That food is a basic necessity of life has never been in doubt. From time immemorial man and even lower animals recognizes the fact that nobody can do without food.
But somehow before the discovery of oil in Oloibiri in 1956 in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, food and how to sustain its production through agriculture was by far the major priority of many Nigerians.
That crave suddenly vanished in the 1970s when Nigeria began to experience oil boom, so much so that former Head of State, Gen Yakubu Gowon stated that “Money was Not Nigeria’s Problem, But How to Spend it”. Dynamism in the world today has since changed that scenario prompting present crop of leaders to have a rethink about agriculture and its value chains.
In America for instance, only 20 percent of the population produce food that feeds largely 80 percent of the population. They have so mastered the act of farming that they export to other countries and earn foreign exchange in return.
This new reality of placing food on the table before chasing oil wealth may have informed the recent inauguration of a National Food Security Council by President Muhammadu Buhari.
In setting up this council, which he has graciously offered himself to serve as chairman, Buhari believes that with the aid of his council members they could among others things, explore and nip in the bud, issues capable of creating food shortage and crisis in the country.
Apart from arresting hunger, they would have to continuously assess existing food security policies, trade and national planning programmes “thereby guaranteeing that food is readily available to all Nigerians.”
But why would Buhari be so interested in “food” at this auspicious time of our nationhood, some pundits may wonder.
Recall that upon assumption of duty as Nigeria’s President in 2015, Buhari left no one in doubt that the glorious days of oil was gone for good.
He had followed his penchant for food availability by encouraging Nigerians to go back to farming as a means of escaping the misery which oil had brought unto the people.
Three years down the line, that push to embrace farming may have paid off, when we take a cursory look at the agricultural sector.
Plans to consolidate these achievements, may have informed his new food policy.
For instance, local rice production in Nigeria now averages 15 million metric tonnes annually, saving the country about N300 billion initially used on importation of the commodity annually.
These were largely possible through the anchor borrowers scheme of the federal government and other empowerment programmes.
In Kano state alone, 1.2 million metric tonnes of rice was produced in 2016, although there has been a significant increase in local rice productions including efforts to make the local variety qualitative and more attractive to Nigerians, the country is projecting to begin exporting rice to West African countries by 2018-2019.
For crops like wheat, corn and sorghum current production capacity is put at about 16.3 million tons.
Only recently, the Nigerian government explored the possibility of exporting yams to some countries in Europe, although the process was marred by some unforeseen circumstances, commendations also came the way of the government for making an attempt to exploit the foreign market.
In the course of chairing this special council on food security, one would expect the council to look at the prospects of developing new programmes and projects that will protect and indeed, create more jobs in farming, fisheries, animal husbandry and forestry.
If the targets are to be achieved before the first tenure of the President elapses, issues of how capacity can be bolstered to make the desired impact on food production vis a vis the population growth, urbanisation, industrialisation, rural infrastructure development and climate changes cannot be over emphasized.
For meaningful impact to be made also, investment in research and development, especially local programmes, including exposing policies to protect Nigeria against dumping of foreign finished goods would also be a sine qua non to the success of this committee.
Above all, now that the 2019 general elections are looking up, who knows if this might serve as a bait to woo Nigerians, most of whom are lovers of food.