Poverty is a major problem in many developing countries in the world, including Nigeria. It has been described as a vicious cycle, causing hunger and malnutrition, and is aggravated by rapid population growth. The causes of poverty have been linked to food insecurity, adverse development of international schemes, world economic recession, foreign debt burden, and a series of economic reforms. Nigeria is currently facing a food crisis, with the population—especially the poor—having limited access to adequate quantity and quality of food. Food security reﬂects the stability of the food supply and availability of and access to food. These, in turn, inﬂuence the amount of food consumed and have implications for the health of consumers. Food insecurity can be addressed by sustainable agriculture, which has been described as an agricultural system adapted to a particular area so that crop and animal products do not decline over time and are reasonably stable over normal ﬂuctuations of weather. Food production declined between 1970 and 1998, due to the oil boom era when many workers abandoned farm work. This led to food importation and rural-urban migration. The meaningful development of the Nigerian economy cannot be achieved outside of agriculture. Sustainable agriculture has the beneﬁts of satisfying human needs for food, protecting natural resources, and ensuring environmental quality. Agriculture is the main-stay of the West African economy and, even in Nigeria, where crude oil accounts for over 90% of the government’s earnings, over 70% of the population derive their livelihood from agriculture.
FOOD PRODUCTION AND SMALLHOLDER FARMERS
In the past, agriculture has been the major backbone of the economy in providing raw materials, food, and employment for over 75% of the population. Agriculture is critical to world food security, poverty alleviation, and the conservation of natural resources. Farmers are critical to crop production and farm enterprises. They perform various functions such as clearing, planting, weeding, staking, fertilizer application, harvesting, processing, storage, and marketing. Throughout the world, farmers have been classiﬁed as small-, medium-, and large-scale; however, in Nigeria, small scale farming is dominated by peasant farmers living in rural areas, with farm holdings of one to two hectares. It is reported that they constitute about 70% of the rural areas sustaining Nigerian agriculture. Over 12 million farmers are scattered in different ecological zones and engaged in the production of a wide variety of arable crops under traditional subsistence farming; 90% of Nigerian total production comes from small farms. Increasing farmers’ productivity and income will require the development of appropriate technology through research and the transfer of research output through efﬁcient extension systems. Promoting productivity among small-scale farmers is therefore essential for national growth and food security in Nigeria. Peasant farmers should also be encouraged to engage in Integrated Farming Systems (IFS).
PAST GOVERNMENT EFFORTS TO INCREASE FOOD SECURITY
Various governments in Nigeria have attempted to improve agricultural production through programs such as the Agricultural Development Project (1974), Operation Feed the Nation (1976), the Green Revolution (1976), and Fadama I, II, III, etc. The programs were set with the main goals of reducing food insecurity and alleviating poverty. However, some of these programs failed due to poor administration and lack of continuity in policy implementation, inadequate manpower to provide effective leadership, poor funding, and ineffective planning. In spite of Nigeria’s oil wealth being rated as number six among the petroleum-producing countries (OPEC), it is sad to note that Nigeria is still among the 18 poorest countries in the world.
FACTORS AFFECTING AVAILABILITY, ACCESSIBILITY, AND UTILIZATION OF FOOD IN NIGERIA
A number of factors have been reported to cause food insecurity in Nigeria, these factors include:
Lack of Appropriate Technologies for Processing, Packaging, and Storage
Too much of the world’s food harvest is lost to spoilage and infestation on its journey to the consumer. Losses occur in all operations, from harvesting through handling, storage, processing, and marketing. Proper evaluation of postharvest technologies should consider the entire post-harvest chain, using loss assessment as a tool for understanding when, where, and why losses occur. Appropriate technologies are particularly needed for processing food in rural areas of developing countries. Traditional technologies can sometimes be upgraded to enhance the shelf life and consumer acceptance of indigenous foods, as well as in developing value-added products with export potential. Application of simple techniques for harvesting, postharvest treatment, grading, sorting, and presentation of many fruits and vegetables, at village and community levels, has proven proﬁtable for small-scale growers in numerous countries.
Low Rate of Technology Adoption
Technology may be tested and proven effective, but it may not be acceptable to the end-users. The development of expensive and sophisticated technologies always leads to low adoption by rural farmers. Participatory approaches involving farmers in the decision-making process ensure better adoption of technologies. Technologies should be simple to practice, affordable, easily replicated and, if possible, designed from locally available materials. Stakeholders’ participation is critical, not only in achieving focus but also for public acceptance and adoption of developed technologies.
Factors affecting the adoption of new practices include ﬁnancial advantages of adoption, the complexity of the new practice, compatibility with existing practices, ease of trying new practices, and the degree to which outputs can be easily seen and measured.
Lack of Information on Marketing Channels for Farmers and Processors
A market channel describes the movement of a product or commodity from the site of production to the place of consumption. It may include transportation, handling, storage, ownership transfer, processing, and distribution. The principal players in marketing channels are entrepreneurs. Processing and effective marketing of food items offer veritable avenues of job creation. Farmers and processors, as primary producers, need to rightly link with market information and key players in marketing channels for proper market ﬂow and income earning. An effective and well-coordinated marketing system affects food production and household food security.
Lack of Infrastructures
The development of infrastructures in rural areas is parallel to agricultural development. Such facilities as good feeder roads will enhance evacuation of output and transportation of inputs to the rural areas. In particular, on-farm storage facilities are appropriate for speciﬁc agricultural enterprises. Such storage structures should be designed and commercialized for use in rural areas.
THE ROLE OF AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGY IN INCREASING FOOD SECURITY
Technology is intended for growth and development. When appropriately focused, creates an impetus for solving farmers’ problems and generating outputs that will bring about increased productivity. Researchers should use a participatory, bottom-to-top approach in addressing farmers' and processors’ problems (e.g., postharvest losses) and conduct holistic research using a multi-disciplinary approach to address agricultural value-chain issues. Technology should be targeted toward national agricultural priorities and global food issues. Promotion of appropriate technologies through extension services and training should be emphasized i.e., technologies must be taken from the laboratory to the ﬁeld. Appropriate and improved technologies for home preservation and drying of vegetables and fruits will reduce wastage and ensure better utilization of fresh produce during the harvest season and the development of improved storage facilities will reduce post-harvest losses.
The development of low-cost, adoptable technologies that encourage small-scale enterprises and entrepreneurship in rural areas should be a primary focus. Increased food processing through the establishment and strengthening of small-scale agro-industries can contribute to the year-round availability and variety of micronutrient-rich foods in rural and urban markets. Agro-processing industries will not only even-out seasonal price ﬂuctuations, but also create jobs and income from such activities as processing, storage, distribution, and marketing. Agro-processing will also stimulate demand for farmers’ crops and products and give consumers additional choices.
Food and dietary diversiﬁcation at the household and community level should be promoted. A range of food-based activities that can maximize the availability of a variety of nutritious foods should be encouraged. These activities include the promotion of ﬁshery and forestry products for household consumption and improved preservation and storage of fruits and vegetables to reduce waste, postharvest losses, and effects of seasonality. Research studies in urban agriculture production and processing should be encouraged to strengthen small-scale agro-processing and food industries and income-generating activities. Nutrition education on the consumption of a healthy and nutritious diet year-round, promotion of mixed-cropping and integrated farming systems, the introduction of crops such as underexploited traditional foods and home gardens, and small livestock-raising should also be included. Nutrition education and training should be given to men and women and introduced into the curricula of teacher-training colleges, primary and secondary schools, and agricultural schools. Nutrition information and education are needed so that people can make informed choices about the foods they grow, purchase, and eat.
Understanding the signiﬁcance of increased food production to food security, food professionals, through technology, must not relent in their efforts to proffer solutions to the challenge of food security in Nigeria. However, favorable policies and the political will to create an enabling environment are needed to make technological efforts achievable. Food professionals, as leaders of change, must rise to the task of ensuring poverty alleviation in Nigeria, through the promotion of research results and entrepreneurship. Achievement of national food security requires a joint effort, consolidation of effort, continuity, and the building of a future generation of leaders with a vision and passion for change. Policies must encourage the training and empowerment of youth and women in agricultural activities such as crop production, food processing, and entrepreneurship, to alleviate poverty, reduce unemployment, and increase agricultural production.
Status of food science and technology in West Africa [Retrieved from http://www.worldfoodscience.org/cms/?pid=1004846]