Nigeria and Africa at large are combating food system related issues such as malnutrition, environmental degradation, the rise in non-communicable diseases (NCDs), cultural erosion and injustice. These issues can mostly be linked to defective or inadequate food policies.
Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) in partnership with Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) carried out a collaborative research and reflection process to identify what tools are required to deliver sustainable food systems in Africa through coherent and effective policies. A study was carried out to explore the current governance structures and policy frameworks related to food in Nigeria and their fitness for purpose. The study which was conducted by Gloria Ekpo, a development consultant and facilitator at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, analysed the coherence between the food related policies and identified gaps for introducing reforms. The national plans, policies, programmes, initiatives and key implementing agencies that have guided and shaped the Nigerian agricultural, food security, and rural development landscapes from 1990 to 2020 were assessed. The aim was to show their impact on the lives of Nigerians, the food sector, and the entire ecosystem.
On 6 May 2021 various stakeholders in the food sector including farmers, nutritionists, researchers, journalists, CSOs met in an in-person and virtual dialogue organised by HOMEF to review the findings of the study. Discussions focused on the gaps in the policies and on entry points for a better food policy and healthy, resilient and sustain-able food system in Nigeria and Africa.
The research report and extensive discussions by the stakeholders highlighted issues facing food systems in Nigeria to include population growth, high number of people living in extreme poverty and rapid urbanization. It was also noted that public investments in the agricultural sector are low, resulting in underdeveloped infrastructure.
Weak institutions, weak links between science and practice, low quality of education, and non-transparent markets with high transaction costs and high investment risks despite the high (urban) demand for food were also noted as challenges in the agricultural sector.
Furthermore, it was stated that environmental trends, such as soil degradation, climate change, water scarcity, deforestation and decreasing biodiversity pose added threats to the food system. Other issues outlined include, the scarcity of resources which is a major driver of the pastoral-farmer conflict in Northern Nigeria; exclusion of small scale farmers in decision making process; and poor extension service.
Overall, it was revealed that the food related policies in Nigeria do not adequately address the challenges facing our food system. Some of the gaps identified in the food related policies in Nigeria include, poor coordination of policies on food, nutrition, and agriculture and poor alignment of policies between the federal and state governments.
Other issues include weak monitoring and evaluation systems. A lack of continuity was also noted as many agricultural programmes and initiatives do not progress smoothly from implementation into expected outcomes and impacts.
The absence of a Food Safety Act enacted early enough to, for example, control what is brought into the country was also listed as a pitfall.
Stakeholders called for an implementable cohesive food policy which can address the outlined challenges facing our food system. They recommended that the different policy areas (agriculture, trade, environment, health) and the different levels of engagement should be effectively connected.
Also, it was recommended that a governing body which would provide policy oversight should be set up to address the coordination pitfalls. This oversight body should have legalised inter-ministerial authority and could take the form of a Governing Platform for National Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture.
Agroecology should be mainstreamed into our food policy as it emphasises the development and application of integrated approaches that build on local knowledge and skills; stresses on the democratisation of agricultural research and development; supports diverse forms of co-inquiry and co-management; promotes people-centred learning and action; and nourishes ecosystems while ensuring optimum productivity.
It was further recommended that a mechanism for accountability should be included in policies and mechanisms to finance implementation of the policies given priority. Other recommendations include provision of better support for small scale farmers such as, better extension service, infrastructure, credit schemes and access to market.
Stakeholders at the dialogue also examined the impact of (bio) technology on our food system and the role that biotechnology related policies play in delivering or hindering the attainment of an ideal food system in Nigeria and Africa.
A presentation by Tom Wakeford of ETC Group on The Role of Technologies, Corporations and Agroecosystems in Shaping our Desired Future led to discussions centered on the 4th industrial revolution with elements including machine learning (artificial intelligence), remote sensing technologies, internet of things, synthetic biology, cell culture engineering, gene drives, etc. Concerns expressed about the technologies include, infringement on people’s rights, destruction of biodiversity and negative impacts on local economies especially on grassroots food producers.
Participants recommended that independent researchers should step in to inform policy formulation that ensures science is deployed in the best interest of our people, health and environment.
Another issue of concern which the stakeholders discussed was the Plant Variety Protection Bill which currently sits on the table of the Nigerian president waiting to be signed into law. According to the Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, “the bill aligns with the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), a patent driven system formulated without the participation of African countries and designed by countries where agriculture is a business rather than a way of life.
“Nigeria needs an omnibus law that covers plants, animals, and fishes. Rather than approaching food in silos, promoting the interest of seed oligarchs and speculators, we should be looking at how to create spaces for the celebration of traditional ecological knowledge and technologies and at how to amplify our traditional diets and cuisine. We should look for ways to encourage research into these as a sure pathway to secure our food systems for now and for the future.” Nnimmo Bassey stated.