Charles Nwaoguji, [email protected]
Food and nutrition security are two critical concepts that are always driven global discussions on wellness.
These two all important concepts exist “when all people at all times have physical, social and economic access to food, consumed in sufficient quantity and quality to meet their dietary needs and food preferences with an environment of adequate sanitation, health services and care, allowing for a healthy and active life (United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition).
However, if Nigeria and other African countries are to be placed on a scale on the above definition, they are likely to be at the bottom of the scale.
This is evident from the Nigeria’s position as reflected in the prevalence of under-nourishment (25.5 percent ), moderate or severe food insecurity (26.4 percent), stunting (37.4 percent), malnutrition (16.4 percent) and proportion of agricultural area under productive and sustainable agriculture (56.55 percent). The above are being compounded by the current wave of insecurity across the country most especially in the Northern States, drought due to climate change predominantly in the Lake Chad Basin and food price inflation.
In addressing the role of government, it is imperative to highlight the causes of food and nutrition insecurity whichinclude low food and agricultural production mainly from aged and peasant farmers who rely mainly on hoes and cutlasses, lack of facilities to handle food and agriculture produce at the farm gate and to add value through intermediate processing , poor road network especially in the rural agricultural areas with comatose rail system which has paralyzed the distribution of raw and processed foods, unfavourable environment for food retailing and marketing, home and institutional handling of food materials, food losses and wastes in the food chain, household access to adequate health services and the adequacy of environmental health conditions and the social and care environment within the household and local community.
There is no doubt, the various tiers of government along with relevant stakeholders have important roles to play in addressing the challenges of food and nutrition insecurity in Nigeria. Both governments (federal, state and local governments) and the private sector must address the above identified causes of food and nutrition insecurity.
According to the former VC of Bell University, Professor Isaa Adebayo Adeyemi in a chat with Daily Sun recently, pragmatic actions which must be sustainable and in an holistic manner , increased production through large, medium and small scale mechanized farming and adaptation of novel technologies such as genetic engineering and application of biotechnology, replacement of the present aged and peasant farmers with younger, well trained and highly motivated farmers, availability of inputs such as improved seedlings and fertilizers etc at subsidized rates, young farmers must be assisted to have access to farming lands and bank loans at low interest rates through Agricultural Development Banks without politicizing such loans, Commodity Boards should be reintroduced and made to be functional with support from governments to put in place guaranteed market prices including subsidies, where necessary, especially when, either there is a fall in demand due to glut or a reduction in harvest due to adverse weather conditions, simple and inexpensive food handling and storage, and intermediate processing machineries with quality control facilities to enhance value addition at farm levels. Most of the points mentioned above, he said could be achieved either through individuals, cooperative societies and public- private – partnership. Two major and very important areas that government has to fulfill its obligations would be in the provision of infrastructural facilities such as un-interrupted power and water supply on which the survival of the Nigerian food industry depends ; whether by small scale processors or multinationals. Governments must open up rural agricultural areas to ensure easy movements of agricultural materials while interstate roads must be rehabilitated and improved upon. A critical component of food and nutrition security is food distribution, which depends on efficient transportation systems.
Food retailing environment is also an aspect of food security that needs to be addressed, as such shops and supermarkets offering food products for sale must be made to comply with standard and specified storage conditions for such products. The need to improve local market environment must be explored as a large percentage of Nigerians depend on local markets for purchases of farm produce. An aspect of the food chain that has contributed significantly to food and nutrition insecurity is high post-harvest food losses, right from the farm to the table.
Therefore, reduction of food losses, which in Nigeria could be as high as 100 percent depending on the product, environmental conditions and handling, including at points of consumption, must be addressed.
Waste reduction is an important economic segment of the food production chain which can be achieved at each stage of the chain. While significant reductions should be achieved along the food chain, increased utilization of food wastes for composting, animal feeds, particle boards for furniture and other potential industrial uses, depending on the type and nature of food waste, is sine qua non. The gain from harnessing waste can improve the viability of the entire production process.
For Nigeria to achieve food and nutrition security, it is important to integrate nutrition into food security policies and research. Too often, nutrition and health, and agriculture sectors work separately and even competitively. Without any doubt, agriculture remains the source of our nutrition. Collaborations between the agriculturists, food scientists and technologists, nutritionists and the health workers if properly harnessed will contribute immensely to food and nutrition security, poverty reduction, malnutrition reduction, improved health and economic growth. To achieve these, public private partnership must be created and sustained.
Challenges facing food science and technology
One of the major challenges facing food science and technology in Nigeria and in most parts of Africa is lack of gainful employment for trained personnel. The reasons for this are not far fetched.