...Redifining Journalism for Development

National Food Security: IAR Releases 17 Climate Resilient and High Yielding Crops Varieties (I), by Professor MK Othman



Achieving national food security in a developing country is an arduous task due to complex variables involved in a food security equation. It is like determining multiple unknowns from a single quadratic equation. First, the definition of food security is not as simple as it should be, because there are more than 200 definitions and 450 indicators of food security. Second, the dynamic situation of a nation’s demography is another complexity.

Other variables include the quantitative and qualitative of the natural resources such as climate, soil, and land and water sources. Additionally, the levels of agricultural mechanization and technologies used in the production, processing and utilization of food have direct influence on the attainment of national food security.

Now, what is food security? According to the 1996 World Food Summit “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy lifestyle. In another context, the World Health Organization (WHO) maintained that “food security means that all people at all times have both physical and economic access to enough food for an active, healthy living…” Therefore, attaining food security means that consumption and production of food should be governed by social values that are just and equitable as well as moral and ethical.

This way the ability to acquire food by all can be ensured. In addition, the food should be nutritionally adequate, personally and culturally acceptable; and the food should also be obtained in a manner that upholds human dignity. No matter how food security is defined, having enough to eat regularly for active and healthy life is the most essential human need. Many developing countries, especially in South Asia and Africa, are yet to fulfill this vital need. However, some basic components of food security should guide us to examine the innovations to achieve food security in Nigeria.

What are the essential components of food security? The components are basically three. The first is quality implying that the food is safe, healthy and of nutritious value. The second is the quantity implying that the food is enough to lead a healthy and active lifestyle. The third is availability implying that a person has financial capability to purchase the food where one lives. That means the food has to be accessible and affordable without strain or constraint. Thus, every food security program targeted to a given community must contain these basic components to qualify it as “a standard food security project”. With this elaborate discussion on food security, how does the dynamic nature of demography affect the attainment of national food security?

As at the time I am writing this piece, Tuesday, 14th May 2019, Nigeria is ranked as seventh most populous country among the 233 countries listed in Worldometers, an online application use a world population clock that estimates real-time population of a country. Today, Nigeria has an estimated population of 200,962,417 as presented by the online application. With the country’s yearly average population increase of 2.6 percent, in the next thirty years, Nigeria will overtake the last four countries and take the third position of the most populous country in the world after India and China. The four countries with higher population than Nigeria currently after India and China are United State of America, Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan.

However, considering the demographic trend of these countries, Nigeria will soon overtake Pakistan with a current population of 204,596,442 and yearly increase of 1.88 percent, it will further pass Brazil with current population of 212,392,717 and yearly increase 0.72 percent. Similarly, Nigeria will surpass Indonesian population of 269,536,482 and i.03 percent annual increase, it will also overtake United State of America with a current population 329,093,110 and annual average population increase of 1.08 percent. The current Nigerian population explosion is deeply rooted on the diversity and prolific nature of Nigerian people. Reflecting back to over fifty years ago when Nigeria gained independence in 1960, the population was merely 45 million people. This indicates that Nigerian population exponentially increased almost five folds within fifty-nine years to the current situation. So, in the next thirty years, this prediction of Nigeria becoming the third most populous country in the world is likely coming to pass.

What is the implication of population explosion on food security? It shifts the goal food security attainment and increases the difficulty to achieve. The other implication is increasing level of poverty, which is the most fearsome to many of us. It is this implication that made the 2018 Goalkeepers’ report to assert, “Nigeria will soon become the World’s capital of poverty”.

The Goalkeepers’ report presented in October 2018 provided a rather gloomy picture on Nigerian stride against poverty. “Nigeria will have 152 million people in extreme poverty out of a projected population of 429 million by the year 2050” the report indicated. Going by this figure, it means that Nigeria will represent about 36% of the total number of people in “extreme poverty” Worldwide. By the same year, 2050, Nigerian population is expected to overshoot to 450 million people.  This means that one out of three people in Nigeria will be among the people in the class of “extreme poverty”.

The report further revealed, “Extreme poverty is becoming heavily concentrated in sub-Saharan African countries. By 2050, that’s where 86 per cent of the extremely poor people in the world are projected to live. The challenge is that within Africa, poverty is concentrating in just a handful of very fast-growing countries, more than 40 per cent of the extremely poor people in the world will live in just two countries: Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria. Even within these countries, poverty is still concentrating in certain areas”.

As expected, the report received the momentous publicity globally as a “wakeup call” to the leadership of the two countries for planning and strategizing to avert this calamity. However, it is pertinent to understand the rationale behind the goalkeepers’ report and the authors of the report. Before then, what is “extreme poverty”? What is the implication of people living in “extreme poverty”?

The “Goalkeepers Report” is an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation (BMGF). It provides an annual assessment report of how countries across the globe are making efforts towards meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets. It acts as a mirror for the countries to look at their progress in their efforts of achieving SDGs. Those who fared well are celebrated as heroes who made a difference towards attaining the targets while those with below average performance are similarly shown what they should do to improve. What are the SDGs?

The SDGs are comprehensive issues of human development and environmental sustainability that provide a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all globally. They address the global challenges retarding the progress of a society/country. The issues are related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. There are seventeen SDGs, which are interconnected, with some being inter related for easy way to achieve and assess progress. Countries under United Nations umbrella have given the year, 2030 as a target for the achievements of the SDGs.

The first four SDGs are very fundamental to the development of any society. These are “zero poverty (SDG1), zero hunger (SDG2), Good health and well being (SDG3) and quality education (SDG4)”, respectively. The achievement of these four can immensely contribute to the achievement of other SDGs. Readers can access the SDGs via https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

It is within this context that the breakthroughs achieved by Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) in 2018 become heartwarming, cheery and reassuring to all patriotic and well meaning Nigerians. This giant stride is capable of proving “the prophets of doom” wrong. IAR worked assiduously to come up with seventeen new crop varieties, which are climate resilient, high yielding and adaptable to farmers nationwide. These crops varieties are capable of ensuring adequate food on the table of every Nigerian household and the neighboring countries. What are these crops? How will they be accessible to every farmer?

Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.

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