Food security as component of national security
By Usman Zakari
THE Norwegian Nobel Committee conferred 2020’s Nobel Peace Prize on the World Food Programme (WFP) for its efforts in combating hunger. The committee made a clear connection between food security and national security when it noted that the WFP should be commended “for bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict”. The outbreak of COVID-19 has further highlighted the security emergency posed by food insecurity, but even before the pandemic, Nigeria had identified food security as crucial to national security. For instance, in March 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the National Food Security Council (NFSC). The council was mandated to develop sustainable solutions to farmers and herdsmen clashes, climate change, piracy and banditry, as well as desertification, and their impacts on farmland, grazing areas, lakes and rivers. The council, personally chaired by the president, has the Secretary to the Government of the Federation; the Chief of Staff to the President; the National Security Adviser; the Chief of Defence Staff; the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; the director-general of the State Services; the director-general of the National Intelligence Agency, and the comptroller-general of the Nigerian Immigration Service, as well as governors of Delta, Ebonyi, Kebbi, Lagos, Plateau and Taraba states as members.
Also members of the NFSC are ministers of agriculture and rural development; budget and national planning; environment; industry, trade and investment; interior; finance; and water resources. At one of its meetings in 2020, President Buhari reiterated his commitment to tackling food insecurity as a way of partially confronting the security challenges being experienced in parts of the country. Recently, the president also directed the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) to set up integrated farm estates in all 108 senatorial districts nationwide. Executive Secretary of NALDA, Paul Ikonne, said the scheme was aimed at engaging youths to achieve food security in the shortest possible time. “What you see is that agriculture is one of Mr. President’s heartbeat projects and he wants to see that we achieve food security in the country and NALDA is purely under the supervision of Mr. President and that is why you can see the progress that we’re making,” he said. He consequently encouraged state governors to key into the president’s desire to avail lands for the establishment of farm estates.
The United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security defines food security to mean that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life. Nigeria’s National Security Strategy (NSS) 2019, which was developed by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), led by National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno, therefore captured the essence of both the rationale behind connecting food security to national security and policy thrusts intended to be deployed to attain sustainable access to affordable and nutritious food. “We recognise our farmers as the bedrock of this strategy, hence we will prioritise a range of measures to enhance their productivity. We have one of the most conducive environments for food production. With the drastic reduction in food importation, we will continue to develop our agricultural potentials to attain self-sufficiency in food production as well as exportation. We will also endeavour to overcome further challenges such as climate change, land conflict, land degradation, rapid urbanisation and insurgency,” the NSS spells out.
To achieve the goal of food security, the Nigerian government intends to consolidate investment in agricultural mechanisation and irrigation infrastructure to mitigate the risk and uncertainty occasioned by seasonal rainfall. “Our food security strategy also requires support for initiatives that protect long-term leaseholds on farmland and the institution of clear property rights as well as promote national sufficiency in strategic commodities and increase access to markets through massive rehabilitation and construction of rural infrastructure.” The national food strategy also emphasises regional and international collaborations, especially since, in the long run, the effects of food insecurity have no national boundaries. It is not difficult to see why. The World Bank reported in August that an increasing number of countries were facing growing levels of acute food insecurity. It said the development was a reversal of years of development gains in food security. “Disrupted supply chains and acute hunger were on the rise due to various factors including conflict, socio-economic conditions, natural hazards, climate change and pests.
A similar warning was recently issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), saying that severe disruptions in agricultural value chain due to security challenges and COVID-19 could lead to intractable food crisis in Nigeria. Presently, 65 per cent of WFP’s programme of work has been in settings where conflict and instability play a major role in food insecurity and under-nutrition and 70 per cent of the world’s poorest people who require such interventions live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood. It is in this context that President Buhari’s stern warning against the disruption of food production by criminals becomes explicable. In February, the UN’s Committee on World Food Security endorsed a new policy document aimed at guiding the transformation of global food systems to address malnutrition and achieve related Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition highlight the importance of governance; sustainable food supply chains for healthy diets; equal and equitable access to healthy diets; food safety; nutrition education; gender equality and women’s empowerment; and resilience in humanitarian contexts to achieve sustainable food systems.
However, for these policies to positively touch the lives of ordinary people, there has to be synergy between national and global food policies and collective transition from plan to action, because food insecurity is a national as well as global security threat.
Zakari, a legal practitioner and public affairs analyst, writes in from Abuja.