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Precarious Food Security in Nigeria: Can President Tinubu Change the Narrative? II—By Prof. MK Othman

My last week’s piece closed with a poser: Are the two Ministers of Agriculture and Food Security, Senators Kyari and Abdullahi, capable of breaking the jinx of poverty and hunger associated with Nigerians? Answering this question requires an in-depth analysis of Tinubu’s policy and direction toward achieving food security for Nigeria. 

Petroleum subsidy withdrawal skyrocketed the fuel price by 217% that caused an astronomical cost of living. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu declared a state of emergency on food security on July 14, 2023, to cushion the effects of the subsidy removal. As I wrote in this Column, the declaration of emergency is the best policy pronouncement of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT).

The declaration was a comprehensive intervention plan on food security, affordability, and sustainability, taking decisive action to tackle food inflation. The intervention plan stated twelve key actionable points. They include a directive for immediately releasing fertilizers and grains to farmers and households and creating a synergy between the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources for irrigation and all-year-round farming. 

Others are the creation of a National Commodity Board, maintenance of strategic food reserves, and increasing security measures for farms and farmers. Other measures were clearing 500,000 hectares of land for wet season farming and irrigation under river basin authorities and improving transportation and storage facilities for agricultural products. 

Financing agriculture through central bank intervention was also part of the strategy of achieving food security to ensure every Nigerian has access to affordable food. To implement these lofty programs, the Federal Government renamed the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. 

The Minister of Agriculture, Senator Kyari, elaborated on the government’s determination to achieve food security. At a press briefing, he said the presidential priorities were well aligned with the mandates and operations of the Ministry on Food Security, Economic Growth and Job Creation, Poverty Eradication and Inclusivity (Youths and Women), as well as the creation of an enabling environment for individuals, groups, and the private sector to participate in governance and economic activities. 

Furthermore, the Minister itemized immediate-, short–, medium–, and long-term strategies for driving the food security agenda. The immediate-term strategy includes aggressive promotion and preparation for dry season farming and implementation of the African Development Bank-funded National Agricultural Growth Scheme and Agro Pocket for massive production of 70,000 hectares of wheat and vigorous extension support for the production of maize, rice, horticultural crops, and pasture before the end of 2023.

The short-term strategy, implementation of 2023-2024 priority actions, includes massive investment in fodder and pasture production as an antidote to farmer-herder conflicts and establishing two national gene bank facilities to conserve fast-eroding genetic resources. Other key short-term strategy actions are developing and strengthening agricultural infrastructure and preparing for a joint action plan with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to unlock the vast irrigation potential of the River Basin Authorities. 

Emphatically, the Minister said, “There must be an urgent synergy between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Water Resources to ensure adequate irrigation of farmlands and to guarantee that food is produced all year round.”

The medium-term strategy (2024-2026) includes the development of a digital, mobile-based agro-industry system and e-extension platforms to support farmers in six geo-political regions across the nation and support livestock productivity with an annual growth rate of 10% to produce meat, dairy, eggs, fish, and other animal proteins, among others. 

Similarly, the strategy will cover the development of an intergovernmental partnership framework for implementing mutually beneficial agricultural projects between federal, state, and local governments. In CJ The long-term strategy (2024–2027) includes repositioning the Universities of Agriculture, Veterinary Medicines, and Faculties of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicines to play critical roles in the agricultural transformation by developing practical approaches for production and mechanization. 

Similarly, the strategy covers the review of existing curricula for all fields of agriculture in collaboration with relevant regulatory bodies and strengthening the Community of Practice (CoP) for knowledge exchange and sharing experiences to promote innovation and best practices. Again, the strategy covers establishing multipurpose input resources and communication centers (IRCC) across the country in phases, among other priority actions.

The Minister concluded by soliciting the massive support of Nigerians; he said, “We are set to change the narrative of our agriculture and food security sectors for the benefits of our renewed food security and welfare of Nigerian farmers.”

The rhetoric sounds déjà vu but with differences. First, the declaration of emergency is the best policy pronouncement of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT). BAT is the only President to have made such a declaration on food security, the most critical security for life. Death by hunger is more painful and horrific than death by a bullet because hunger causes days of anguish and suffering before the body succumbs to the final breath, whereas a bullet kills in seconds. 

As a result, a bullet may be a better method to end it all than hunger. Second, BAT assembled a fine team for driving the food security agenda – administrator cum legislator and veterinary doctor, scientist/technocrat cum legislator. These men, Senators Kyari and Abdullahi, are assiduously working to accomplish the food security agenda. What are their successes and challenges? 

The food security situation in Nigeria is a precarious ailment defying treatment but not a hopeless case. It requires persistent, diligent, and collective action to energize the food security program in the right direction. Although it is too early to objectively assess the success of the food security initiatives, the Minister’s immediate-term strategy has started in earnest with appreciable accounts. 

Feelers from the field indicate that the African Development Bank-funded National Agricultural Growth Scheme and Agro Pocket are recording tremendous progress. The wheat production initiative identified 107 irrigation clusters across 15 states. The initial target of 70,000 hectares for wheat production was increased to 123,000 hectares across the selected states. 

The wheat production season in Nigeria starts on November 15 of each year. Leveraging the use of ICT, wheat farmers were fully mobilized, and subsidized input supports were provided. So far, the implementation team has covered 118,670 ha with planting materials, making it a 96.5% achievement. This initial success has indeed hit the ground rolling for a massive wheat harvest early next year (2024) if the tempo can be sustained. 

At an average of 4.2 tons/ha, we expect to reap 498,414 metric tons of wheat at harvest from this program. Land preparation and planting operations were achieved but there are other critical operations before the harvest and post-harvest operations. The biggest challenge to realizing the expected bumper harvest is sustaining the rhythm of providing effective extension services in the next three months. 

Can effective extension services be provided? After the harvest, the prevention of post-harvest losses and wheat value-addition are complementary to making wheat and wheat products available to Nigerian consumers. What are the field challenges constraining the ongoing dry-season farming?

Three significant challenges were identified in many wheat-producing states. Insecurity or ineffective security service in many rural areas is hampering the smooth operation of the Agro-pocket program in spite of the security measures. Poor Internet and GSM services in many rural areas are another challenge to the program. 

Another challenge is some farmers’ financial capability to purchase the program’s subsidized input package. In addition to the field challenges, vital stakeholders are not actively involved in the program implementation. 

For example, institutions like NAERLS, with a nationwide structure and national mandates for extension research and services, are apparently missing in the program implementation. Why can the program adopt an improved version of the Research-Extension-Farmers-Input-Linkage-System (REFILS) in the implementation? By next four months, the program’s success will manifest, but much work needs to be done to make it Uhuru.

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