State of Emergency: Agricultural Potential, Challenges, and Way Forward, by Prof. MK Othman
Two weeks ago, the Federal Government of Nigeria declared a state of emergency on food security. The declaration of emergency is the best policy pronouncement of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) since the assumption into office about two months ago. If this declaration was done with a similar pronouncement of emergency on education and security before the withdrawal of fuel subsidy, it would have set the ball rolling at an exponential speed. It would have been an excellent starting and hopes would have been rekindled, desperation would have been dampened.
Nevertheless, we must commend the responsiveness and sensitivity of BAT to the yearning of Nigerians. So far, BAT is the only President who has made such a pronouncement on food security, which is the most essential security to life. Death by hunger is more devastating and traumatic than death by a bullet as hunger takes days of pain and suffering before the body succumbs to the final breath while a bullet takes life in a matter of seconds. Thus, a bullet may be a preferable way to end it all than hunger. We must remember, food insecurity is the mastermind of all other insecurities; banditry, corruption, insurgence, kidnapping, and robbery.
What does a state of emergency on food security entail? An emergency is a situation that requires immediate action or attention to avert a calamitous event from happening. It requires people to be on their feet or all hands be on deck to prevent the premonished disaster. The state of emergency empowers Mr. President with the liberty to take serious measures against the food insecurity situation without the usual long bureaucratic process.
Thus, a declaration of a state of emergency provides the government with the powers necessary to coordinate and implement plans aimed at protecting people and property during a disaster. So, the declaration is a welcome policy statement, which should be followed by immediate coordinated action against the ravaging hunger on the land. People are hungry and may soon be angry. How hungry are Nigerians?
In the 2022 Global Hunger Index, Nigeria ranked 103rd out of 121 countries and scored 27.3 index, which is a level of “serious hunger”.
World Food Program (WFP) survey in November 2022 for 26 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) indicated 34 percent of the population in “stressed food security situations”. This year, the inflation rate for food prices rose to 22.79 percent in June 2023 from 22.41 percent in the previous month with an increase of 0.38 percent. With these skyrocketing prices of food items, many Nigerians could not afford to have meals on their tables, and thus, are forced to go to bed with empty stomachs. Should Nigerians be hungry? No.
Potentially, Nigeria has enormous and unquantifiable agricultural resources to feed the whole of the African continent and even export to other continents. The country is endowed with labor, land, and water which are the topmost resources required for the development of agriculture.
Nigeria has a huge population of about 220 million people with over 75% of the population under the age of 35. This segment of the population is energetic, productive, young people who need access to education, skills, social protection, affordable housing, medical care, and appropriate technology to be highly vibrant and productive for economic growth. These people can triple agricultural productivity over a short period.
Nigeria has 91 million hectares of arable land, with merely 50% utilization despite the quantum of water resources, soil fertility, favorable topography, and climates. The land is capable of producing over 100 agricultural commodities all year round under rain-fed and irrigation.
The country is blessed with huge unquantifiable surface and groundwater resources. It has 12 million cubic meters of freshwater resources, 960 kilometers of rich coastline, and huge terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. Additionally, Nigeria has seven distinct climate zones, which provide average annual rainfall ranging from 600 mm in the far north (Sahel savannah) to 4,000 mm in riverine and mountainous areas in the south. River Niger passes through some countries and drains an average discharge of 5,589 m3/s into the Atlantic Ocean through Nigeria. River Niger with a length of 4,180 Km and drainage basin area of 2.1 million Km2 is the third largest river in Africa and has six major perennial rivers as tributaries crisscrossing the length and breadth of Nigeria. This has made Nigeria the most endowed country with unlimited water resources available for agricultural development. With all these natural resources, why is Nigeria unable to feed itself?
There are a few major reasons why Nigerians have failed to unlock the nation’s agricultural potential and produce adequate food to meet the nation’s food and nutritional requirements. First, there is gross negligence of the agricultural sector by the government. Nigeria’s leadership pays appalling lip service to the agricultural sector at different levels of governance from local government to federal. Over the years, Agriculture receives low investment from both State and Federal Governments. For example, Federal Government made a budgetary allocation of between 1.3% and 3.4% to Agriculture in the annual budget from the year, 2000 to 2007. In the year 2017, the combined expenditure of the federal and 30 state governments showed they spent only 1 .8 percent of their total annual budget on agriculture. The situation has worsened as indicated in recent years. In the 2021 budget, Federal Government allocated a mere 1.73% of its annual budget to Agriculture.
In the same year, other states like Oyo, Kwara, Borno, and Abia allocated 3.6%, 3.0%, 4.64%, and 1.49% of their annual budgets, respectively. It was only Kano state that allocated 5%, which was the highest allocation by a state. This year, in 2023, the federal government allocated N228.4 billion to agriculture, which was a mere 1.05 percent of the total budget of N21.83 trillion approved for the year.
This was against the background of the previous’s administration claim of working towards attaining food security, which was sheer rhetoric, akin to an empty vessel making the loudest noise.
The poor budgetary allocation to Nigeria’s agriculture cannot at the barest minimum address issues relating to mechanization, rehabilitation of irrigation facilities and dams, storage, and research and development among others that have continued to impact farmers’ productivity negatively.
These allocations are less than 10% allocation of the annual budget as promised by Heads of government of the African Union tagged “2003 Maputo declaration and 2014 Malabo resolution”.
The low investment in agriculture is a clear indication of the lack of commitment and low level of seriousness of the country’s leadership to develop agriculture. In addition to this flagrant negligence by the nation’s leadership, there are varieties of challenges militating against the development of Agriculture in Nigeria. What are these challenges and the way forward? To be continued next week.