Mojisola Karigidi, Founder and Product Developer, Moepelorse Bio Resources
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Subjects of Interest
- Food Security
- Sustainable Development
Putting food security for Nigerians on the ballot in 2019 15 Jan 2019
In Nigeria, political campaign periods are usually when politicians exploit the hunger and poverty in the country. It is commonplace for political parties and candidates vying for political offices to distribute money and food items to the masses in return for their votes. These food items often include bread, rice, chickens, noodles packaged garri, groundnut and sugar.
During the 2015 election cycle, the term “stomach infrastructure” crept into our political lexicon as supporters of such political patronage claimed it was better to distribute material goods to the hungry masses than for the government to invest heavily in physical infrastructure.
But unfortunately, the deceptive stomach consideration ends after the election. Once the votes have been secured and winners get into office, the hunger and poverty in their constituencies are no longer on their agenda as the politicians keep their distance from the masses.
One thing is certain: The politicians who distribute food items have mastered the art of weaponizing the poverty of majority of their supporters who cannot satisfactorily feed themselves. The politicians are aware that a bag of rice or a litre of vegetable oil cannot fundamentally address the abject deprivation of the masses.
Therefore, we as a people must demand more from our leaders as we cast our votes in February and March. We must make food production, availability and affordability a major election issue. Our votes should be cast for those candidates who have made food security a priority in their manifestos and policy proposals. A Yoruba proverb says that when hunger is out of the way, poverty is defeated.
Without doubt, any responsible government should ensure Nigerians are food-secure. The right to food is, in fact, a basic human right. Therefore, the leaders we vote for in 2019 should be those who have demonstrated a willingness to promote this basic human right.
There are a number of policy tools that can be used to ensure food security and positively influence our choices of food. Food prices influence food choices. Food affordability entails the cost, quality and quantity of the food consumed by a household in relation to the household's disposable income. Food affordability has implication for food security.
Low-income households tend to serve their families foods that are high in sugar and fat because they are cheaper and can easily fill the stomach. Of course, this has terrible consequences. That is why we have increasing statistics of obesity and diabetes in adults, as well as the prevalence of kwashiorkor and other protein-deficiencies among children in low-income families. A total of 17 million children are malnourished, according to the Nutrition specialist for the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
A report by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) in Nigeria estimated 1.7 million diabetic people in 2015. In 2016, a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that the prevalence of obesity was 9.7 percent of the population, diabetes was at 4.3 percent, while 30.1 percent of the population was overweight. It is, therefore, paramount that healthy foods that are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and micro nutrients are made more accessible and affordable.
According to latest data by the World Poverty Clock, about 90.88 million people (or 46.4 percent of the population) are living in extreme poverty. Our political leaders must bear in mind that majority of these people do not work for government and cannot benefit from the proposed minimum wage increment. Nevertheless, they must feed well, too.
To make nutritious food affordable, the government, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, can channel more money to support fish, dairy, poultry and livestock farming. Farmers in these sectors should be assisted to obtain grants and loans with very low interest rates. Adequate support for these sectors can increase the supply of eggs, milk, meat and fish, as well as their related products. Increased supply of these products can reduce their market prices, and thereby improve affordability for low-income consumers.
Because of the prevalence of stunting in children, especially those in poor communities and areas affected by conflicts, government should look into incorporating regular milk distribution programmes into the existing school feeding programme. When children regularly drink milk, they have a good supply of calcium – a mineral essential for the development and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth.
A report published by the World Economic Forum in 2014 revealed that heights in the Netherlands have been greater than all other countries since the Second World War. The reason for this was attributed to the effort of government to provide milk for school children and encourage them to drink up to five glasses daily.
Furthermore, the desertification and other factors that are causing the migration of herders should urgently gain policy attention. Building ranches for cattle-rearers in Northern states and facilitating the availability of fodders, especially during dry season will increase meat production at cheaper rates. It will also limit the migration of herdsmen and their cattle to the South, thereby reducing the incidence of clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
Our votes should also be cast for candidates who are ready to invest in agricultural research and promote innovations. Important innovations can prevent and mitigate disease outbreaks, and also boost the immune systems of poultry birds and livestock.
To make more funds available to support production of animal products, additional revenues could be generated from taxing unhealthy processed foods. Since the prices of such products will increase automatically, the burden of some chronic illnesses and diseases that thrive on the consumption of unhealthy foods will reduce as well. In other words, higher taxes on processed foods with high fat, sugar and salt contents can improve our health and boost economic productivity.
In addition, food policies to support provision of supplements to mothers during pregnancy with the aim of improving birth outcomes should also be considered. Many mothers struggling with lactation after birth could be given supplements to help infants grow well.
As we take up the responsibility to choose the next set of leaders through our votes, we must look beyond our immediate gains. Let those who are informed among us about the policies and plans of the candidates educate those who are not. It must be the responsibility and priority of the elected officials to make food, particularly nutritious food, available for every household in required quantities.
With sound economic policies, the elected government should work to boost the purchasing power of individuals and families. The forces of demand and supply should also be regulated to better favour low-income earners and the less privileged Nigerians.