Against the backdrop of projections that hunger and poverty are likely going to increase among African countries unless urgent steps are taken, NGOZI NWANKWO says that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari faces a onerous task of coming up with relevant agricultural policies and programmes as a decisive response to the looming problem
The Nigerian economy is not particularly impressive at the moment. The new government of President Muhammadu Buhari is trying to cut down government expenses and general high cost of governance in the country. There is also a backlog of salaries and debt overhang weighing down most states of the federation. Yet, the issue of food and hunger should be number one priority for a nation of 170 million people. Can the present administration tackle these problems?
Over the years, Africa has been facing the threat of deadly twins of poverty and hunger despite the intensive poverty and hunger eradication programme put in place and successive aids from the developed countries. In a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the organisation estimated that 239 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were hungry/undernourished in 2010 (it’s most recent estimate); 925 million people were hungry worldwide.
Africa was the continent with the second largest number of hungry people. Nigeria has alarming figure due to its much larger population. Sub-Saharan Africa actually had the largest proportion of its population undernourished an estimated 30 percent in 2010.
In United Nations reports of 2012, 47 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lived on $ 1.25 a day or less in 2008. In a recent world business report on CNN, Africa is rated among the seven poor countries with low business thrive.
Many observe that African countries are not configured for development; they are rather configured for political and economic struggle. There is hardly room for any economic development in terms of improved technology that would make everybody in the country better off instead of concentrating monies in a very few hands of these politicians. Nigeria not excluded in the picture.
Africa has been wallowing in a cage of vicious circle of poverty, which is the emblem of hunger. A lot of people in Africa do not have sufficient income to cater for their meal while millions are malnourished as they cannot afford a balanced healthy food or three square meals per day.
No doubt, environment is the major contributing factor to hunger crisis in Africa. The continent faces serious environmental challenges, including erosion, desertification, deforestation, and most importantly drought and water shortages, which have increased poverty and hunger by reducing agricultural production and people’s income.
Many of these challenges are caused by humans; the environment can be said to be overexploited. Deforestation, for example, has been caused by humans seeking new places to live, farm, or obtain firewood. Drought, water shortage and desertification in Africa have been caused to some extent by global warming, which has mostly been caused by the effects of human energy use outside of Africa.
Nigeria’s problem is probably made worse since the emergence of insurgency and terrorism. This is coupled with over reliance in other developed countries for food consumption by her 170 million population. Nigeria has been a dumping ground for rice, maize and the likes in recent times.
Nigeria is indeed facing serious poverty and hunger despite her vast resources. Recent statistics revealed that poverty and hunger are increasing on a daily basis despite successive governments and non–governmental organizations alleviation programmes. Apart from terrorism, Nigeria is still neck deep into man-induced natural disasters such as flooding in South West, drought in South North, erosion in the South East, burning of bush, soil pollution.
According to experts, soil or land pollution is one of the ugly situations that lead to hunger or food crisis in any nation. They opine that when a land is polluted, the soil is contaminated and that will prevent the natural growth and balance in the land whether it is used for cultivation, habitation, or wildlife preserve.
Some soil pollution such as the creation of landfills is deliberate, while much more is accidental and can have widespread effects. It is most unfortunate that despite the efforts of the environmental board to see that the environment is free from land contamination, there still some industrial activities that are not in conformity with the said efforts.
Report has it that the heavy use of inorganic pesticides and household dumping have led to poor growth and reduced crop yields, loss of wildlife habitat, water and visual pollution, soil erosion, and desertification.
It is regrettable, that since 2011 government from all levels has hugely spent money to flood victims and this money would have channeled to more serious economic activities that would facilitate growth and development in the country.
Flood disaster is also a big problem to food production. It pushes many people into the twin menace of poverty and hunger as many have been displaced, houses and property destroyed, and many farm produces abruptly washed away from farms leading to economic hardship.
Stakeholders are wondering whether the federal government and agencies saddled with the responsibility of ensuring protection and management of the environment are doing to mitigate the harmful effect of flooding, drought, erosion and other environmental challenges and to end food insecurity in the country.
There are suggestions that to combat these environmental challenges, there is a need for construction of more dams in the northern parts where there is drought so that people from the region could stick to irrigation farming for survival.
It could be recalled that dam was first considered after the 1972-1974 drought in the Sahel and during the Shehu Shagari regime in 1979-1982. A contract was awarded to Julius Berger Nigeria to build the dam. In 1984 the contract was terminated, but it was reinstated in 1992 by the Ibrahim Babangida regime.
In 1994 the Sani Abacha regime terminated the contract again and set up a judicial committee of inquiry into all aspects of the project. While in 2002, funding was allocated for the project, but then suddenly withdrawn.
In 2008, there were reports that the former Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State awarded a contract to the Dangote Group to restart the abandoned dam project, a move that was supported by Abdul Ahmed Ningi, the then House Leader in the National Assembly when the project was cancelled in 2002.
It was learnt that supporters of the dam in Bauchi State include the benefits of irrigation for agriculture in the area to include sugar cane and crops production. Meanwhile opponents in downstream Yobe State and Borno State argue that the dam will prevent the seasonal floods that their farmers depend upon for farming, and will cause the water table to drop, with much water being lost to evaporation.
But the dam project was abandoned due to the complaint of the floodplain farmers and fishermen who use water efficiently more than those who rely on irrigation. The dam in the Tiga and Challawa dams on the Hadejia River had reduced downstream water flow.
For Nigerian government to rise up to the occasion as a leading country in solving hunger crisis and poverty, it must lunch a programme geared towards promoting food security.