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High population not barrier to food sufficiency

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ONE major issue confronting the country in recent time is hunger threat. Many a Nigerian today cannot be sure of two square meals a day to contemplate three as required by nature and endorsed by health experts. A healthy nation according to popular saying ‘is a wealthy nation, implying that a hungry nation is unlikely to present a strong force economically or politically.

In time past, Nigeria had been noted for her rich agricultural products. The vast fertile landscape, the good seasons of rainfall and sunshine (dry) all combine to give her vegetation big boost at all times. The country was never at any point in short supply of what her population consumes. Nigerian cocoa ranked one of the most sought after in the world then, making foreign countries to seek Nigeria’s hands in cocoa marketing. The rubber plantation was so robust that it could drive the economy if the product was the central focus of the country’s economic policy.  All year round, the quantity of yams produced, even though subsistently, is so enormous that it cannot be finished by the population alone in a single season. Plantain plantations were virtually everywhere within the Savannah belt. Cassava was one product that seemed to force its way into dominance amongst many cash crops in the country’s agro field. Farmers churned out good yields with minimal labour and cost while it (cassava) provided enough feeding options from its bye products. Rice was equally a staple food that Nigerians never had any short fall of its supply in her markets. With as low as N20, a family of seven will have sufficient meals for both lunch and super. Groundnut product rose to pyramidal height in Kano, Nigeria, such that it became historical record. Beans was also bountiful that no time in history then could it be said to be unaffordable. The millet, maize and other cereals were in abundant supplies. Potatoes and cocoyams were extraneous and not considered main family food staple. In fact, it was only resorted to in urgency.

This was the situation during the first decade of her evolution as sovereign nation. Today’s Nigeria has more different story than could be envisaged by anyone some four decades ago.

With the discovery of crude oil in 1970s, agriculture that provided the strong pillar for the country’s economic growth was relegated to the background. Focus completely shifted from agric to oil such that today, 98 per cent of Nigeria’s total foreign earning is from crude oil.

Shockingly, four decades into the oil economy regime, hunger and starvation hit the country. The development was never spontaneous but steadily prevailed due largely to negligence of necessary actions. The first sign of what was to come made its appearance in 1984.  Government had to evolve a policy they felt would curtail the phenomenon and called it austerity measure. From that time, the centre never held again in the country’s agricultural programmes. Policies after policies came but agricultural revival continued its infamous downward slide. The structures that could hold agro revolution suffered dearth as a result of over concentration on oil and its derivatives.

Surprisingly, while agricultural production was on the sharp decline, population was hitting new highs. In 2006 census, Nigerian population was put at 140 million according to Nigerian Population Commission’s record. 13 years after, the country’s population is hitting over 200 million.

Ordinarily, it would be argued that the population is emasculating any success in the agro sector. The reality is that the bearing of the population has no connection with the agricultural policies of the government.

If things are put in the right context and right approach adopted, the growing population rather than plummet the agro strength should re-enforce it for greater productivity. China has proven this with her high population figure and enough food to match the population and extra for export.

While Nigeria’s population stood at 45.2 million people in the 1960s; agricultural output of 67 percent to GDP serviced the population. As at 2018, total agricultural output stood at 3833624 million to service a population of 200 million.

The issue here is, what percentage of the 200 million people are involved in agricultural practice? Other questions that agitate the mind are, how are the productive class motivated to engage in agro investments. If half of the real production population engages in agricultural practice, no doubt, there would be much difference in output. Then, why are significant number of the productive class not engaging in agro investments?

Going by the rising cost in prices of food items and other agro commodities in the country’s local markets, it goes without saying that to save Nigeria from total collapse, her agricultural policies need serious rethinking. While efforts are made to bring inflation to single digit, scarcity of commodity definitely would not allow that. Suffice it to say that if agro products supply continues to fall short of demand, their prices would definitely not be within fair region.

Why would demand surpass supply in this chain when the supposed working population has the capacity to flood the market with products? Then, the answer comes back to the obvious belief, ” not much of the expected working population engages in the task.” This has elevated demand above supply, thereby triggering price push-ups as could be argued by economists.

Apparently, if China had been able to engage her population in agricultural practice strong enough to provide adequate feed for her populace, then Nigeria is not utilising her population strength in solving her food sufficiency challenges. This by extension indicts both government and citizens on their approach towards promoting food availability and sustainance all through the year.

If every family has a product to float, the result is that the GDP has input of 200 million people. Who will argue that the result will be monumental, except if some lapses are allowed in the process?

The primary obligation of any responsible government is security of lives and property of her citizens. The security needs of the citizens would not take priority position if there is no live in the citizens to protect. In this wise, the tenets that promote better life should be strengthened. Hunger in the land is a serious menace to national growth. To ward off this threat, the nation’s agro policy needs total overhauling.

Does Nigeria need to import rice from Thailand, China or India? With the available fertile land at her disposal, the answer is emphatic no! If research and development arm of the agric ministry is alive to its responsibility, the quality and quantity of rice production in the country would have gone very high to ground her foreign competitors in the arena.

In pushing for a competitive edge over its rivals in the rice world, it would be curious to see Nigerian made rice nearly the same price with their foreign counterpart in the local market. What then motivates the patronage if quality is not in the best and price is nothing worth considering?

According to a public affairs analyst, Benjamin Chukwuka, “Federal government should do something urgent to address the growing hunger in the country presently. If nobody is telling them of the present situation, then the retinue of Aids paid with the people’s tax is a waste. Nigeria should engage more on developing the agric sector and do away with all lip service. There must be a measurable engagement in the sector and no more appropriation of bloc fund to the ministry without anything to show for it at the end of the year. If you go about announcing that Nigeria is producing trillion tons of rice yet, there is no much rice in the market to feed the hungry mouths in the polity, what have you achieved?

Agric loans should be accessible to small and big farmers. Institutions should incorporate practical agric programmes compulsorily. With this, government can empower them and get tax from them easily.”

Without equivocation, Nigeria is facing an unfancied period in her history; more pathetic, a situation they ought not to experience if things were put in their proper places. It is not late however, to begin a reparation if only to get it right for once.

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