Experts in agriculture have decried the poor budgetary allocation and attention paid to agriculture and food production. But the Federal Government says it is targeting self-sufficiency in food production and zero hunger by the year 2022.
The experts were speaking as panellists at a two-day summit organised by the Human and Environmental Development Agenda on Tuesday. It was tagged ‘Feeding Futures Africa in Lagos’.
Speaking on the topic, ‘Citizenship and Food: Everybody Deserves Three-Square Meals’, the panellists noted the amount of lip-service paid to food security over the years and said that it was time the country changed its attitude.
The Head, Influencing and Public Engagement, OXFAM, Dr Saratu Abiola, noted that on the surface, there seemed to be a lot of focus and noise about agriculture but when one looks at the numbers, “they do not tally with all the enthusiasm.”
She observed, for instance, that only three per cent of Nigeria’s budget was dedicated to agriculture whereas the Malabor Treaty, which Nigeria is a signatory to, stipulated 10 per cent.
She said, “Looking closely at the budget, only one per cent is for irrigation and it is said that in Nigeria, there is one extension worker to 10,000 farmers.
“Two per cent of the agriculture budget is dedicated to extension workers, two per cent to access to quality seeds and inputs, while a whopping 35 per cent is dedicated to payment of salaries.
“What this means is that the thing that makes agriculture work for the smallholder farmers who constitute 80 per cent of the sector, is not getting the attention it needs. We are not acting like agriculture is important and there is no improvement in the quality of agriculture.”
Abiola, who is a developmental professional, also said, “When we talk of the right to food, we are talking of our people preparing for shocks that would come from natural disasters and climate change. Things like irrigation and infrastructure have to be put in place to guarantee this.”
She maintained that government was aware of the challenge of food security in the country, adding that lack of proper monitoring had created room for poor implementation of the policies, diversion of the funds meant to develop agriculture and other anomalies identified in the sector.
She said, “I think the government knows for instance that the extension services are inadequate. It is not about individuals, it is about making the system work.
“The fact that 0.7 per cent of the agriculture budget is dedicated to monitoring and evaluation of policy implementation says a lot about the level of seriousness attached to the success of agriculture.”
Another panelist and the President, Farm and Infrastructure Foundation, Prof Gbolagade Ayoola, who examined the nexus between citizenship and food, maintained that the government had to recognise that the right to food was a fundamental human right of every citizen.
He said that because governments in Nigeria only saw food as human need or as something provided to favour the citizens, saying, “They failed to respect the right of citizens by putting in place policies that promote food security.”
Ayoola pointed out that in advanced nations; the situation was different.
“Civilised nations have elevated food from a mere human need to fundamental human right. In advanced countries, governments recognise that a child is entitled to be well fed and that it is mandatory for the government to ensure that it is done,” he added.
Also speaking, the Managing Director, Prudent Farms, Kafilat Adedeji, observed that outside Nigeria, food was the cheapest thing in the commodities market.
She said the reason why Nigerian households spend over 80 per cent of their earnings on food was because of the lack of attention paid by Nigeria to food security and the changing trend in food production all over the world.
She added that while advanced nations had gone far in applying technology to food production, Nigerians were still relying on manual system of agriculture.
She said that with the trend in the country, it was likely that food imports would continue.
She advised Nigerians to start feeding themselves instead of waiting for the government, saying, “Every family should take the initiative of feeding itself. We must not wait for the government. Let us try to feed ourselves in the little way we can.”
The Executive Secretary, HEDA Resource Centre, Mr Sulaimon Arigbabu, said that the summit was organised in collaboration with the National Orientation Agency, Voices for Food Security, OXFAM and other stakeholders to inspire, facilitate, enable and support 500 young agriculture entrepreneurs to join the agriculture revolution.
He noted that young people and women had started to take advantage of opportunities in the agriculture space with results.
He said, “This is even more instructive in view of this year’s theme of the International Youths Day, which is ‘Safe Spaces for Youth’. Agriculture definitely provides safe spaces for young people to make impact and create wealth.
“We must quickly grow this tribe of African warriors who will help to kick hunger, diseases, poverty and conflict out of Africa for good.”
The two-day summit featured discussions on policy bottlenecks that hinder the full participation of women and young people in agriculture and agribusiness, climate change and challenges, ease of doing business for those who seek to add value, and the right to food.
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