Food Security In Nigeria: Reality, challenges, and prospects, by Prof MK Othman

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Professor MK Othman.
Professor MK Othman.

Deep Thoughts with Othman

The 1996 World Food Summit defined food security as a “situation 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 Organisation (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 an active and healthy life is the most essential human need. That means the food has to be quantitative, accessible, and affordable to every person without the strain of constraint. Is Nigeria food secured?

In reality, Nigeria has enormous and unquantifiable potential agricultural resources to feed the whole of the African continent and even export to other continents. Nigeria has a huge population of 210 million people with about 55% of the population being active, 91 million hectares of arable land, with merely 50% utilization despite the quantum of water resources, soil fertility, favourable topography, and climates.

Thus, the country has 12 million cubic meters of fresh-water resources, 960 kilometres of rich coastline, huge terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. Additionally, Nigeria has seven distinct climate zones, which provide average annual rainfall ranging from 700 mm in the far north (Sahel savannah) to 4,000 mm in the riverine and mountainous areas in the south. River Niger passes through some countries and discharges an average of 5,589 m3/s volume of water into the Atlantic Ocean through Nigeria.

River Niger with a length of 4,180 Km and a drainage basin area of 2.1 million Km2 is the third largest river in Africa and has six major perennial rivers as tributaries crisscrossing the length and breadth of Nigeria. This has made Nigeria be the most endowed country with unlimited water resources available for agricultural development.

Still, in reality, Nigeria’s leadership pays appalling lip service to the agricultural sector at different levels of governance from local government to federal. Over the years, Agriculture receives low investment from both State and Federal Governments. For example, Federal Government made a budgetary allocation of between 1.3% and 3.4% to Agriculture in the annual budget from the year, 2000 to 2007.

In the year 2017, combined expenditure of the federal and 30 state governments showed they spent only 1 .8 per cent of their total annual budget on agriculture. The situation has deteriorated as indicated in recent years.

In the 2021 budget, Federal Government allocated a mere 1.73% of its annual budget to Agriculture. Other states like Oyo, Kwara, Borno, and Abia allocated 3.6%, 3.0%, 4.64%, and 1.49% of their annual budgets, respectively. It was only Kano state that allocated 5%, which was the highest allocation by a state.

These allocations are less than 10% allocation of the annual budget as promised Heads of government of the African Union tagged “2003 Moputo declaration and 2014 Malabo resolution”. The low investment in agriculture indicates a lack of commitment and seriousness of the country’s leadership to develop agriculture. In addition to this flagrant negligence by the nation’s leadership, there are diversities of challenges militating against the development of Agriculture in Nigeria.

Challenges against agricultural development in Nigeria can be classified into two; technical and insecurity. The technical challenges are diverse and complex but deeply rooted within the framework of poor extension services. Poor and inadequate provision of extension services is principally responsible for the terrible and abysmal level of agricultural productivity.

The national average yield of cereal crops is a mere 1.2 tons/ha against the potential yield of 8 – 12 tons/ha. An example, the average yields of maize and rice are 1.64 tons/ha and 2.0 tons/ha against the potential yields of 10 tons/ha and 12 tons/ha, respectively. Even cassava, the crop, which Nigeria is reported to be the leading country in the world for its production has an average yield of 13 tons/ha against the potential yield of 60 tons/ha.

This poor productivity is a result of poor or inaccessibility of improved production technologies, improved seeds, practices, appropriate equipment, poor infrastructures, and skill. All these factors can be squarely addressed through the provision of adequate, timely, and effective agricultural extension services to the farmers and other agricultural value chain actors.

Increasing productivity of farmers is the sine qua non to the development of agriculture for food security and wealth creation. The case of the USA is a clear example in this direction. In 1981, the USA produced 11% of the World’s grains with about 4% of its population engaged in agriculture. By 2016, with greater refinement of technologies, extension advisory services, and quality inputs, the country produced 16% of the World’s grains with only about 2.5% of its population in Agriculture.

Compare the statistics with happenings in Nigeria today, the country has more than 50% of its population engaged in agriculture but cannot produce 50% of its required food and spends billions of USD to import 95% and 97% of its consumption needs for wheat and sugar, respectively.

The insecurity challenge against agricultural development is the most catastrophe, most scared, and noxious with fatal consequences. Kidnapping and banditry actions strive mostly in the forests and rural areas where primary agricultural activities take place. In recent years, many farmers have been driven out of farms for looming fear of the twin evils; kidnapping and banditry/insurgence. An example of the lethal act was the case of Zabarmari in December 2020 where about a hundred farmers working on their rice fields had their throats slit with knives or skulls shattered with bullets in the most gruesome manner.

Zabarmari’s case might have been the worst but there were other cases across the nation. What are the implications of the alarming insecurity to Agricultural Development? What are the prospects of Agriculture in Nigeria?

Can the nation achieve self-sufficiency in food production? Yes.

To be continued next week.

Prof Othman writes from NAERLS, ABU Zaria and can be reached via email: mkothman@gmail.com.

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