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Monday, 26 February 2024 04:11

[OPINION] High Cost Of Living: Nigeria Paying For Years Of Agricultural Neglect And Insecurity - Adémólá Òrúnbon

Nigeria is endowed with lots of natural and human resources with large expanse of fertile land and estimated to be the most populous country in the Sub-Saharan Africa. And it has different sectors such as agriculture, solid minerals, sports and entertainment, tourism etc, yet the citizens live in abject poverty subsisting on less than $2 a day as a result of several factors which includes inappropriate domestic policies and an unfavourable external economic policy and environment. The country discovered oil in 1956, over sixty-eight (68) years ago at Oloibiri in today's Bayelsa state, but over 70 percent of the country's earnings come from oil paying, little or no attention to other sectors of the economy and that is why Nigeria is said to be suffering from what is known as the "Dutch Disease".

In Nigeria, agriculture remains the mainstay of the economy, employing about 65-70 percent of the labor force. Agricultural holdings are generally small and scattered; farming is often of the subsistence variety which characterised by simple tools and shifting cultivation. These small farms produce about 80 percent of the total food. About 30.7 million hectares (76 million acres), or 33 percent of Nigeria's land area, are under cultivation. Nigeria's diverse climate, from the tropical areas of the coast to the arid zone of the North, make it possible to produce virtually all agricultural products that can be grown in the tropical and semitropical areas of the world.

Squealing to the discovery of petroleum, Nigeria has rapidly grown into a major food importing nation as the government has become neglectful of the agricultural sector since petroleum is considered a more viable resource for economic development. This situation quickly polarized the nation into high and low income groups. Unfortunately, while only small fraction of the population benefited from the oil wealth, the population suffered the misfortune of food insecurity as they can hardly afford the rising prices of imported foods. However, though at a subsistence level, a sizable ratio of the population in Nigerian is still employed in the agricultural sector.

Food security is a phenomenon which is multidimensional with economic, environmental and social aspects. Unfortunately, the greater share of the population of the undernourished is located in the developing countries. Although the total population of the food insuring people in Asia outweighs that of Africa, 18 out of 23 nations where undernourishment is prevalent are from Africa.

Food is no doubt, the most basic of all human survival needs. Although, so many efforts have been sunk in improving the quality as well as production of world food supplies, food insecurity remains prevalent, particularly in the global southern nations of Asia and Africa, and in Nigeria, malnutrition has resulted in death of many of its citizens. African Food Security Briefs (AFSB) estimated that approximately one out of every three persons in the sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished. Achieving a sustainable economic development in Nigeria and Africa at large will continue to be a mirage without well-nourished and healthy people.

In fact, failure to ensure food security has unavoidably resulted in many social problems including civil unrest and riots in many major cities of the world. Some economic experts, described food system and its governance as a process with complex web which many times overlapped or even contradicted with formal policies and regulations, and made even worse by the unwritten laws and practices which may not be susceptible to political subjugations. Food insecurity is therefore strongly linked with other global issues, such as population growth, surge in energy demand as well as completion for land and water and issues of climate change.

Though, Nigeria prides itself as the giant of Africa with its economy becoming the largest in 2014, the poverty rate in the country is alarming. Not less than 70% of the Nigerian population is surviving on less than $2 per day while food insecurity prevalence in the low income urban house-holds and rural areas respectively stands at 79% and 71%. Since the discovery of oil in Nigeria in the 1956, the agriculture sector became less important to the government as it cannot withstand the economic sagacity of the oil industry. Thus, Nigeria became heavily dependent on importation of food. The rural areas have become even more vulnerable to malnutrition, erratic supply of food items, unaffordable food costs, low quality foods and sometimes complete lack of food. This situation is more prevalent in many parts of the northern region of Nigeria.

Nigeria is blessed with a very diverse and rich vegetation capable of supporting large population of livestock and has estimated surface water volume of about 267.7 billion cubic meter and underground water of about 57.9 billion cubic meters. The ecological zones in Nigeria are also very diverse with the semi-arid Sudan (Sahel) zone, Guinea Savannah and Derived Savannah zone as well as Forest and Mangrove (high rainfall, moist sub-humid and very high humidity) zone. A few variations exist within each ecological zone. The ecology and trends in precipitation in a region determines what kind of farming system the people will practice, their food preference and how they make use of natural resources in their environment.

Agriculture, since independence, has been a major contributor to the Nigeria economy. The agriculture sector has been metamorphosed by commercial activities from small to medium and large-scale level of the market. The principal cash crops, include cocoa, oil palm and rubber while major staple foods are rice, cassava, yams, maize, taro, sorghum and millet. Production of timber and livestock rearing such as goats, sheep, cattle and poultry as well as artisanal fisheries are the common occupation.

Agriculture in Nigeria has remained the largest non-oil contributor to the national economy, accounting for 41.84% of the GDP in 2009 and employing almost 70% of the national work force. The farmers are mostly small-scale subsistence farmers totaling about 14 million with an average farm size of 1 hectare in the south and 3 hectares in the north of Nigeria. Despite the fact that the sector has been neglected by the Federal Government sequel to the discovery of commercial quantity of petroleum resource in 1956, the inevitability of agriculture to the Nigerian economy cannot be over emphasized.

Nigeria is grossly an agrarian state which is reflected in the fact that over 70% of her economically active population is employed in the agriculture sector. The difference lies in the kind of crop that cultivated in the various regions of the country depending on the soil characteristics and climatic conditions. However, due to the discovery of oil in most of the south-south region of the country, agricultural activities have been grossly limited resulting from the consequential industrialization and frequent oil spillage. Also, agricultural activities in the north are sometimes plagued by extreme weather conditions such as draught and flooding during the raining season. The south-west and south-east have over the years had a relatively balance conditions for agriculture but unfortunately, these two regions also have the highest level of education in the country and mostly seek for opportunities outside the agriculture sector.

Food insecurity is a multifaceted problem. It is quite an uphill task discussing the driving factors for food insecurity in Nigeria. Nigerians lack enthusiasm for local products and often consider them inferior to imported food products. The emergence of oil sector marked the imminent end of the agriculture sector as the huge revenue generated from the petroleum products shifted attention from agriculture. The government embarked on importation food and local production shrinked away, especially as wealth from oil has changed the status and tastes of many Nigeria in favor of foreign goods. This couple with socio-political instability which precluded the economic downturn, civil war, dwindling human resource base, gender inequality, education decadence, poor health facilities and the general loss of good governance have coexisted to further degenerate food accessibility. The following among others have however, been identified as the prime agents of food insecurity in Nigeria.

Modern agriculture has become so highly industrialized and dependent on energy. Mechanized farmers are very reliant on consistent power supply which has eluded us has become a mirage for successive government to achieve. Now, much of the agricultural products we consume are produced in farms located far away and processed other distant location before being imported via air, water or land.

The whole of these processes requires a lot of power and fuel to keep food price low and affordable for the common man. However, with escalating prices of petroleum products, there have been calls for diversification to increased energy efficiency. One key alternative is biofuel and other agriculture-based energy production. This alternative will create more completion for food item particularly in developing nation and depending on how the process is managed mat increase food insecurity.

Òrúnbon, a journalist, poet and public affairs analyst.

 

Can be reached via: orunbonibrahimademola@gmail.com or 08034493944 and 08029301122.

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