By Reginald Onabu
Food security is at the heart of a nation’s development agenda. This comes with a clear commitment to end hunger, achieve food stability and eradicate malnutrition in all its forms, especially protein deficiency.
This was the core of the submissions contained in the Protein Challenge webinar with the theme “The Nigerian Protein Deficiency Awareness Report 2020: Unpacking the Numbers, Exploring the Issues”. The Nigerian Protein Deficiency Report 2020 was unveiled at the virtual session.
Professor Adetunji Kehinde, an agricultural expert and key panelist on the session noted that “Nigeria is not food secure. Food security is an essential ingredient in the quest to curb incidence of protein deficiency across Nigeria.” Agriculture, he noted, provides a stable food base and food security for communities.
He explained that food security refers to the availability of food and one’s access to it. A family is considered food secure when its members do not live in hunger or fear of starvation.
Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
Professor Kehinde argued that investing in agriculture would provide jobs, which will improve the standard of living for Nigerians. With proper policy and guidance, farmers can be propelled to cultivate and produce protein-rich food crops. This would serve as a great way to tackle the incidences of protein deficiency.
Proteins are present in a wide range of foods such as soybeans, eggs, dairy, fish, cowpea, whole grains, etc. but these food sources are becoming relatively scarce in Nigeria. The scarcity of these protein foods has initiated a surge in the levels of protein deficiency in the country. In addition, the scarcity of these agricultural commodities has caused them to become costly.
The Nigerian Protein Deficiency Report 2020 confirms this assertion.
According to the report, “45 per cent (of respondents) believe that the high cost of protein-rich foods is responsible for their low protein intake; 39 per cent believe their low income is responsible for their low protein intake; 10 per cent believe their little knowledge of its benefits is responsible for their low protein intake, while 4 per cent believe that the scarcity of protein-rich foods is responsible for their low protein intake.”
The statistics are worrying. It is particularly so because the individuals most vulnerable to protein deficiency are pregnant women and children. They deserve to be prioritized in the consumption of protein-rich foods.
Fortunately, there are actions that can be taken to mitigate the rates of protein deficiency in the country. It must be deliberate, coordinated and collaborative.
The obvious first step is an investment in agriculture on a large scale. Government must support this action. It would involve the provision of arable land, adequate storage facilities provided to store grains, seeds, tubers, and other arable crops.
This will increase food production and reduce post-harvest losses across regions – a huge win in the quest to curb protein deficiency.
Agricultural policies should be enacted to support the production of a diversity of nutrient-rich foods, such as soybeans, legumes, quinea, groundnuts, among others. Naturally, this must be consistent with nutrition priorities and goals, including food-based dietary guidelines.
Research on improving the productivity and quality of nutrient-rich commodities, as well as policies that facilitate access to agricultural inputs and agricultural support extension services for the production of nutritious foods, is equally crucial to enabling the agric sector to thrive in Nigeria.
The government could also intensify efforts towards the provision of farm incentives and low-interest agricultural loans to smallholder farmers, who feed communities with their crops.
The continuous support of the agro-allied industries will enhance food security in the nation.
Finally, there must be subsidies on agricultural seeds and inputs, as the high cost of items is a barrier to improved agricultural productivity and food security.
Take poultry, for instance. The cost of feeding poultry in Nigeria today is expensive because the main ingredients of poultry feed (soybeans and maize) have become expensive. This is the sort of situation where subsidy is needed and should be provided.
The government must take a stand against the issue of malnutrition, to ensure that the populace is truly food secure.
Agriculture will pave the way to food security.