Stakeholders in the agriculture sector of the economy have called for total transformation of the nation’s food systems to prevent hunger and arrest incidence of poverty.
They made the call recently during the 2nd International Conference hosted by the Faculty of Agriculture, Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu Alike, Ebonyi State, with the theme, “Transforming National Food Systems to Prevent Hunger” as part of their Food Security and Hidden Hunger series.
While delivering the keynote speech, the Deputy Director-General, International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Oyo State, Dr. Kenton Daschiell, noted that it was possible to achieve zero hunger in Nigeria if the right systems were put in place. He also opined that zero hunger would be attained in Nigeria when farmers grow what they eat and eat what they grow.
He further revealed that series of meetings have been held by the Zero Hunger Forum championed by former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, in Benue, Borno and Ebonyi states, adding that these interactions have led to increased results in food production and extensive agricultural produce.
Dr. Daschiell also stated that Nigeria has done well in achieving some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by providing nutritional food that reduces infant mortality among primary school pupils, bio-control products containing beneficial fungi that reduce afflation concentrations in groundnut and maize by 99% compared to untreated crops and increased growth opportunity for cassava products in the food sector. He further acknowledged that Nigeria has an enormous potential for industrialisation through cassava processing.
He, however, pointed out that some of the major bottlenecks that Nigerians were encountering in food production to include high production cost due to low yield, leading to lack of global competitiveness and lack of good road network and new technologies. And stated that, for agricultural sector to close the yield-gap in produce, they must involve new technologies and increase cassava competitiveness to fight hidden hunger in Nigeria.
While declaring the conference open, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Chinedum Nwajiuba, expressed satisfaction on the academic trajectory being charted by the Faculty of Agriculture of the university, adding that they have made the institution proud by being practical-oriented in the delivery of their academic brief and thereby enhancing food production.
He stressed that transforming national food system demands SMART policymaking and programme formulation which was the reason for the annual conference on Food Security and Hidden Hunger in the university. He advised government to think out of the box to identify new ways the country should go so that it would not be stocked in the 17th century policy model.
The Vice-Chancellor assured that students of the university would be trained to be productive, employable and employers of labour in the agricultural sector, particularly now that there is a global effort to build a resilient and sustainable food systems for securing a healthy future for everyone.
Also speaking at the event, the Chairman, Local Organising Committee, Professor Dr. Johnny Ogunji, said that hunger may not only be evident in the quantity of food eaten, “as you may eat a lot but still derive nothing from it”. He stressed that the food sector has undergone rapid but unsustainable changes in the last few decades leading to changes in the food eaten, processed and marketed, which has led to high incidence of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension and different degrees of malnutrition among the people. He therefore advised the Nigerian government to ensure the country makes progress in agriculture to end all forms of malnutrition and make food systems more sustainable.
While welcoming the participants, the Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, Dr. Christiana Igberi, said the university has taken the lead in the transformation of the agricultural sector by creating several hotspots for capacity building, innovative approach and incorporating the indigenous knowledge and local content for adaptability in order to realise the stated goals. She informed the participants that the faculty had embarked on the production of cucumber, maize, pepper, tomatoes and other vegetables through its farm, which has been scientifically tested as safe product though not yet in commercial quantity due to lack of land.
She maintained that every student was meant to engage in practical agricultural activities to complement the theories learnt in class in pursuance of their vision to proffer solution to the alarming food insecurity in the country.
The highlight of the conference, which was chaired by the Director of International Cooperation, Babcok University, Professor Cyril Nwagbuika, includes displaying of some agricultural produce such as packaged cassava flour, packaged “fufu”, cucumber and others from the university farm.