Solving the food system challenges (climate change, soil degradation, food waste/shortage, inflation etc) that Nigeria and Africa is faced with requires that we critically examine our current production and consumption patterns. It means that we must look critically at the root causes of these problems – the mindless extraction of natural resources, indiscriminate use of pesticides, changing diets due to genetic modification, modernisation etc – It means we must create a policy framework that addresses the multi sectoral food related issues.

On 25th January 2023, HOMEF held a training for journalists in Port Harcourt, Rivers State to promote awareness on the need for a cohesive food policy, to  promote healthy diets and inspire people in Nigeria and Africa to desire and demand traditional food and diets. Below are highlights from the various discussion sessions.

Food Culture and Colonialism –Nnimmo Bassey

Stating that our food is African implies the loss we see owing to food colonialism. 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’ means. 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. 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. It impacts all these spheres by controlling and subverting what existed before the conquest. We need to emphasize these approaches: control and subversion. The subversion of food systems was intentionally constructed through the colonization of thought, a phenomenon that persists as coloniality.

Decolonizing our food system would 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. Agriculture would recover and play their roles in pollination; farmers will experience bumper harvests breaking the chains of import dependence. A decolonized food system uncovers the falsehood of genetically engineered crops.

Changing Diets and the Threats to Food Sovereignty  Jacqueline Ikeotuonye

Africans had never really worried about  availability of food but in recent times, it has become a serious issue. People have gradually moved from eating natural foods to packaged foods; buying food from big malls have now become a status symbol. While concentrating on ultra-processed foods many of us have abandoned our traditional and highly nutritional diets resulting to increased incidences of diseases like cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure amongst others. 

The expansive use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture is one of the most potent symbols of the worldwide threat to food justice and food sovereignty, whereas several recent studies affirm that locally-scaled, peasant agriculture is far better able to feed hungry people than all the innovations of global agribusiness.

Genetic engineering, besides its far reaching environmental impacts (loss of biodiversity, soil degradation…) 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.

We must continue to resist this invasive genetic manipulation of our food. 

Transitioning to Agroecology – the Opportunities and Challenges – Ikenna Donald Ofoegbu

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. Agroecology, including the oractices of multiple cropping and planting of trees encourages biodiversity restoration and guarantees food security, sovereignty and sustainability. We need to urgently shift from the farming system dependent on highly hazardous pesticides, genetically modified seeds, fossil fuels etc to an agroecology system which uses natural and ecologically friendly techniques in farming thereby maintaining/enhancing productivity of the land while assuring food security as well as food sovereignty. 

Some of the barriers to this transition include limited knowledge and capacity among farmers, government officials, and consumers on Agroecology; the dominance of large-scale industrial agro companies and their big pocket lobby groups; and government’s focus on agricultural biotechnology/monocultures and lack of structures or policy supportive of organic and agroecology systems. 

There is however 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 as just a few of the benefits of agroecology.

Assessing Food Policies in Nigeria: Where are the Gaps? Joyce Brown

In-depth, policy analyses of the agricultural policies in Nigeria, revealed that past national agricultural sector plans and policies share a common set of goals and objectives, though in varying degrees and mixes. However, these policies set achievement targets which were not realistically matched with the right implementation capacity and resources. Also, these agricultural sector plans and policies are rarely evaluated for impact beyond the assessment of spending and inventory outputs.

Other gaps identified include: lack of policy continuity, whereby many agricultural programmes and initiatives do not progress smoothly from implementation and mature into outcomes and expected impact; inadequate coordination and poor alignment of policies between the federal and state governments; weak monitoring and evaluation systems; and incompleteness as well as inconsistency of policies.

Nigeria needs to strengthen her planning and coordination of policy on food, nutrition, and agriculture; halt the deployment and use of GMOs; and produce holistic and cohesive food policy expedient to address food systems challenges with agroecology as the backbone.

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