Food se­cu­rity in Nige­ria and the world by 2050

Through agri­cul­tural R&D in­vest­ment, the pop­u­la­tion at risk of hunger can be re­duced by nearly a quar­ter by 2030.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - By Mo­jisola Oje­bode Mo­jisola Oje­bode

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent United Na­tions re­port, Nige­ria's pop­u­la­tion will sur­pass that of the United States by 2050, to be­come the third most pop­u­lous coun­try in the world. Over the next 33 years, Nige­ria, which is cur­rently the world's sev­enth most pop­u­lous coun­try and grow­ing the most rapidly, is ex­pected to see its pop­u­la­tion reach 398 mil­lion peo­ple in the mid­dle of the cen­tury.

Like many other de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, Nige­ria has ex­pe­ri­enced a short­age of food sup­plies due to eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity, se­vere drought and per­sis­tent con­flicts. Con­stant in­creases in food prices have also de­prived many house­holds of three-square meals per day.

As a bio­chemist, work­ing on food safety and food se­cu­rity, I am deeply wor­ried about the cur­rent and fu­ture avail­abil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity of food in the world, es­pe­cially in Nige­ria and the de­vel­op­ing world. Food safety should par­tic­u­larly be a top agenda for African coun­tries be­cause five of the nine coun­tries pre­dicted to con­trib­ute to more than half of the world's pop­u­la­tion by 2050 are on the African con­ti­nent. These com­prise Nige­ria, Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, Ethiopia, Tan­za­nia and Uganda.

To feed the fu­ture pop­u­la­tion, which the UN has pro­jected to reach 9.8 bil­lion in 2050, the agri­cul­ture sec­tor needs sig­nif­i­cant long-term pub­lic spend­ing and pri­vate in­vest­ment so that we can im­prove the tech­nolo­gies to grow food. Some of the ar­eas in which ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy is cru­cial in­clude ir­ri­ga­tion, and preven­tion of food loss and waste. The cur­rent spate of short-term and low in­vest­ment in agri­cul­tural re­search and de­vel­op­ment (R&D) has a glar­ing im­pli­ca­tion – which is stag­nant pro­duc­tion and low pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor agri­cul­tural R&D can lead to de­vel­op­ment of new crop and live­stock pro­duc­tion tech­nolo­gies, sig­nif­i­cantly in­creas­ing the quan­tity and qual­ity of agri­cul­tural out­put per unit of labour, land and other re­sources in low­in­come coun­tries. This mea­sure of ef­fi­ciency of in­puts in the pro­duc­tion process is called To­tal Fac­tor Pro­duc­tiv­ity (TFP).

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Food Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute (IFPRI), R&D in­vest­ment strate­gies that in­crease agri­cul­tural TFP from the cur­rent es­ti­mate of 1.6 per­cent per an­num to 2 per­cent can lower the global prices of ce­re­als and meat by as much as 17 and 15 per­cent, re­spec­tively. Crop pro­duc­tion area can also be in­creased by 2.4 per­cent and crop yield by 8.5 per­cent by 2030. Through agri­cul­tural R&D in­vest­ment, the pop­u­la­tion at risk of hunger can be re­duced by nearly a quar­ter in the same pe­riod.

Drought, a cen­tral chal­lenge to food pro­duc­tion, is get­ting worse. Many re­gions in the Mid­dle East, Asia, Africa and other parts of the world are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ab­nor­mally low rain­fall, higher sur­face-air tem­per­a­tures and drier air for longer pe­ri­ods. While droughts can have dif­fer­ent causes, one ma­jor cause is cli­mate change. This is be­cause as more green­house gases such as car­bon diox­ide, meth­ane and ni­trous ox­ide are re­leased into the at­mos­phere, caus­ing air tem­per­a­tures to rise and more rapid evap­o­ra­tion of mois­ture from wa­ter bod­ies. Higher tem­per­a­tures also in­crease evap­o­ra­tion of mois­ture from soils, re­duce rain­fall and even­tu­ally cause droughts.

Africa must strate­gi­cally de­velop ad­vanced ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems. Seven­teen coun­tries in East and South­ern Africa are suf­fer­ing as a re­sult of two con­sec­u­tive years of droughts that have ren­dered many farm­ers un­pro­duc­tive, caused scorched har­vests and left more than 38 mil­lion peo­ple at risk of hunger this year.

We have seen alarm­ing in­creases in food prices and food short­age as a re­sult of drought in Ethiopia, Kenya, An­gola, Bu­rundi, Eritrea, Dji­bouti, Mada­gas­car, Le­sotho, Malawi, So­ma­lia, Su­dan, Swazi­land, Tan­za­nia, Rwanda, Mozam­bique, Uganda and Zim­babwe.

The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion calls for less re­liance on rain­fall for food pro­duc­tion. Ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems al­low farm­ers to aug­ment the amount of wa­ter sup­plied to plants at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals to aid crop growth and re-veg­e­ta­tion of dry ar­eas dur­ing pe­ri­ods of in­ad­e­quate rain­fall. This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant be­cause the Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion of the United Na­tions (FAO) es­ti­mates 60 per­cent of food sup­plies will come from ir­ri­gated agri­cul­ture.

We can look to Is­rael for proof that coun­tries fac­ing dry cli­mates can in­no­vate to over­come drought chal­lenges. Is­rael has de­vel­oped tech­nolo­gies from im­proved drip ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem, to the use of nat­u­ral pes­ti­cides for food pro­duc­tion. MASHAV, Israeli's Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Co­op­er­a­tion, is one of the sev­eral in­sti­tu­tions through which many tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments have been birthed.

In ad­di­tion to im­proved drip ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem and a wa­ter tech­nol­ogy that chan­nels dew from the air to the roots of plants, ex­perts from Is­rael have also cre­ated

bet­ter grain co­coons/bags and bi­o­log­i­cal pest con­trol. More­over, they have de­vel­oped new pota­toes for hot and dry cli­mate.

Al­though sev­eral fac­tors may have con­trib­uted to Is­rael's wealth (un­em­ploy­ment rate was 4.5 per­cent in May 2017), in­vest­ment in im­proved tech­nolo­gies is clearly a dom­i­nant fac­tor. It is, how­ever, sur­pris­ing that with a pop­u­la­tion of 8.6 mil­lion in 2016, 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple (21.7 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion), in­clud­ing 460,800 fam­i­lies, live be­low the poverty line in Is­rael. Nev­er­the­less, this es­ti­mate is very low when com­pared to Togo, a coun­try with a smaller pop­u­la­tion (7.6 mil­lion) but has a poverty rate of 58 per­cent and 29.7 per­cent of chil­dren un­der age five are chron­i­cally mal­nour­ished.

An­other ma­jor pit­fall to food se­cu­rity in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, in­clud­ing Nige­ria, is poor stor­age sys­tems and lack of pro­cess­ing ca­pac­ity. For in­stance, in Nige­ria, a to­mato farmer who finds it dif­fi­cult to sell his en­tire 600 bas­kets of toma­toes soon af­ter har­vest­ing may end up los­ing a huge sum of money be­cause he has no way of stor­ing or pro­cess­ing them to avoid spoilage. This loss of food ac­counts for some of the in­crease in price of food com­modi­ties, as farm­ers look to cover their losses one way or an­other.

Food loss is not lim­ited to toma­toes or veg­eta­bles and fruits. It also af­fects maize, a sta­ple food in many de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, as well as beans, which are the most af­ford­able sources of plant pro­tein in many de­vel­op­ing na­tions. In­sects also con­trib­ute to post-har­vest food losses. Hence, farm­ers and traders use pes­ti­cides to try to pre­vent wee­vil in­fes­ta­tion in crops post-har­vest and be­fore tak­ing them to the mar­ket.

Re­duc­ing food loss and waste (FLW) is a global chal­lenge. In In­dia, about 40 per­cent of the to­tal agri­cul­tural pro­duce is lost along pro­duc­tion and sup­ply chains ev­ery year. A 2013 es­ti­mate found that food that is thrown away in China ev­ery year could feed 200 mil­lion peo­ple. The FAO has re­ported that one-third of the food pro­duced in the world for con­sump­tion gets lost or wasted ev­ery year. This is ap­prox­i­mately 1.3 bil­lion tonnes of food. Glob­ally, 40-50 per­cent of root crops, fruits and veg­eta­bles are lost or wasted. 30 per­cent of ce­re­als grown is lost; 20 per­cent of oil seeds, and 35 per­cent of fish pro­duced are lost or wasted. Mean­while, peo­ple con­tinue to go hun­gry in the pres­ence of plenty.

The prob­lem of food loss and waste is not lim­ited to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. While food loss at the pro­duc­tion and post-har­vest stages is com­mon in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, food waste at the re­tail and con­sumer lev­els is more preva­lent in de­vel­oped coun­tries. Ac­cord­ing to FAO, in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries such as the United King­dom, Ger­many, Malaysia, Sin­ga­pore, Fin­land, the United States of Amer­ica, among oth­ers, waste up to 670 mil­lion tonnes of food an­nu­ally while de­vel­op­ing coun­tries ac­count for about 630 mil­lion tonnes in food losses.

To truly un­der­stand the scale of food loss and waste, one must con­sider that the food cur­rently lost in Africa can feed 300 mil­lion peo­ple. Food cur­rently wasted in Europe can feed 200 mil­lion peo­ple, while the food cur­rently lost in Latin Amer­ica can feed 300 mil­lion peo­ple. If the world is se­ri­ous about hav­ing enough food to feed the es­ti­mated 9.8 bil­lion world pop­u­la­tion by 2050, then gov­ern­ments should ur­gently find ways to save the avail­able food.

The world's pop­u­la­tion is grow­ing rapidly and Africa is at the fore­front of this ex­pan­sion. If we want to be able to feed this grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, we must do bet­ter. We need to start to look at how we grow our crops, and specif­i­cally how we do so in the face of in­creas­ing droughts. We also need to ad­dress how we han­dle our food from when it's har­vested to when it's con­sumed. If we don't, the world's pop­u­la­tion would be left in poorer health, greater inequal­ity and more con­flicts.

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