Abubakar and the task of getting food from farm to fork in Nigeria

The global food system is expected to provide safe and nutritious food to a population that will likely grow from the current 7.5 billion people to nearly 10 billion by 2050. Not only will there be more mouths to feed, but as incomes grow in emerging and developing economies, so too will the demand for meat, fish, and dairy.The global food system has a large environmental footprint. In fact, agriculture occupies nearly 40% of the earth’s surface, far more than any other human activity.

In addition, irrigation of agricultural crops comprises 70% of global water use and agriculture directly contributes to around 11% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (mostly through livestock). 

Expanding agricultural land can also lead to deforestation, additional GHG emissions, and a loss of biodiversity.These three challenges – feeding a growing population, providing a livelihood for farmers, and protecting the environment – must be tackled together if we are to make sustainable progress in any of them. But making progress on this “triple challenge” is difficult, as initiatives in one domain can have unintended consequences in another.It is therefore in this regard that stakeholders hail the recent appointment of Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar former Minister of Environment as the new Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development; a step in the right direction, a round peg in a round hole. 

Abubakar is a man with cognate experience in academics and  public administration. Given the nexus between agriculture and environment, there couldn’t have been a better replacement to the erswhile agric minister than the minister of enviroment whose footprints in the ministry are very visbile. Born on December 30, 1958, in Tudun-Wada, Kaduna state, Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, PhD, obtained bachelor & masters degrees in Microbiology and Natural Resources Management, respectively, from Central Washington University, Ellensburg and Ph.D in Watersheds Management from the University of Arizona, USA. He worked in various organisations as Environmental Health Inspector, Industrial Hygienist and Waste Investigator all in USA. He was a former member, Kaduna State House of Assembly. 
Less than two years to the end of his administration, President Muhammadu Buhari is clearly in a hurry to deliver on his electoral promises to Nigerians. Key among them is food security.

As a country blessed by God with abundant human and material resources with arable land, rich  agricultural products, aquatic animals and other life-enhancers, there is no reason why Nigerians should not have enough to eat and even export. Before the discovery of oil in Oloibiri Bayelsa state, agriculture was the mainstay of our nation’s economy. We remember with nostalgia the famous cocoa farms in the west, oil palm plantation in the east, groundnut pyramid and livestock in the north, large yam barns and cassava stems found in the middle belt and southern parts of the country, among other things. 

With the coming on stream of the new minister of agriculture and rural development, a tested technocrat and astute administrator, stakeholders in the agriculture sector expect him to adopt a business attitude to agriculture, which is key to the economic growth in terms of food and raw materials for agro-allied industries, revisit agricultural initiatives of the previous administration and adopt working policies without political, ethnic or religious biases, facilitate dry season farming, as well as encourage agricultural research institutes to come up with technologies that would increase farmers’ productivity. In line with president Buhari’s directive, Abubakar has already set the ball rolling by stating that the policy direction of the ministry under his watch would be to position agriculture as the mainstay of the nation’s economy.

“We  shall provide the necessary policy direction and drive that will truly position agriculture as the mainstay of our economy as captured in the medium term national development plan, and the president’s vision of lifting 100 million people out of poverty in 10 years,” Abubakar said at the handing over ceremony held at the ministry’s conference room in Abuja. He said the livestock transformation plan would be prioritised, not just for food security, but also to curb insecurity challenges in the country. While laying emphasis on the need to boost food availability in the country, Abubakar advocated patronage of local agro products so as to encourage domestic farmers.

 “The job of keeping our environment safe and sound is the job of everybody. This can be applicable to agriculture. We must support our farmers so they can continue to produce. During the closure of border we had sufficient rice and this shows the possibility of our food sufficiency,” Within the short period he was  in office as minister of environment, Abubakar achieved the following: established policies that have supported the implementation of the ministry’s mandate which include: National Policy on Environment; National Policy on Solid Waste Management; National Policy on Plastic Waste Management; National Forest Policy;  National Policy on Climate Change; National Biosafety Policy as well as National Action Plan on Gender and Climate Change.

Through the operationalization of the aforementioned policies, as well as deployment of other specific intervention programmes with the active support of President Buhari, the following priority mandates were achieved: Accelerated the implementation of the Ogoni Clean-up which has continued to achieve considerable progress since inception in three core areas of remediation, livelihood programme and water supply; accelerated the implementation of the Great Green Wall programme, the National Afforestation Program and promoting set targets for tree planting. 

In the area of livelihood programme, 400 Ogoni women were trained in Agribusiness and Entrepreneurial Skills while twenty (20) Cooperatives were set up by HYPREP and duly registered by the Cooperative Unit of the Rivers State Ministry of Commerce and Industry for the trained women. The Ministry of environment through the combined efforts of Federal Department of Forestry (FDF) and Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN) saw to the increase in the number of trees planted from a baseline of 292,140 in 2019 to 18,500,000 in 2020. And in line with the ministry’s effort towards national forest cover restoration, collaboration was fostered between the federal ministry of environment and the 36 states governors to gazette lands for forestry development which is the first of such accord between the states and the ministry. The minister also ensured the prioritization and enforcement of the implementation of the Gas-Flare (prevention of Waste and Pollution) Regulations 2018.With regards to waste management, community-based Solid Waste Management Project for the 36 states was achieved.

 The ministry under his watch also began the implementation of a comprehensive Programme on the Domestic Use of Liquefied Petroleum Gas and actively collaborated with the private sector to create 65, 200 well-paying jobs for Nigerian youths As at the time he was redeployed to the Ministry of Agriculture, various erosion control projects across the states were at different stages of completion. With the successes recorded, the project Intervention expanded from 19 to 23 states within the period under review. In the same vein, eco-tourism through the National Parks Service was also developed just as Sanitation Desks were established by the ministry in the 36 states and the FCT while environmental health surveillance system was activated for environmental surveillance of all the 774 local government areas in the country. 

It is not in doubt that food security is everything and that as a country we have all that it takes to make Nigeria the number one producer and exporter of food not just in Africa but beyond. Bearing this in mind, the agric minister should  focus on improving fertilizer, stop the importation of rice, fish, wheat and several other food crops across the country, and scale up employment in the sector.He should equally make informed decisions by embracing agricultural data. The fact is, better data leads to better decisions by governments, donors and farmers which ultimately leads to better life for Nigerians Initiatives like the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative should have been more demand-based rather than heavily focusing on supply. All other programs and interventions too must have a market driven, demand-based approach.Furthermore, it is not too much to ask him to pay a special attention to agricultural insurance in Nigeria. 

For a country that claims special attention to agriculture, this neglect is reckless.Why are our dams harbingers of disaster, instead of the adequate means of livelihoods they should be? Why are we unable to track, understand and employ measures against the persistently recurring floods caused by the overflows of our two main rivers for decades? What is the true cost of only ‘cushioning the effects’ of these disasters? Why do smallholder farmers with nothing more but their season’s harvest have to repeatedly lose everything to bandits each year? These and more are critical issues that Agric Minister Abubakar must address as quickly as possible.

Hassan writes from Abuja

Related content you may like