Ensuring Food Security In Nigeria and Akwa Ibom State
18 Jul 2011
Agriculture is man’s oldest profession and the basis of civilization and the engine room of economic growth. It is the source of food, a major employer of labor in the developing countries and source of raw materials for industries. Agriculture in Nigeria has undergone many changes over the past 80-100 years. From subsistence farming, practiced under shifting cultivation, it has reached the stage of permanent cultivation of one and same piece of land year after year with limited crop rotation.
However, with the fast growing population and smallholder farmer still using semi-primitive tools, the food produced is becoming grossly inadequate to feed the teeming population coupled with massive migration of youths from rural to urban centers and the climate change, the country is facing acute food crisis. The prevailing conditions therefore formed the basis for the government to accord high priority to agricultural research. Nevertheless, despite the fact that research in agriculture started in the country since 1861, its impact on the farming systems has not been significant until the late 1980s and 1990s.
Today, we have over 15 national agricultural research institutes conducting applied research in agriculture and related activities, more than 30 universities training specialists in various fields of agriculture and carrying out basic research. Also, more than 50 colleges of agriculture and polytechnics are training middle level manpower in the different fields of agriculture, leading to agricultural productivity and consequently production improving steadily. Improved seeds with higher yields, early maturing and tolerant to biotic and a-biotic stresses; drudgery reducing simple tools and machines; as well as crop management protocols are some of the technology generated and disseminated to the various end-users and clients of the research institutions.
These improved technologies if complemented with appropriate inputs will go a long way in alleviating the food insecurity experienced by a large percentage of the country’s population. Food security commanded the highest priority in both the current and past administrations. However, achieving national food security continues to be a major challenge as over 90 million Nigerians are food insecure, seventy percent of which live in rural areas. Moreover, the root cause of food insecurity has been identified as the inability of the people to gain access to food due to poverty and unemployment. Estimated at about 65 to 70 percent, the poverty level in Nigeria is high, with unemployment on the increase, majority of the citizenry live below poverty level.
The question now is what is food insecurity? Food insecurity is a situation that exist when people lack secured and affordable access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for normal growth and development and an active, healthy life. It may be caused by the unavailability of food, insufficient purchasing power or the inappropriate distribution or inadequate use of food at the household level. While, food security is a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Food insecurity may be chronic, seasonal or transitory.
The mix of ingredients that ensure food security include; available land and water, storage facilities, farm equipment and inputs e.g. fertilizers, improved seeds and crops varieties, processing and packaging capacity, infrastructure, resource management, environmental factors such as soils and climate, distribution capacity, appropriate research and development activities, access to markets, money, credit and information, the nature of government policies, legal and political structures.
Furthermore, food security is determined by a number of factors namely, sustainable farming and food production systems, our circumstances such as our ability to grow, exchange or purchase our food needs as part of maintaining our livelihoods.
Food insecurity and food security are not simply physical concerns but the many needs in human lives. For instance food is required not only physiologically for body maintenance but also for psychological, social and cultural needs. The world’s population is still growing fast and expected to reach an estimated 8-10 billion by 2050 with our land surface gradually diminishing due to ocean surge caused by ice melts from the polar region due to global warning which occurs because of climate change as a result of persistent carbon emission to the atmosphere.
The environmental changes probably brought about by human activity, threatens future food security as weather patterns become more unpredictable and climatic extremes more frequent. Also, inadequate planned response mechanisms to those probable climatic uncertainties could lead to future food crisis. While food production must increase, simply increasing it will not end food insecurity. Famine can happen in the midst of abundance, and around 800 million people are undernourished today in a world with enough food for everyone.
Distribution, equity, access, as well as availability of food in the right quality and quantity matters. And these are not simple technical questions but political, for the concerned who has what power to feed themselves by what means. But power, whether economic purchasing power, or political power or the power to influence the direction of research and development geared to their needs is something people lack. It is now recognized that food security incorporates not only the traditional idea of ensuring adequate food availability, but also the need to create the social and economic conditions which empower individuals to gain access to food either by producing food themselves or earning income to buy food.
Therefore, addressing food security requires comprehensive measures that integrate ongoing assistance in several areas namely; land reform; the application of new research, including biotechnology and modern farming methods, to increase yield and reduce losses; market openness and trade liberalization, empowerment of women; stabilization of population, and assurance of adequate safety nets for periods of adjustment. These and many more will help in no smaller way to ensure food security in the nation.
Also, in Nigeria, the federal Government has developed various strategies to address food insecurity and internal crises. Government has taken steps to tackle the economic crises through repositioning of the financial sectors. The Federal government has drawn up a new vision, which will transform the economy of the nation by the year 2020. The vision is to be achieved through a 7-point agenda that targets agriculture development of physical infrastructure and human capital, land tenure reform, food security, human security, human security and the rule of law, as well as a resolution of the crises in the Niger-Delta region.
The Government of Akwa Ibom State under the able leadership of Chief Godswill Akpabio has taken very bold steps to reposition agriculture and ensure food security. This administration had since even at a short period of two years in office, committed funds for the immediate amelioration of the challenges experienced in the agricultural sub-sector, and set out special targets for future development and sustainability. The most significant intervention is the acceptance of the Accelerated Livestock and Fish Production Programme (ALFIP) by the state executive council. This programme was designed to, within three years, boost intake of animal protein by the average Akwa Ibom citizen by increasing tenfold the number of livestock and fish available in the state. Through the programme, three poultry hatcheries were established in each senatorial district each capable of hatching 19,000 day-old-chicks a week. This closed the demand gap for day-old-chicks in the state by 60 percent. The programme also established ten fish farm estates, one in each federal constituency of the state, as well as ten community fish farms. The government invested N11.6 billion in this programme.
This administration is also ensuring that food security for Akwa Ibom people is sustained by the establishment of Akwa Ibom State Strategies Food Reserve Programme. The state has already spent N1.5 billion to acquire an integrated food storage facility at Abak, with a capacity to store 30,000 metric tons of fish and meat as well as the storage of 50,000 metric tons of fertilizer. The facility also incorporates processing and packaging units, to add export values to the products.
One of the critical problems challenging our efforts in food production is the issue of land fragmentation. Akwa Ibom is a compact state with a large population occupying a small space. Due to the traditional land ownership system, each family owns a small portion of land, which obstructs agricultural production in commercial quantities. The administration of Godswill Akpabio, has taken this problem by instituting a land consolidation and management scheme. The schemes envisage the contribution of a minimum of 200 hectares of land by each of the 31 local government areas of Akwa Ibom State for management by an agency under public-private partnership.
To this end, the state has ensured that food security, taken along with strategies to eliminate crises and engage youths in productive ventures in food production, informed the administration to increase the number of youths participating in integrated farms scheme. Also to tackle food crises both public and private investments are needed.