The plan by UN-WFP was revealed when its Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, made a presentation on the initiative to Nigeria’s Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, in Abuja. Nigeria is sufficiently blessed with agricultural resources to be a food hub, not only for the continent, but the world at large.
The fact that the country is not already playing this role in Africa and the world, but is itself in urgent need of food aid for its citizens displaced by the Boko Horam insurgency in the North-East of the country, is unfortunate. The food crisis in the country is a fallout of our long years of bad leadership, poor planning, gross mismanagement of resources and the general lack of discipline in the polity.
That is why the decision of the UN-WFP to make Nigeria a food hub is good news for the country. We are glad that the world body is coming to our aid. Apart from government’s failings, the many recent man-made disasters in the country have made the food situation worse. There is the Boko Haram insurgency which has greatly undermined agriculture and the livelihood of people in most of the North-East geopolitical zone where the insurgency has been most devastating. There is also the intractable Fulani herdsmen menace which has made rural farming in most parts of the country unsafe and, therefore, limited, no matter how the authorities want to deny it. These two factors, combined with the age-long overdependence on oil revenues and the resultant neglect of agriculture, have worsened food security in the country.
It is time for Nigeria to boost agricultural production, so we should be grateful to UN-WFP and other support agencies like the African Development Bank (ADB) and our own Central Bank, which are committing huge resources to agriculture. The country can benefit from new investments in agriculture, to optimise our food production and preservation potentials.
The Federal Government, not too long ago, reacted to the food threat in the country by setting up a high-powered task force to design strategies for the reduction of the cost of food in our markets. While it has been generally acknowledged that poor distribution and preservation methods lead to wastage of harvested food in the country, there is no doubt that there are substantial shortfalls in production. The fact that some of our food products are exported to neighbouring countries should also not be an excuse for food shortages in the country. Instead, it should be an incentive for more production. As we stated earlier, Nigeria should be a natural food hub in Africa and the world.
That is why we must ensure that the UN-WFP initiative is actualised and made to produce the desired results with clear timelines. All of the grey areas of the plan should be cleared so that its execution can begin in earnest. The North-East, if not the whole country, is in need of urgent food assistance. The pictures coming out of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps tell very pathetic stories. They reflect the insecurity of the country in the area of food supply.
We expect the UN-WFP and the Federal Government to do a proper assessment of the food needs in the country, and the resources required to redress them. There should then be an immediate roll-out of resources and a foolproof auditing mechanism put in place to assess progress, to ensure that the plan remains on course, and is not hobbled by government bureaucracy. When food production has been greatly improved, it will be necessary to address present preservation resources and methods. Food silos, for example, abound in the country, but they need to be better equipped and used to meet their primary objective.
Going forward, the processing of raw food into semi and fully finished products is important to achieving sustainable food security and making the country a food hub of choice. Let emphasis be placed on producing and preserving enough food to feed our ever burgeoning population, after which we can march ahead with the plan to be a food hub on the continent.