Nigeria, like many other African countries, faces the challenge of ensuring sufficient food productivity/availability and economic resilience for farmers in the face of severe climatic impacts, farmers-herders crises, COVID-19 and a burgeoning population. The food system in Nigeria is largely informal with farmers sourcing for and exchanging seeds as well as other farming inputs. Threats from industrial agribusiness have negative implications for this system with regards to control over seeds, nutritional diversity, health, environment and economic wellbeing. The alignment of our seed laws to International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (1991 UPOV Convention) also has negative implications for our farmers’ rights.

There is, therefore the need to define a pathway to a healthy, secure and sustainable food system and cohesive national/African food policy that addresses the challenges to our food system. To drive this cause, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) held a multi-stakeholders engagement with different actors in the food sector including farmers, relevant government ministries, researchers, nutritionists, academics, CSOs etc. in Abuja Nigeria, on 24 March 2021.

The group deliberations were focused on key premises including how to define a good food system; what should be the guiding principles to promote sustain-able food systems that improve nutrition and enable healthy diets; what are the existing barriers to a better food system and; opportunities for better food policy.

In his welcome words, the Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, stated: “policies with provisions guiding farming and food in our nation have generally not been the most progressive. One would expect a nation, nay continent, that has been so dastardly exploited to demand for reparations by way of colonial, ecological or climate debt, but no, our leaders still kowtow to the same temples of exploitation, plead for more loans and sink deeper into the mire of hopeless debt.”

Furthermore, the Director stated that one of the most important lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic is that life is best preserved when beings live in deference to one other, when species are not displaced from their habitats and humans are not denied their rights to shelter, food and dignity. He added that small scale farmers who actually feed our people are extremely disadvantaged when it comes to support for food production, by a lack of incentives and an abysmal extension agent to farmer ratio.

The government was strongly advised to invest massively in providing support for small scale farmers by: closing the ratio of available extension agents, promoting local seeds varieties, providing storage and processing facilities across the nation, supporting farmer-cooperatives, and providing infrastructure for ensuring that harvests get to the markets and small scale farmers earn a decent income from their labour. 

After the extensive discussions by stakeholders the following action points and recommendations were drawn:
1.    The small scale farmers who produce food with ecologically sound methods should be supported with the needed infrastructure, funding and fair market conditions.
2.    The government should ensure that food policies are coherent, implementable and that they address the challenges in the food sector.
3.    Farmers and other stakeholders in the food sector at grassroots level should be involved in decision/policy making processes regarding our food.
4.    Extension services should be improved to advance farmers’ knowledge and practice for better productivity. Private extension services should be encouraged.
5.    There should be better education/sensitization for farmers on the importance of producing and consuming local foods.
6.    The Ministry of Agriculture and other stakeholders should discourage the use of inorganic herbicides and pesticides in order to promote healthy soils for healthy food/nutrition.
7.    Seed banks should be set up in all states across the nation for preservation of indigenous seeds.
8.    GMOs should be kept off our food system. The government should support and promote Agro-ecology which ensures optimum food production in ways that and ecologically sound and economically viable.
9.    An enabling environment should be created for young people in Agriculture. 
10.    The quality of our food is key to the assurance of not just our health, but also our socio-economic wellbeing. Government should not be dependent on the private sector for seed reproduction/improvement.

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