IT is indeed a good step towards ensuring real security of the countries of West Africa that there is genuine talk now of food security in the region. Against the backdrop of the skyrocketing prices of staple food items and the growing hunger among the populace, the recent workshop by officials of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and other partners, to address food production issues in the West Africa sub-region is worthwhile, if only to find new ideas on how to tackle hunger.
At the three-day workshop, held in Accra, Ghana, the participants launched what they called the West Africa Zero Hunger Initiative, aimed at eradicating hunger by adopting a new approach to the governance of agriculture, food and nutrition issues in West Africa. The workshop, according to the organisers, is to enable stakeholders take a common stance on the nature of the initiative, which is a country-focused and results-oriented set of actions that reinforce and strengthen existing strategies and programmes for eliminating food insecurity and malnutrition in ECOWAS member-states.
It is noteworthy that many governments in the sub-region have declared commitment to eradicating hunger through various national and regional agricultural investment plans and they now seek how the Zero Hunger Initiative would add value to existing regional and country-level food security and nutrition efforts.
Interestingly, the Zero Hunger Initiative subscribes to the UN vision for a future where no person is hungry, where every woman, child and man enjoys the right to food; women are empowered; priority is given to family farming and food systems everywhere are made sustainable and resilient.
Wrong-headed policies, civil and political unrest, coupled with natural forces of droughts and floods have contributed to poor food production and hunger. The threat of hunger and malnutrition has remained the lot of many countries for a long time and Ethiopia, Mali, Chad, Niger and many countries across the Sahel region of Africa are in this unfortunate category.
The situation in Nigeria is not different. It is sad that following the oil boom of the mid-70s, agriculture was abandoned with the result that food production dropped drastically. Since then, efforts to boost food production through such policies as Green Revolution and Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) failed woefully. In the same vein, other interventionist measures such as the N200 billion loans to farmers by the Federal Government through the Central Bank of Nigeria have yielded little results.
Consequently, most foods consumed in the country are imported. Rice, chicken, pineapples, oranges, apples, etc are all imported. Their prices are on the high side, making them largely unaffordable.
Obviously, poor feeding habit leading to malnutrition is also rampant and families have difficulty preserving or storing food staples due to epileptic power supply. There is no doubt that the situation is unbearable. Perhaps, the Zero Hunger Initiative is coming at the most auspicious time when new thinking is needed to boost agricultural production and ensure food security. If well articulated and carefully implemented, the initiative could leverage food production and reduce hunger in the ECOWAS sub-region.
It is regrettable that the optimism of bumper harvests from various agricultural intervention strategies and improved food crops has waned. Statistics show that the populations of at least 40 poor countries, which in absolute terms run into millions, face severe hunger and starvation. This is worsened by a sharp decline in global food production, raising fears of a possibility of a widespread famine.
Historically, the only solution to famine is increased food production and not importation. The culture of food importation in Nigeria is wrong and should be curtailed. Food has direct impact on health. A hungry population is a sick population.
In some cases, the problem lies in preserving the food products during harvest. Each year, hundreds of tonnes of tomatoes, mangoes, oranges, carrots, etc, are wasted due to lack of preservative capacity. The Zero Hunger Initiative should include driving agro-based industries to process and preserve food staples.
There is the issue of land grabbing for development as well as land-grabbing for commercial farming by expatriate farmers in which, quite often, local farmers are shut out of food production without compensation.
Governments in the sub-region should not shy away from this reality and they should seek ways to balance investment drive with the local food production needs in the national interest. After all, there can be no national security without food security.