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Pastoral production is central to national food security, By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu

This week President Bola Tinubu responded very positively, to the economic situation in the country. He correctly understood that there’s a major food crisis facing our country. And as a social democrat, he realised that there must be a concerted response that would begin to open apertures of solution. A hungry country is perched on the dangerous edge of a precipice!

As outlined by Dele Alake, the Presidential spokesperson, “Mr. President is not unmindful of the rising cost of food and how it affects the citizens. While availability is not a problem, affordability has been a major issue to many Nigerians in all parts of the country”. The consequence of that, according to Alake, is that it “has led to a significant drop in demand thereby undermining the viability of the entire agriculture and food value chain”.

The administration is committed to supporting the most vulnerable groups in society, and it is the reason, “that a state of emergency on food security”, was immediately announced. It meant, therefore, “that all matters pertaining to food & water availability and affordability, as essential livelihood items”, are henceforth, “included within the purview of the National Security Council”. Again these are from the Media statement issued by Dele Alake.

This must be first of its kind in recent memory in Nigeria, and the administration must be praised for it’s proactive response to what constitutes a genuine national security risk, and a potential route to perdition, if treated with levity. The spokesperson went further to give hope that “a number of initiatives will be deployed in the coming weeks to reverse (the) inflationary trend and guarantee future uninterrupted supplies of affordable foods to ordinary Nigerians”.

Alake noted that as is the wont with emergencies, there would be “immediate, medium and long term interventions and solutions”. In the immediate term, the Tinubu administration intends “to deploy some savings from the fuel subsidy removal into the Agricultural sector focusing on revamping the agricultural sector”.

Agricultural stakeholders have already been engaged, a memorandum of partnership between government and “the individual stakeholder representatives, was initialled, and that “encompasses the decisions taken and actions proposed”, from that engagement. Unfortunately, we don’t have a list of the “individual stakeholder representatives”, to gauge just how representative they truly are, of the entire agricultural sector.

Nevertheless, an 11-point response platform is being deployed to tackle the situation that Nigeria faces in the agricultural sector. As I indicated earlier, the administration must be applauded for the remarkable speed of response, the commitment to action, and the very detailed outline of actions, proposed.

The eleven-point response is very detailed. And I believe that if we walk the talk, then there should be some definitive movement in a positive direction, over the next couple of months.

But I noticed a lacuna which has always dogged agricultural policy interventions in our country. And they often end up deepening unforseen problems, that are embedded in attempts to solve problems in agricultural development.

The 11-point platform of response clearly, has been prepared by people coming from sedentary farming backgrounds, or who have an innate bias only for sedentary agriculture. I have carefully gone through the items, but I think the brilliant thinkers who designed the platform, forgot the elephant in the room, and that is the issue of pastoral production.

As of 2021, Nigeria has a, population 21.16 million cattle; 47.7 million heads of sheep, and 76 million goats. When the 2011 National Agricultural Sample Survey was conducted, Nigeria similarly had 7.1 million pigs, 1.2million turkeys, 974, 499 donkeys, and 28,000 camels. The statistics of course, made Nigeria number one in livestock production in Africa. The livestock subsector was estimated to contribute about 17% of Nigeria’s Agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 5% of the National GDP.

Historically, most of our livestock production have been done in the main within pastoral production, by herder groups. 90% of Nigerian cattle are owned by Fulbe pastoralists. Other pastoralist communities in Nigeria include the Shuwa, the Buduman, the Kwayam, and the Badawi.

As we have noted, pastoral production is a very important contributor to agricultural development in Nigeria, and the lack of understanding, and sometimes, policy hostility to pastoral production, have resulted in long-term negative consequences for our lofty agricultural ambitions.

The past three decades, or so, have seen a serious deterioration in farmer-herder relationships in huge swathes of our country. Several factors have been identified as being responsible. These include the changing patterns of climate; the struggle for resources of land and water between pastoralists and sedentary farming communities; new agricultural policies that tended to alienate stock routes and watering holes; the increase in population of cattle herds needing fodder, as well as the explosion of population of people, and the need for more land for cultivation; rapid urbanisation which has taken over pastoral routes; the weaponisation of the farmer-herder conflicts; the manner that elite politics have been inflected into the relationship between pastoralists and sedentary farming communities; and not to forget the politics of indigenes versus settlers, which affect very negatively, pastoral production, all over our country.

This background is very important for the Tinubu administration to appreciate the importance of pastoral production, as a very important part of our effort to achieve national food security.

The 11-point platform released in the past 24 hours, clearly indicate the seriousness of the intentions of the administration, to tackle a major national problem. Announcing a state of emergency on food security, as well as locating all matters in respect of food and water availability and affordability, as essential items within the purview of the national security council, took things to the very heart of national survival. And that’s the proper thing to do. But the program suffers the lacuna of non-recognition of the place and importance of pastoral production, in our effort to achieve national food security. An emendation of that platform needs to be done immediately. Pastoral production is a very central part of national food security in Nigeria!

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