FEATURE ARTICLE

Thursday, March 11, 2021
uokwukwu@yahoo.com

NDIGBO: THE LOOMING FOOD CRISIS

Introduction

urprise is the true test for a man who planned well. Circumstances beyond our control imposed unforeseen pitfalls and we found ourselves wanting in food security. Three global and local events exposed the vulnerability of the South East and South South geo-political zones, our case study, to famine.

One, the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown exposed our failure to invest in agriculture. We suddenly discovered there were no tomatoes in the market because none was farming. We also had no onions, yam, garlic and meat. The cat fish consumed in Port Harcourt were farmed in the South West and ferried in every morning. With interstate lockdown the fish could not be brought in.

Had the lockdown continued at a wider scale we would have witnessed diseases associated with malnutrition. Our population would have reduced, especially among our children and the aged. The lesson accruing from the pandemic is that we never planned to feed ourselves without the intervention of others.

Two, the relentless attacks on farmers, particularly what I call the November 2020 Holocaust when 45 farmers where murdered by Boko Haram terrorists in Maiduguri, brought us face to face with the grave challenge of food security. Our natural source of food was threatened exposing the weakness of some 60 million Nigerians living here to feed themselves.

And three, the northern Comrade Muhamad Tahir-led Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria instituted internal blockade against the South West when it stopped food and cattle from reaching the zone. The union wanted the Federal Government to pay its members N4. 75 billion as compensation for losses suffered during the #EndSARS protests and Shasha Market fracas. Acute meat shortage was experienced in the entire south while the blockade lasted. It was a bitter lesson for the agriculture-prone South West and nightmare for agriculture-resistant South East and South South.

Suppose our food baskets of the north and South West, knowing how hungry we are, decide to jointly manipulate the 2023 elections by creating artificial food scarcity through blockade? People will exchange their Permanent Voters' Cards, PVCs, for food. So troubled waters lie ahead. If the north could blockade the South West over N4. 75 billion, why do you think either or both parties cannot blockade you over higher stakes? Strategic thinking demands we counter such blockade by growing our own food. We have just two farming seasons to do that.

Food and Civilisation

I disagree with preachers who maintain that the Children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt for 430 years. The Egyptians never went and took them as slaves. On their own volition the Israelites packed up their belongings and went to Egypt in search of food.

The Pharaohs developed a web of science and technology that stored grains for twelve years. Silos and pyramids scattered in Giza and elsewhere were warehouses for excess food. Evidence abound that ancient Egypt channeled the Nile River 50 kilometers to develop a stream before running it through another circumference back to the Nile. That way they farmed a large portion of land year round. Ancient Egypt's self-sufficiency in food production was the basis of that civilization.

When the Israelites finally left Egypt and became hungry in the wilderness, they threatened to choose a leader to take them back to Egypt were food was plenty. Not minding that the complaint was that they were enslaved, they still wanted to return to their former masters just to eat. And don't forget that they asked Moses if they would get cucumber, garlic, onions, water melon, etc, in the promised land. The mutinies Moses faced were associated with bread and butter issues. He erred thinking of political freedom without food and paid dearly for it. Food is very important in the survival of any civilization.

Have things changed thousands of years after Moses? No. The worst disaster anywhere in the world today is hunger. Scarcity of food has led to revolutions. The Indonesian rice crisis of 1998 led to a revolution. But countries able to feed their populations have fared better. Cuba, Iran, and Apartheid South Africa survived crippling Western sanctions being self-sufficient in food. Inversely, North Korea proved it could starve itself to channel limited resources to arms production. The West took fright and negotiated with it. But Zimbabwe, neither able to feed itself nor endure hunger, remains a punching bag to the West.

When President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015 and emphasized agriculture, he was roundly condemned by importers who accused him of sabotaging their business. Then in 2020 food could not leave one country for another because of the pandemic. In their hunger Nigerians remembered President Buhari not as a politician but statesman. Politicians think about today but statesmen think about tomorrow.

Before amalgamation people were self-sufficient in food production. The goat people ate in the north, for instance, was called the Red Skin Goat of Sokoto. The skin of this animal was wrongly labelled by Europe as the famed Moroccan Leather. The white man never knew it came from West Africa, transported across the Sahara Desert from Sokoto to Morocco and exported to Europe. In fact, it was in search of more leather, gold and so on that Morocco invaded Songhai in 1591 in the Battle of Tondibi.

In 21st Century Nigeria, the Yoruba and northerners are doing well in agriculture. Olu Falae, former Minister of Finance and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was kidnapped in his farm in Akure. He was not kidnapped in a mansion but directly in his farm; meaning that he went back to farming. But ask yourself where Pius Anyim, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, lives? Does he live in a rural farming community in Ebonyi State? The answer is no. He stays in a mansion in foreign land.

Alex Badeh, former Chief of Defence Staff, was killed while returning from his farm in Nasarawa State. He was not killed while returning from the house of a woman. But which retired general from Akwa Ibom or Delta can be found in a farm? They are in cosy houses in Lagos and Abuja.

What to Do

We have rivers in Bayelsa, Imo, Rivers, Edo, etc, that can be dammed for agriculture. The ancient Nun and Ethiope Rivers, properly harnessed to modern farm settlements, can usher in agrarian revolution. The Imo River traverses Imo, Abia and Rivers. The Itu River flows through many states, also. Modern agriculture dictates you build irrigation for year-round farming. But we stand aloof while our mighty rivers empty themselves into the ocean without irrigating a single farm. That is weakness.

Nothing stops the governments of South East and South South from developing a joint dam for agriculture. But they waste time complaining that the Federal Government built dams for northerners and not for us. When former Governor Chibuike Amaechi, patriot and statesman of the highest mental calibre, decided to dualize the express road from Rivers to Imo, a road owned by the Federal Government, he didn't waste time complaining. There's how you complain and people won't take you serious anymore.

Redemption begins by replicating the Songhai Farm and Training Center, pioneered by Governors Amaechi and James Ibori of Rivers and Delta States, in every local government of the eleven states. There is no better way of changing the narrative than through action. All theories on agriculture have been voiced except taking practical steps. Our governors should bring in tractors to clear farmlands while building accommodation, schools and health centres right in the forest for young farmers. Farming must be made attractive.

Equally so, we must understudy the collaboration between the Lagos and Kebbi States governments in rice production. Lagos has money but no landmass. It provided the funds for Kebbi that has the landmass but no funds to do the farming. The food so produced is sold to Lagos to feed its large population. We call on other states with the money to partner Ebonyi State Governor Dave Umahi and Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade who have already achieved great milestones in rice production.

At the grassroots, local government chairmen must support cooperative societies in establishing fish farms, poultry, piggery, etc. Loans must be extended to genuine farmers. The World Food Programme and African Development Bank must take urgent practical steps to fund and support our young farmers going to replace the aged ones.

Conclusion

Between 2015 and 2019, insecurity made farming impossible in Emohua, Ikwerre, Khana, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni and Abua/Odual Local Government Areas, LGAs, of Rivers State. The unintended consequence was increased food demand on the north. Sheer hunger induced vices. The local people took their own destiny in their hands and established the Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Security and Peace Advisory Council, OSPAC, to protect lives when law enforcement agents failed. That restored farming.

The greatest threat to food production is insecurity. We have reached the point where the military must work side by side with the police in a joint task force. We can no longer leave crime fighting for the police only to bring in the army when things get out of hand. Farmers are being exterminated in a new scorched-earth policy. But if security is properly managed in the South East and South South, we could produce enough food to aid our northern compatriots in the event of the unknown. Nigeria will be stronger if it produces sufficient food to feed its citizens.

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