The campaign, My Food is African is set to proffer solutions to food system challenges in Nigeria and Africa at large through advocacy for cohesive policy that addresses multi sectoral food related issues. Tackling these challenges, which include climate change, soil degradation, food waste/shortage and inflation, require critical examination of the major causes, rooted in the prevailing patterns of production and consumption. These patterns, that is, the mindless extraction of natural resources, indiscriminate use of pesticides, changing diets due to genetic modification, modernisation and so on, are at the core of the food crisis.
On 25th January 2023, HOMEF held a training for journalists in Port Harcourt, Rivers State to promote awareness, through the campaign on the need for a cohesive food policy to promote healthy diets. The campaign targets to inspire people in Nigeria and Africa to desire and demand traditional food and diets.
Speaking at the training, on the topic Food Culture and Colonialism, Nnimmo Bassey explained that having the campaign, My Food is African, is an indication that Africa has incurred certain losses owing to food colonialism. Thus, the important position of indigenous food systems in the struggle for food sovereignty cannot be over emphasized. “We understand this by reminding ourselves of what the concepts ‘colonial’ and ‘colonialism’ mean”, Bassey clarified.
The dictionary defines colonialism as “the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.” As telling as this definition is, it leaves wide swathes untouched. According to Bassey, “While it is true that colonialism is hugely built around political and economic planks, it also significantly impacts socio-cultural, environmental, agricultural and other spheres, by controlling and subverting what existed before the conquest. The subversion of food systems was intentionally constructed through the colonization of thought, a phenomenon that persists as coloniality.”
Bassey campaigned for the decolonization of our food system in order to “liberate our tongues, bring back the forgotten tastes, make way to revive our cultures and bring back vibrancy into the lives of our rural communities.” With this, “Agriculture would recover and play their roles in pollination; farmers will experience bumper harvests, thereby, breaking the chains of import dependence.” Bassey stated, adding that “A decolonized food system uncovers the falsehood of genetically engineered crops.”
Jacqueline Ikeotuonye who spoke on Changing Diets and the Threats to Food Sovereignty, shared an observation that Africans had never really worried about food availability until recently. She condemned the trend of people movingfrom eating natural food to packaged food and attaching a high status symbol to the purchasing of food from big malls. She noted that, “While concentrating on ultra-processed foods, many of us have abandoned our traditional and highly nutritional diets and this has resulted to increased incidences of diseases like cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure amongst others.”
Ikeotuonye censured the expansive use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture, stating that it is one of the most potent symbols of the worldwide threat to food justice and food sovereignty. She noted that recent studies confirm locally-scaled, peasant agriculture to be far better able to feed people than all the innovations of global agribusiness. She further explained that genetic engineering, besides its far reaching environmental impacts (loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, etc.) has even more devastating consequences than the consumption of processed foods as it is associated with very high levels of genome scrambling, disruption, and unusually high mutation rates.
She ended her session calling for continuous resistance of the invasive genetic manipulation of African food.
Concerning the issue of transitioning to agroecology as a sustainable remedy to food system challenges, Ikenna Donald Ofoegbu presented the opportunities and challenges. According to him, agroecology can solve Nigeria’s socioeconomic and environmental problems from their roots. “It can ensure the regeneration of our ecosystem, high productivity and income generation for farmers.” He state.
Agroecology which involves multiple cropping and tree planting encourages biodiversity restoration and guarantees food security, sovereignty and sustainability while enhancing productivity of the land. Ofoegbu called for an urgent shift from a farming system dependent on highly hazardous pesticides, genetically modified seeds, fossil fuels, etc. to an agroecology system which uses natural and ecologically friendly techniques.
Ofoegbu noted that one barrier to the transition to agroecology is the limited knowledge and capacity, among farmers, government officials, and consumers, in the area of agroecology. Other challenges he stated include: the dominance of large-scale industrial agro companies and their deep pocket lobby groups; government’s focus on agricultural biotechnology/monocultures and; the lack of structures or policy supportive of organic and agroecology systems.
Opportunities, however, abound seeing evidence of the benefits of agroecology practice in Nigeria and this can be upscaled with proper research, partnerships and adequate support from the government. “Biodiversity restoration, soil regeneration, new jobs creation, more yield and crop variety per hectare, peaceful coexistence between herders and farmers, increase in local revenue, etc. are just a few of the benefits of agroecology.” Ofoegbu stated.
Joyce Brown who spoke on the topic Assessing Food Policies in Nigeria: Where are the Gaps? shared findings made in an in-depth policy analysis of the agricultural policies in Nigeria. According to her, the analysis revealed that past national agricultural sector plans and policies shared common goals and objectives which did not match implementation capacity and resources.
Brown also stated that the plans and policies were rarely evaluated for impact, rather, focus was more on spending and inventory outputs assessments. Another gap identified in the analysis was lack of policy continuity leading to many agricultural programmes and initiatives not progressing smoothly from implementation to measurement of outcomes and expected impact. This meant the presence of weak monitoring and evaluation systems. Also revealed, was the inadequate coordination and poor alignment of policies between the federal and state governments, the incompleteness as well as inconsistency of policies.
It was stressed that to address food systems challenges, Nigeria needs to strengthen planning and coordination of policy on food, nutrition, and agriculture; halt the deployment of GMOs and; produce holistic and cohesive food policy with agroecology as the backbone.