World Food Day in Nigeria and message of agric cooperatives
By Tukeni Obasi
The World Food Day tradition dates back to the 1979 Conference of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). It was instituted with the aim of raising global awareness of the twin problems of hunger and malnutrition and ultimately addressing poverty and its implications for the survival of human beings, and October 16 (the date of FAO’s inception in 1945) was chosen.
This year’s theme, “Agricultural Cooperative: Key to Feeding the World”, was one that particularly resonated with many Nigerians in the agricultural space. According to UN statistics, one in eight people go to bed hungry every night. In Nigeria, this is no shocker. The global financial crisis of 2008/2009 and the subsequent food crisis across the continent adversely affected the agricultural market economy. Concerns of an impending famine and heightened food insecurity – due to rising food shortage, and exacerbated by the destruction of farmlands through floods and Nigeria’s well-known atrocious importation habits – have been raised. A question that has followed in the wake of this is how to most efficiently allocate and exploit resources to improve the current reality. Put differently, how can our individual, communal, and national priorities be reordered to make sure that no Nigerian ever has to go to bed hungry?
The 2012 World Food Day’s answer to this conundrum is agricultural cooperatives which, by their very nature, help individuals to mitigate the effects of market fluctuations, vagaries of weather, and infrastructural, personal and policy constraints, by improving their access to resources or inputs. In a message sent to the nation on the occasion of World Food Day, the governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, stated: “Using cooperative organisations as the platform for organising farmers towards their empowerment, providing high-yielding improved seedlings, and creating larger marketing opportunities will further enhance the capacities of the farmers to produce more.”
Speaking during the World Food Day celebration at the Agric Show Ground on the Abuja-Keffi Road, Olajumoke Akinjide, minister of state for the Federal Capital Territory, explained that the better route to economic empowerment of smallholder farmers and their evolution to established commercial entrepreneurs was through cooperative group action – as opposed to individual-target approaches. To this end, she noted that her ministry had provided 80 tractors and farm implements to farmer groups and individual corporate farms as part of the Farmer Technology Empowerment Programme. She also noted that under the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) Programme, the ministry delivered 4,000 metric tons of assorted farm inputs to 37,038 farmers.
The ministry, she added, was “collaborating with Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development on other initiatives under the Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA), including Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agriculture Lending (NIRSAL) and the development of commodities value chains that are geared towards ensuring sustainable commercial food production.”
Addressing concerns about the impact of the floods on the lives of farmers, Akin Adesina, minister of agriculture and rural development, allayed fears of a resultant food crisis. “The flood was a wakeup call,” he said. “With changing weather patterns, we must now develop policies for protecting farmers from the impacts of climate change.” He confirmed that, to this end, the Federal Government has already put in place a Flood Recovery Food Production Plan in support of the farmers affected by the floods which comprised emergency relief, food and shelter for displaced population as well as a flood recession food production intervention, which will enable farmers get back on their feet as the flood recedes.
But public servants have not been the only actors on the scene. In nearby Lokoja, the Rural Wealth Foundation organised a tree-planting exercise. As part of this exercise, Ufana Husseini, a former scribe of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), led students of the Baptist High School in Lokoja to plant trees, highlighting the need for youth involvement in the effort to combat climate change and desert encroachment. Speaking to the demographic structure of the agricultural sector and its current limitations, the vice principal of the school, Samuel Olowolosu, encouraged the youths present to embrace farming as a career as their contributions were much needed to move the sector forward. A spokesman for the students, Alfred Temitope, an SS1 student, assured that they would assume responsibility for nurturing the trees to maturity as part of the effort to balance the ecosystem.
Further west of the country, students of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, including the fellows at the Harambe Incubator for Sustainable and Rural Development (HISARD) as well as the dean and other members of the Faculty of Agriculture, the special adviser to the governor of Osun State, and some agricultural entrepreneurs in the state were simultaneously convening on the OAU campus to celebrate the successes of student farmers in improving the livelihoods of rural farming communities and discuss the way forward in the journey for food security, availability and affordability.
These acts by the Nigerian government and civil society signify the need for a collaborative effort on various fronts cutting across age groups, political persuasions and vantage points, value chain locations, and professional status. By collaborating in this way on a very fundamental level – bouncing off ideas, lending expertise where needed, providing mentorship and resources, volunteering time and labour, creating farmer-friendly policies – the message of agricultural cooperatives becomes credible. And, by replicating this principle of collaboration at the grassroots, their potential for agricultural transformation can be largely realised.
This article was originally published in Business Day