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May 26, 2024

President Tinubu, acute food scarcity is here, by Dele Sobowale

President Tinubu, acute food scarcity is here, by Dele Sobowale

“No one whose stomach is totally empty can be persuaded that his need is not for food but for entertainment” – Professor John K Galbraith

Tears came to my eyes when I read recently that the World Bank (which some of us love to hate) announced that it was spearheading the effort to raise $300 million in cash and food items from all over the world in order to reduce the mortal impact of famine in the North-East of Nigeria; where about seven million Nigerians are at risk of perishing for lack of food. The bank is not promising them amusement or something absolutely dispensable.

It is embarking on giving those in danger the first basic need of all animals – FOOD. When a week after it was announced that the Federal Government has approved N90 billion subsidy for pilgrims to Mecca, it became very clear why black Africa is backward; and might remain under-developed for centuries. Our leaders frequently exhibit poor sense of priorities. As an economist, of one thing I am sure. The N90 billion spent on pilgrimage – whether to Mecca or Jerusalem – would earn zero return on the investment. It is pure waste at a time when Nigeria can least afford it.

Our national predicament went from bad to worse when the Accountant General of the Federation, AGF, disclosed that the FG collected N320 billion revenue in the first quarter, Q1, of this year – instead of the N2.1 trillion budgeted. Thus, a government which had generated N1.8 trillion deficit, and which had been borrowing recklessly, still considered it wise to give away thirty per cent of its miserable earnings to fund a jamboree for a very small percentage of Nigerians. Mr Atedo Peterside said the gesture will send the wrong signals. He was being polite. I think it will reconfirm to the rest of the world that Africans are really retarded. Otherwise, what is one supposed to honestly say about a nation, which in the last nine years – including May 29, 2023 to May 29, 2024 – which had been living on the begging bowl; and whose leaders still place funding pilgrimage at the top of its priority?

“The worst thing that can happen to a leader is to look back and find that nobody is following”- US President Lyndon Johnson. My article published two Sundays ago and titled, Lets Pray for Tinubu to Succeed, induced the most disheartening response ever to any article since 1994. Not only were people, mostly young, asking me to stop wasting my prayers on Tinubu, the maledictions were stunningly shocking. One message specifically asked me: “How can you continue to pray for a man who squanders N90bn on pilgrimage with all the problems we have in Nigeria?” Admittedly, I have not conducted a poll, and possibly no one has done it also.

If the impromptu comments made by young Nigerians about this government represents the views of the 18 to 40 years group of Nigerians, then it is quite clear that overwhelming majority has lost faith in this government. Labour certainly has; after the shocker of N48,000 minimum wage per month offer. How anyone in a serious government could imagine that N48,000 per month represents the best they can do is a mystery to me. Labour leaders now have a problem on their hands. Those who speak without modesty generally have a difficult time eating their words.

On Monday, May 13, 2024, I had an article published on this page titled ‘Unpleasant Surprise Awaits Nigerian Workers’. In it, the reasons why Organised Labour was raising false hopes among workers were outlined. Given the extensive investigations undertaken before that column was written, there was no doubt in my mind that Labour would be lucky to get N70,000. The FG, on the very next day, announced N48,000. Labour leaders are still too dazed to offer a counter offer. That is perfectly understandable – given the gap between N615,000 and N48,000. Only God knows how Labour leaders will climb down from their inordinately high perch. But, that is what happens when top decision makers are not quantitative in their analysis.

Even Lagos and Rivers cannot pay N200,000 without going bankrupt within a year; not to talk of Nasarawa, Ebonyi and Ekiti. That said, the main objective of writing today’s article is to draw the attention of President Tinubu to an impending food crisis which must be addressed urgently before it becomes a calamity. Virtually all the global institutions conducting on-going research into national food production have concluded that Nigeria is one of several countries worldwide likely to suffer from acute food scarcity this year. The North-East is expected to be the worst affected based on a combination of factors – late rain, drought, pests, flood later in the year, withdrawal of Anchor Borrowers Programme support and insecurity.

Nigerians read reports of terrorist kingpins being eliminated by security forces. But, no farmer, hiding safely somewhere, will return to the farm the next day. More work is needed on security before rural people nationwide will return to their farms. This year’s harvest is projected to be worse than what we had in 2023; which was worse than the 2022 productivity. That exactly is the problem; to which the FG is addressing its mind – other than applying conventional wisdom, which has already failed us. Two well publicised interventions will help to illustrate the point being made about conventional approach to increasing food output. The CBN and Niger State government recently announced initiatives expected to boost food supply in Nigeria and state in particular.

The bank announced that it would supply several million tons of fertiliser this year. Niger State acquired tractors for use by its farmers to speed up land clearing. Good intentions were on display by the bank and the state on the two programmes. But, good intentions are never enough to achieve intended results. After terminating the ABP and announcing that it would henceforth face its core mandate, it was a policy error for the CBN to once again get involved with fertiliser purchase and distribution. That is the function of the Ministries of Agriculture nationwide. Corruption invariably creeps in. But, that is only one fault with the initiative. Fertiliser is only effective if applied at the right time by the farmer. With farms in most states under the control of terrorists and kidnappers, farmers don’t go to farm at will anymore.

Tractors need drivers. And in rural areas of Niger State, a driver alone is a seating duck for murderous hoodlums – unless the drivers are going to be accompanied by security men. Even then, it might still amount to putting several people in mortal danger. Obviously, the success of the two initiatives will be severely limited by pervasive insecurity. Yet, Nigeria must produce more food to feed a growing population in order to avert famine this year and 2025. The world is gearing up to help provide some food this year. But, unless we demonstrate that we are prepared to face the challenges of food production, donor fatigue will soon set in. At any rate, we cannot expect to remain global almajiris for ever. It is therefore imperative that we device new ways of producing more food by adopting alternative methods of feeding ourselves.

NIGERIA’S FOOD WARRIORS – N180M SOLUTION

“The time is a quarter to midnight” – Norman Borlaug, 1914 – 2009, Nobel Peace Prize Winner in Agriculture, 1970. Borlaug, generally recognised as the father of the Green Revolution, made this statement when receiving his Nobel Prize. The world then was on the brink of food disaster. The Green Revolution pulled mankind back from the precipice. Since then, global population explosion and climate change have combined to push us back towards the abyss – particularly in Africa. Biotechnology came to the rescue briefly and now gene modified crops are again racing to defence of homo sapiens – who have demonstrated very little wisdom with respect to sustainable food security.

Nigeria is among the worst nations in that respect. Advances in food security for any nation have never depended on the vast majority of Professors of Agriculture; who frequently are purveyors of conventional thought. The world has benefited greatly from those thinking outside the box. For Nigeria, the time is less than a quarter to midnight; and all our Professors in Agriculture have no ideas to rescue us. We need a revolutionary approach. Some of us might have come across the saying that “War is too important to be left only to Generals.” I strongly believe that Nigeria’s food security is also too vital to be left to farmers and Agric Departments of universities – for one simple reason known to all of us: Farmers can no longer go to farm.

That fact constitutes the greatest obstacle to good harvests today. Unfortunately, the stomach is a rascal; it demands to be served everyday. Nigeria’s 220 million stomachs cannot wait until the time Emilokan makes farms safe for farmers to be fed. Obviously, we need to find our way around this obstacle to increased food production. That was why I felt so sad to read that the FG approved N90 billion for Hajj subsidy. For about N180 million or 0.2 per cent of the pilgrimage subsidy, starting with 100,000 food warriors, we can transform food production from only rural-based to a total country undertaking. The returns on investment over the years will exceed 100 per cent each year….

To be continued
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