October 01, 2021 / 09:22 PM / by FDC/ Header Image
Prior to the discovery of oil in the 1970s, Nigeria was self-sufficient in food production and a major export-er of cash and food crops like yam, maize, cassava, cotton, rubber, cocoa, and palm products. As recently as the 1970s, agriculture was the primary foreign exchange earner and contributed significantly to Nigeria's GDP. However, as oil rose in prominence, Nigeria's focus on agriculture decreased, leaving Nigeria as a food-dependent nation plagued by underinvestment, lack of access to credit, crime, climate change, religious crises, environmental degradation, and perhaps most pressing, insecurity.
Conflict among groups across Nigeria has been on the rise as about 77, 000 people have been killed and 2.6 million displaced in the past five years. The activities of herdsmen, kidnappers, bandits and Boko Haram have displaced farming communities, disrupted markets and limited agricultural production as most farmers desert their farmlands and abscond to other regions for safety. Farmers now have reduced access to regional markets and find it difficult to go to their farms due to fear of being kidnapped or even killed. Some of these unemployed farmers eventually turn to criminal acts in a bid to escape poverty.
Between 2011 and 2021, Boko Haram was responsible for 32.8 thousand deaths in Borno state alone, the country's largest wheat producing state.1 While Borno's production used to account for 30% of the national wheat production, it now contributes almost nothing to the total of about 420,000 tonnes, which is 4.5 million tonnes short of national consumption.2 Consequently, N258.3bn was spent on wheat importation in the first quarter of the year, up from N98.03bn in the corresponding quarter in 2020.
The Fulani herdsmen have also posed a major threat to food production in Nigeria through their violent harassment of farmers, especially in states like Benue, Gombe and Taraba. For a period of four days in June 2017, herdsmen attacked farming communities in Taraba state and killed 732 people. They have engaged in so much violence and unrest that the Institute for Economics and Peace now classifies them as a terrorist group. Not only do these herdsmen invade and destroy farms and farm produce, they intentionally allow their cows to graze on crops that farmers have worked hard to cultivate. This resource-driven conflict between farmers and herdsmen has also resulted in decreased access to land for food production.
In recent times, farmers have become the main target for kidnapping by gunmen, bandits and armed herdsmen across various geopolitical zones in the country. In a rift between two communities in Kaduna this year, at least eight farmers were abducted and eventually killed. Kidnapping has become a common occurrence such that farmers in some Northern states even go ahead to pay tax and harvest fees to bandits in order to avoid attacks. The unusual rise in cases of kidnapping in states like Oyo, Ekiti and Osun, has limited the availability of labor for farming operation as farmers now dread going their sites. In addition to reduced access to credit facilities to purchase inputs, there is also an increase in the cost of logistic services in agrarian communities with frequent kidnapping incidents.
The glaring insecurity issues in the country have led to a sharp rise in food prices owing to the substantial reduction in food production. Since July 2020, basic food items like beans and tomatoes have seen a 253% and 123% price increase respectively, thus, putting a lot of people at the risk of starvation. Since the start of Boko insurgency in 2009, there has been a rise in starvation index. There has also been a 140% surge in Nigeria's food import bill, as present production lev-els cannot meet the country's ever-increasing demand for food. In light of all these pressures on the production of food, investors and entrepreneurs are discouraged from venturing into agriculture especially in areas bedeviled with these insecurity issues.
Solutions to insecurity in the agricultural sector
There exists a multi-dimensional relationship between human security, national insecurity, and food insecurity, as unemployment is both a contributing factor to and an effect of insecurity. The low level of agricultural production, due to attacks from Boko Haram or the herdsmen, for example, coupled with a rising population growth rate in Nigeria, is likely to lead to a food crisis and a higher unemployment level. The unemployed population becomes prime targets for recruitment into these insurgency groups whose actions further dampen food insecurity. There-fore, tackling unemployment is a prerequisite to curbing insecurity in the agricultural sector.
Properly implementing and executing a national industrial policy, which stimulates the growth and development in all sectors of the economy, would go a long way in creating jobs for the unemployed. Undertaking projects to build new infrastructure or improve already existing infrastructure would stimulate national production and provide employment opportunities. Policy makers should tailor agricultural policies towards transforming Nigeria's agricultural sector from its subsistent state to a mechanized sector. Policy realignment in the sector would not just revive the sec-tor but also enhance foreign earnings and increase the sector's contribution to the GDP.
In addition to reinforcing policies, like the National Program for Food Security (NPFS), government should also ensure the availability of social protection services such as subsidies and relief options for farmers. Social protection would enhance farmers' resilience and reduce the impact of insecurity shocks on them. As part of their resilience strategy, farmers should also adopt the use of improved agricultural inputs, mechanized tools and mixed cropping techniques. Developing markets and improving farmers' access to these markets would encourage farmers to cultivate and produce more. Improved infrastructure, transport, logistics, storage and processing equipment would also go a long way to boosting food production, and buffering against insecurity shocks. Lastly, both the federal and state governments should be proactive and adequately fund, train and equip the military, police and other security agencies to effectively combat insecurity in the country
Nigeria's current food crisis is due to the government's lukewarm attitude towards insurgent groups and banditry. This devastation cannot be pinned on COVID-19. If these security issues are not resolved, it may propagate a vicious cycle of insecurity, leading to more complex issues in the nation. According to New Partnership for Agricultural Development, the agricultural sector is the engine of economic growth in Africa. Hence, steps need to be taken to deal with these insecurity issues, to revitalize agricultural productivity in Nigeria, and to harness its potential to increase farmers' incomes, generate employment opportunities and make Nigeria food secure once again.