Food security and national power

Food security and national power
20 September 2020

One of the basic needs of man is food. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places food, which falls under physical survival needs, above other human needs.

Maslow, who is noted for his pioneering effort in human psychology and  his work on, ‘how people get the best from themselves’; posits that ‘all human beings have five levels of needs  to be satisfied…’. This, the American psychologist, identifies in hierarchical order to include: “physical survival needs, physical safety needs, love and belonging needs, self-esteem needs and self-fulfilment (self-actualization).”

Maslow’s pyramidal pontification on human needs has become a cornerstone of existence and a fundamental challenge for humanity. Little wonder,  at individual, family, community, state, national and global  levels, meeting food needs, which is one essential element in the hierarchy, is a very critical element.

Food has become one of the indicators of national power and a very important parameter on which nations are measured. It is often a political and diplomatic tool in international politics. It is also, as has been noted by defence and security experts, an instrument of war that could be deployed to weaken an adversary.

It is therefore not surprising that one of the threats in the seven identified areas in the concept of human security is food security. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), sees food security as: ‘ requiring that all people at all times have both physical and economic access to basic food’.

According to the United Nations, “the overall availability of food is not a problem, rather the problem often is the poor distribution of food and a lack of purchasing power…” The World Health Organization, (WHO), identifies three pillars that determine food security to include: food availability, food access and food use and misuse. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) adds a fourth pillar which is: ‘stability of the three dimensions of food security overtime.’ Hence, availability, access, utilization and stability are important parameters used in measuring food security.

Despite its importance to human survival and efforts by all stakeholders, food security has remained one of the biggest challenges in the world. Many nations have remained food insecure with millions of their citizens going to bed hungry every day. States, international organizations, civil society groups, individuals have been making collaborative efforts to end hunger and ensure food sufficiency in the world. This is a challenge and considered a ‘global shame’ that the world is yet to meet the 2015 MDGs Target 1, which was to ‘halve extreme poverty and hunger’.

Africa, more than any continent is considered as the most food insecure. In Africa, with its growing population, many countries are faced with challenges of feeding their citizens. This is due in part to conflicts, droughts, climate change and economic policies.

Nigeria, considered the giant of Africa with huge potentials is also facing challenges of feeding its citizens. At independence, agriculture was the mainstay of its economy. Indeed, records show that Nigeria was able to feed its citizens and even export farm produce.  Nigeria lost its global rating on food security with the discovery of oil in the 1970s and gradually fell into the category of countries faced with the challenge of food security.

Similar to many African countries, Nigeria’s food insecurity is as a result of economic policies, conflicts, climate change, policy inconsistency and lack of linkages between research and development.

Nigeria established various policies and programmes to enhance its agriculture which it has not been consistent with. Records show that: “With very little support form government, Nigerian agriculture was able to grow at a sufficient rate to  provide adequate food for an increasing population, raw materials for a budding industrial sector, increased public revenue and foreign exchange for government and employment opportunities for an expanding labour force.”

However, fortunes began to dwindle when Nigeria started  to experience, ‘increasing food supply short-falls, rising food prices and declining foreign exchange earnings from agricultural exports.’  The situation continued to deteriorate from the second decade of Independence through the third  decade  with the experience of civil war and the ‘oil boom’, coupled with rural-urban migration which led to ‘accelerated migration of farming population from the agriculture sector’.

While there have been concerted efforts by successive administrations in Nigeria through national development policies and programmes aimed at reversing  the negative trend,  food insecurity has remained a major national challenge. To date many Nigerians see the oil boom as ‘a resource curse’ due to the inability of successive administrations to refocus the nation’s economy from overdependence on oil and diversify to agriculture and other available resources.

Since 2015, however, President Muhammadu Buhari has made revamping the agricultural sector a key agenda of his administration. It is in this wise, and in recognition of food security as a national challenge, that the recent meeting of the National Food Security Council presided over by the President is a welcome development.

Beyond this meeting and other similar efforts by the administration, the demonstration of political will by president Buhari must trickle down the ladder to all stakeholders and policy makers, with a clear understanding that building a food-secured Nigeria is not just an agenda focused on feeding her population, but knowing that food security is an element of national power necessary for Nigeria’s image and respect in the comity of nations.

Hence, the administration must work towards fulfilling conventional roles ascribed to the agricultural sector which include: ‘providing adequate food for an increasing population, supplying adequate raw materials to a growing industrial sector, constituting a major source of employment, constituting a major source of foreign exchange earnings, and providing a market for products of the industrial sector’. Above all, Nigeria must develop an agricultural sector that contributes significantly to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).