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LYING ABOUT FOOD: Governments endanger millions of lives

By Dele Sobowale

“Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed”, I.F. Stone (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p80).

Last week, one of the officials of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, the same agency which under-estimated the flood disaster which had paralysed the nation, was reported to have said that there would be very little food crisis next year contrary to what people were predicting.

He gave as his reason the fact that the Federal Government had “substantially increased the budget allocation to agriculture in the 2013 appropriations. One can only hope that the official is not as sloppy with his tasks in his area of presumed competence as he is with his knowledge of farming. Three facts account for this observation.

First, this writer is not an official of NEMA or the Ministry of Agriculture. But, as early as May this year, a warning had appeared on these pages urging governments to take pro-active steps to avert disasters which unprecedented flood would bring in its wake this year. When, indeed the flood occurred, governments and NEMA were caught pants down.

Virtually, all the deaths which Nigeria suffered can be partially blamed on government officials. Their defence that people were warned to evacuate were at best disingenuous or at worst cynical. Asking millions of people to relocate, without telling them where to, can only be regarded as a solution by those who “don’t give a damn.” It would never work and it did not work.

Second, the Federal Government had been carpeted by the National Assembly, NASS, for failure to implement the 2012 budget. There was no Ministry cited as an exemption; certainly not the Ministry of Finance. In fact, that Ministry ranks among the worst performing of the lot – despite the razzmatazz of the Minister who had hoodwinked President Jonathan into accepting cassava bread as some sort of innovation when indeed it is years away from reality.

Meanwhile, flood in at least 24 states had carried away most of the cassava meant for harvest later this year and early next year. Whereas, professional farmers know that it will require at least six months to harvest cassava – if planted today – the armchair farmers of NEMA and the Ministry of Agriculture are boasting of “fast growing” varieties which will be distributed early next year to farmers. Early next year, unless the Ministry operates on another calendar, other than the universally accepted one, cannot be earlier than January 2013.

By then, two iron clad constraints will make planting, on a large scale, impossible. First, with more flood, black flood that is, expected in November, most farmlands will still be under water and will not be suitable for cultivation. So, that shifts the starting date until, perhaps, February. Even if the water recedes, farmers will be confronted with farms littered with all sorts of debris which must first be cleared before tilling can start.

Some of the farms might have been polluted and might not be suitable for several months for planting. And, new farmlands are not easily acquired. At, any rate, farming might not even be the first priority of the rural people when they return home.

Shelter might be the first item on the agenda. Obviously, the NEMA official who is giving the assurances is engaged in the worst form of wishful thinking, which ordinarily would be good as a joke but, which if taken as the basis for government policy, will lead to disastrous results.

Third, the 2013 budget had not even been passed. So, the significant increase in budgetary allocations to agriculture exists, at least for now, only on paper. Most farmers will not receive a kobo from this pool of funds until late in the year. By then acute food scarcity would have been experienced by millions of people in Nigeria.

And, if that is not enough reason to be pessimistic, the heavy rainfall which accounted for the floods this year will most certainly be repeated next year. Climate change which brought all these about will not again reverse itself next year. If anything, all forecasts point to more of this year’s downpour.

Whereas, farmers started planting this year’s crops on arable land and with hope that the yield would be as good as last year’s, they will start next year’s activities with less assurance. Most are already in debt, in any case, as a result of this year’s catastrophe. Obtaining credit for next year will constitute another handicap which will slow down planting considerably.

Let me close this column by reminding us of what was written on this page in September this year after my first tour of some affected states. What was written then remains true today. Government officials should stop lying to us. We are already in deep trouble. Lying can only make it worse.

Nigeria’s story, this year, is easily told. On September 14, several newspapers reported floods in Enugu, Anambra, Taraba and Kogi. On September 17, it was Cameroon dam water destroying 49 communities in Cross River, destroying farms and homes. The same dam from our neighbour had inundated thousands of farms in Adamawa State and sent unknown numbers of people into early graves.

Ogun, Oyo, Kano as well as 20 other states add to the list. Even the village idiot knows that when farmers and farms are swept away, severe food scarcity looms; malnutrition (in a nation whose people are generally malnourished) is a certainty. The question is “what are governments doing about the inevitable emergency?”…..

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