Banishing Hunger From Our Land By Adewale Kupoluyi
I find a discourse involving the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief (Dr.) AuduOgbeh, which suggests that hunger may soon be a thing of the past in the country, if concerted efforts are made towards according agriculture its pride of place in the scheme of things, interesting to share. Delivering the just-concluded 23rd, 24th and 25th combined convocation ceremonies’ Lecture titled, “Food and the Future”, at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State, the minister had stated that the significance of food security to the continued well-being of the human society. He described the stomach most powerful ‘legislative house’ in the world.
The lecturer stated that Blacks did not have the capacity for long term planning, adding that if the nation had good plans, it would not have experienced an economic recession. Chief Ogbeh, who noted why Africa was having food problems with over 400 million hectares of uncultivated land, said that China has 27 per cent of world’s population and succeeded in feeding 1.4 billion people. He further stated that India had a population of 1.2 billion people, noting that India exports rice, sugar and milk, among others to Nigeria.
Chief Ogbeh further stressed that the importation of these commodities from various countries was synonymous with importing unemployment and poverty into Nigeria. The lecturer, who was a Minister of Communications during the Second Republic, also described food as basic to human existence, irrespective of social or educational status, religious persuasions, race or gender, noting that survival was impossible without food. He said that in spite of the fact that all human societies had been divinely endowed with the ability to produce all the varieties of food required for human sustenance, saying hunger was still a recurring and growing decimal.
Commenting on the population growth of Nigeria, he said that by 2050, the country’s population would reach 450 million at the rate of 3.2 per cent. According to him, the world’s population would get to nine billion. He then asked: who would feed the 450 million people in Nigeria by then as the oil and gas would be no more? Highlighting the processes that the nation should take in the aspect of tackling food security and banishing hunger, Dr. Ogheh stated that the first major step was the “Promotion of a culture of eating what we grow and growing what we eat”, noting that nature, in its wisdom, had ensured that the best foods for one’s daily needs were clearly within everyone’s reach and in their respective communities along all agricultural belts in Nigeria.
He further stated that the second major step was having a new policy direction for the agricultural sector, as outlined in the Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) of 2016 and 2020, also known as the Green Alternative, saying that through the instrumentality of this policy document, the Ministry had consolidated on the successes of the agricultural programmes of past administrations in Nigeria without necessarily embarking on policy somersaults or reversals.
Reeling out the roles of the Universities of Agriculture in tackling the challenge, he said that the universities should be the Ministry’s most important partner in the agricultural sector. “The agricultural sector cannot thrive without knowledge. Therefore, specialised Universities of Agriculture were specifically established as the knowledge centres of this sector. Until the recent policy change, however, the institutional structure and functions of the UAs show a marked departure from both the norm in implementing the concept of UAs in other parts of the world, and also from the provisions of the extant law”, he added.
In conclusion, the minister expressed his optimism that there was a bright future for the agricultural sector in the country. “I see us achieving national food sufficiency in record time. I see us eating in the right quantity and in the right mix. I see us producing food for export, and increasingly meeting the food requirements of other parts of the world, especially the west, central, eastern and northern sub-region of Africa, and the European Union in the years ahead. I see our food industries flourishing and supporting us in wealth creation and employment generation. I even see our animals eating well and supplying us the nutrients that our bodies need for healthy living”, he added.
The Convocation Lecturer, an Order of the Federal Republic national honours awardee, further stated that “I see the next generation of billionaires in Nigeria, emerging from the agricultural sector … I see agriculture replacing oil as the mainstay of our national economy. I see a Nigeria with zero tolerance for food importation, imbued with a national pride of growing and eating what is produced locally. I see a Nigeria where our huge population in 2010, as the third most populous nation in the world, becomes a source of our strength. That is, however, if we all walk the talk. It is a collective decision”.
Chief Ogbeh, however, recommended that “The vast portions of arable land left to fallow for too long should now be harnessed for agricultural production, either singly or in collaboration with willing investors and other stakeholders”. Referring to what Hippocrates said in 390 BC that; “Let your food be your medicine and let your medicine be your food”, the Convocation Lecturer said that such statement was still valid today, noting that no one had a choice but to pay attention to this words of wisdom, in order to drastically reduce the national health bill, arising from poor nutritional habits and raise the bar of the low life expectancy rate in the country. He, however, admonished youths and young people to take agriculture seriously by engaging fully in it so as take charge of the destiny of Nigeria.
Also stressing the place of agriculture, the Governor of Ogun State, Senator IbikunleAmosun, who chaired the lecture, stated that now that the oil had failed the nation. Amosun, who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government, noted that Nigerians should harness the opportunities inherent in agriculture and agribusiness for the nation to properly diversify. Beyond what the speakers have said, I think the government also needs to empower more Nigerians to go into commercial farming through easy access to land, cheap and accessible credit sources as well as providing necessary infrastructural facilities, among others. By that, the drive towards sending hunger away from the country would become a reality.