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Nigeria and the challenge to sustainable agriculture

VICTOR NZE

The world over, the issue of food waste remains a challenge confronting sustainable agriculture: As it is in the developed economies in parts of Western Europe, North America, the situation is similar in the developing economies like Nigeria, though the level here appears dire.
Recently, on the occasion of the World Food Day 2012, Mr. Achim Steiner, Executive Director, of the United Nations Economic Programme (UNEP) and Mr. Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), corroborated on the fact that the challenge of feeding more than nine billion people in the world by 2050, has further been compounded by problems of climate change and maintaining productive land and sufficient water resources.
“Well-managed, sustainable agriculture can not only overcome hunger and poverty, but can address other challenges from climate change to the loss of biodiversity. Its value and its contribution to multiple economic, environmental and societal goals needs to be recognized in the income and employment prospects for the half a million smallholdings across the globe,” Steiner said.
“Smallholders in developing countries, the majority of them women,  manage to feed 2 billion people, despite working on ecologically and climatically precarious land, with difficult or no access to infrastructure and institutional services, and often lacking land tenure rights that farmers in developed countries take for granted,” said Nwanze.
For the developed economies, the path to the solution may not be that hard, however, in relative comparison to countries like Nigeria, the situation if not tackled effectively could see the country staring grimly at mass poverty at the rate of the decline of the sector’s infrastructure that should ordinarily ensure increased food production and agricultural sustainability.
However, beyond the problems of climate change and dearth of infrastructure, attempts at food production in the country and on the sub-Saharan region, as a whole, are further hampered by security and poor funding in the sector. Thus, concerted efforts by farmers to improve production are continually nipped in the bud by these challenges.
While opening a high-level inter-ministerial meeting on regional food crises in Lome, last June, which was called at the instance of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Prime Minister of Togo, Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, appealed to his colleagues for urgent action to address the root causes of recurrent food and nutritional deficiencies in the Sahel and West Africa.
“The time has come to act, and to act in a concerted manner to deal with the real and root causes of food crises in our region. We must put in place sustainable mechanism including mobilization of coordinated financial solutions to ensure consistency and efficiency for the sustainable economic development of our region based on improved agricultural production.”
Houngbo rightly pointed out that while about 60 per cent of West Africa’s population are involved in agriculture, a sector that also accounts for 40 per cent of regional wealth, citizens in the region were yet to reap the benefits of the African Union’s 2003 Maputo Declaration requiring African countries to devote 10 per cent of national allocations to agriculture and food security.
For Nigeria, the quest for increased food production is toughly challenged by alarming shrinking rate of the Lake Chad in the north-east by nearly half its original size, the disappearance of the iconic groundnut pyramids and drought in the north central, desert encroachments in north east, the shrinking of the River Niger, soil erosion and government’s  indifference to the famed oil palm plantations in south east, in addition of the neglect and decline in funding for the prominent cocoa plantations of the south west, and the narrowing of the River Benue and flooding in the Middle Belt, with the tradition of subsistence farming as against mechanized farming running through all the regions of the country.
However, beyond all these problems, the issue of food waste registers as the one factor that could determine the fate of the country as the problem of food shortage stares the populace in the face.
Food waste is generally seen as a global problem manifesting in different in both developed and developing economies in various forms.
Even as experts posit that despite an apparent shortage in food production in Nigeria, occasioned by various natural and man-made factors, the country can still manage to feed its populace adequately and even with enough for the export market.
They are also quick to add that any attempt at increased food production and sustainability in agriculture must begin with a joint concerted effort by the government and the organized private sector at evolving an adequate and effective food storage, preservation and distribution mechanism for the country’s agriculture sector.
It should be noted that food waste in developed economies occurs at the consumption stages or levels usually in the form of  wastages in the home (people throwing away plate scrapings, discarding edible parts of food during preparation), or at the food service and distribution system for expired foods.
In the emerging economies like Nigeria, however, a much greater percent of the waste is in the food production, storage and distribution system stages like- foot rotting in storage, damaged in field, spoiling during transportation, contamination in processing, spillage in packaging, destructive quality testing and others.
While options such as review “sell-by date” science, incentivise food waste recycling, better education in schools about food protection and storage, setting waste reduction targets in public facilities, regulate retail promotions that encourage excess purchasing and consumption, and adopt public national targets on reducing food waste, may be considered expensive and time consuming for a developing like Nigeria to embark on, some however, suggest investing in new infrastructure and technology to minimise waste.
In Nigeria, many are of the opinion that government could start by urging the private sector to establish supermarkets especially close to farms or faring communities since it is assumed that the supermarkets as opposed to the open produce market, is better equipped with storage and preservation facilities like cold rooms.
“I think if we really want to improve on storage of agricultural produce so as to increase food production and sustain the agricultural sector, the government should take the message to the streets, to various groups and even non-governmental organizations so as to force the various tiers of government to do something. I don’t think it is as expensive as it looks, besides it will be effective,” said Dr. Francis Ayila, a lecturer at Kogi State University.
It is also believed that in Nigeria, for instance, the issue of food waste is more outside the home than inside it and infrastructure has been a rather neglected issue in the development/MDG discourse, as such the various tiers of government should strive to encourage the active participation of operators of the upscale produce markets across the country and less so to regulate them.

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