By MAUREEN OKON/MAGDALENE UKUEDOJOR
IN 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) named Nigeria as one of the 38 countries that are set to meet the Millennium Development Goal 1 target of reducing hunger by half before the 2015 target date.
The recognition earned Nigeria an award at the high-level FAO conference ceremony in Rome.
The first goal of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — “Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty’’ — is targeted halving the proportion of the population who suffer from hunger and those whose income is less than 1dollar (about N162) a day.
The other targets of the goal are to reduce the prevalence of underweight children under the age of five years and the proportion of the population whose food intake is below the minimum level of dietary energy consumption.
The progress of Nigeria’s achievement was measured from 1990 to 1992 and 2010 to 2012, against benchmarks established by the international community at the UN General Assembly in 2000.
FAO’s Director-General José da Silva commended Nigeria and the other 37 countries for “leading the way to a better future”.
A report on the MDGs in Nigeria indicated that recent economic growth, particularly in agriculture, had markedly reduced the proportion of underweight children from 35.7 per cent in 1990 to 23.1 per cent in 2012.
Dr Precious Gbeneol, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs, said that Nigeria had been able to attain the target of MDG 1 relating to hunger reduction.
“We have been able to reduce hunger from the 1991 prevalence of 19.3 to 8.25, well ahead of the 9.6-prevalence rate set-target for 2015,’’ she said.
Gbeneol attributed the feat to pragmatic government initiatives which scaled up poverty eradication programmes and encouraged agricultural production via distribution of improved inputs to farmers.
At the onset of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, pledged that efforts would be made to add 20 million tonnes of food to the nation’s food stock by 2015.
He said that additional 15 million tonnes of food were produced between 2011 and 2013, thereby reducing drastically the menace of hunger in the country.
Moreover, the country’s research institutes, in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), have produced more nutritious food crops, thereby increasing the body mass of infants and adults, in line with target of MDG 1.
Such crops include yellow-fleshed cassava and potato varieties which are rich in Vitamin A, maize hybrids that are resistant to metsulfuron methyl herbicide and the noxious parasitic weed striga hermonthica.
Besides, improved rice varieties, fingerlings, livestock, poultry and feeds were distributed to farmers nationwide through the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) Scheme at subsidised rates.
Value chains on staple and cash crops, which include rice, cassava, soyabean, sorgum, millet, cocoa, ginger and groundnut, among others, were introduced to encourage agri-businesses and stimulate increased food production.
Nevertheless, there are mixed reactions to the feats recorded by Nigeria in efforts to attain MDG 1.
While many farmers attest to the effectiveness of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), a cross-section of Nigerians insist that the effects of ATA on the society have been minimal and inconsequential.
Increasing food prices, unrest in some parts of the country, increased rural-urban migration due to factors such as hunger and unemployment are some of the factors plaguing the society, some observers say.
Mr Segun Ade, a civil servant, said that a lot of Nigerians were still living in extreme hunger and poverty.
“There is poverty in the land; we stay here in Abuja and give statistics but whether you like it or not, a lot of people are quite hungry; they cannot afford good meals.
“Even many of the government workers find it difficult to feed, not to talk of taking care of their families; we are merely striving to survive.
“These officials should go to core villages and see the things happening there, they should even endeavour to visit the slums around here in Abuja,” he said.
Similarly, Mr Efe Osagie, a mechanic, also rejected claims that hunger and poverty had reduced considerably in Nigeria.
“The gap between the poor and rich keeps widening; people still live in abject poverty; so, why should we not strive to wipe out poverty completely?
“We can do it because Nigeria is a very rich country, the problem is that a few citizens want to take over everything,” he said.
Mrs Rita Onah, a trader at Garki Market in Abuja, said that food production in the country had increased considerably due to the feats recorded in the agricultural sector.
She, however, noted that some factors such as inadequate storage facilities, bad roads and high transport fares had lessened the impact of the achievements.
“The farmers have more crops to sell but how can they bring them out from their farms? They spend so much on transportation and there are no storage facilities around to preserve the produce.
“If the roads are good, food prices will definitely come down. We buy the food from farms and markets in interior places but due to our transportation problems and the number of days we spend on the road, food prices cannot come down,” she said.
Experts, therefore, underscore the need for improved infrastructure, agricultural mechanisation, food preservation facilities and hitch-free government interventions in efforts aimed at improving the country’s food security.
They also call for more concerted efforts in meeting the targets of all the MDGs, as they all aim at facilitating the country’s socio-economic development in a pragmatic way.
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