By Jerome-Mario Utomi
ASIDE from the time-honoured belief that the poverty of any country is felt by the quality and quantity of food to its citizens, it is important to state ab initio that this piece was principally inspired by two separate but related promptings. First is the study report which, among other observations, states that over the past century in the United State of America, USA, there exists a shift in the locations and occupations of urban consumers.
It explained that in 1900, about 40 per cent of the total population was employed on the farm, and 60 per cent lived in rural areas. Today, the respective figures are only about one per cent and 20 per cent. Over the past half century, the number of farms has fallen by a factor of three.
As a result, the ratio of urban consumers to rural farmers has markedly risen, giving the food consumer a more prominent role in shaping the food and farming system. The changing dynamic has also played a role in public calls to reform federal policy to focus more on the consumer implications of the food supply chain.
The second is the argument by Frances Stewart that the development-security nexus has become central to development and peace-building enterprises. He considers three types of connections between security and development, both nationally and globally: (a) security as an objective, (b) security as an instrument and (c) development as an instrument. Given these connections, he argued that security policies may become part of development policy because in so far as they enhance security, they will contribute to development.
Conversely, development policies may become part of security policy because enhanced development increases security. Stewart asserts that ‘societal progress requires reduced insecurity’ and that more inclusive and egalitarian development is likely to enhance security.
From this spiraling awareness, the question may be asked: As a nation, what do we make out of the above given heightened insecurity in the country which has resulted in incessant killings of farmers majorly in the North central part of the country and Nigeria as a whole, while leaving us a country in dire need of peace and social cohesion among our various sociopolitical groups? How do we arrest the situation given the fact that all its signs portend grave danger to the nation and laced with capacity to engineer food insecurity in the country?
How do we as a nation tackle the fact that the number of farms has fallen caused by a factor attributable to insecurity? What plan is in place to manage the nagging reality that the ratio of urban eaters to rural farmers has markedly risen as a result of farmers that fled their farms/villages in order to secure their lives?
Is the Federal Government mindful of the worrying awareness that by 2050, global consumption of food and energy is expected to double as the world’s population and incomes grow, while climate change is expected to have an adverse effect on both crop yields and the number of arable acres? What are our security and development objectives? What are the instruments targeted at achieving these objectives?
Exacerbating the situation is the belief in some quarters that since independence, the country has demonstrated that “there is no development plan(fiscal policies, socioeconomic plans and poverty alleviations programmes) which has achieved its core objectives. There is always a disturbing laxity in marching plan targets with practical and unfailing consistency. The result is that the country remains one of the most politically and economically disarticulated countries in the world”.
Accordingly, as we ponder over these concerns, it will be relevant to the present discourse to add that for any programme/action to be typified as development-based/focused, development practitioners believe that such programme process should entail an all-encompassing improvement, a process that builds on itself and involve both individuals and social change.
It requires growth and structural change, with some measures of distributive equity, modernisation in social and cultural attitudes, a degree of political transformation and stability, an improvement in health and education so that population growth stabilizes, and an increase in urban living and employment.
In the same vein, it is public knowledge that throughout the early decades, Nigeria paid little attention to what constitutes sustainable development. Such conversation, however, gained global prominence via the United Nations introduction, adoption and pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, which lasted between the year 2000 and 2015; and was among other intentions aimed at eradicating extreme poverty and hunger as well as achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health among others.
Without going into specific concepts or approaches contained in the performance index of the programme, it is evident that Nigeria and majority of the countries performed below average. It was this reality and other related concerns that led to the introduction of the 2030 sustainable agenda – a United Nations initiative and successor programme to the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, with a collection of 17 global goals formulated among other aims to promote and cater for people, peace, planet and poverty. It has at its centre partnership and collaboration, ecosystem thinking, co-creation and alignment of various intervention efforts by the public and private sectors and civil society.
Certainly, Nigeria is plagued by development challenges such as widespread poverty, insecurity, corruption, gross injustice and ethnic politics – and in dire need of attention from interventionist organisations (private and civil society organisation) as demanded by the agenda.
But, instead of government’s passionate plea for sustainable partnership and productive collaboration receiving targeted positive responses from private organisations and civil society organisations, CSO, such request often always elicits from critical minds and corporate organisation nothing but jigsaw: If it has been said that government has no business in business, what business does the private sector have in helping government to do its business of providing quality governance to the populace which the instrumentality of participatory democracy and the election of leaders conferred on them?
The reason for this state of affairs is not to be unconnected with transparency challenges on the part of government. To private and civil society organisations, such a response offers a more considerably reduced risk as no organisation may be disposed to investing in an environment that is devoid of transparency and accountability.
Aside from the transparency and accountability challenge, with the constant killings, wanton destruction of property and palpable insecurity in the states, farmers have abandoned their farms to save their lives. The effect is that food production and supplies in the country is openly threatened and may totally be cut-off months ahead.
The implication of this scenario, if allowed, is that the country is exposed to a harsher food crisis. It also sends a gory signal/message that what is to come in terms of escalation in the prices of food and agricultural produce and supplies promises to be scary.
Bearing this in mind, the question again, may be asked: what is the way forward? What are the best ways that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government can save Nigeria and Nigerians from this impending food crisis? What proactive steps and options are available before the Federal Government?
If the Federal Government wants progress and development for the nation, there is no reason why everything that will lead to success must not be done. And such effort must first and fundamentally focus on developing socioeconomic policies that are not only people focused but equipped with a clear definition of our problem as a nation, the goals to be achieved, and the means chosen to address the problems/and to achieve the goals.
As an incentive, such policies/programmes must focus on protecting the lives and property of Nigerians, job creation, development of strong institutions as well as infrastructural development.
Utomi, Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy, SEJA, Lagos wrote via: [email protected]