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Ensuring access to safe and nutritious food for all

Nigeria UN Food Systems Summit Youth Dialogue 2021 held a webinar with the theme “Discussions bothering Action Track 1-Ensuring Access to Safe and Nutritious Food for All” on the 27th April 2021, with a lot of experts, young farmers and agricultural professionals in attendance. The virtual event was coordinated by United Youth for Sustainable Globe (UYSG) Nigeria and a host of other organizers.

In anticipation of the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) convened by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and planned to hold in September 2021, Nigeria has rolled out a series of National Food Systems Dialogues (NFSD) across the country convened by different change-makers. The 2-hour long Nigeria UN Food Systems 2021 Youth Dialogue paraded thought leaders and industry experts from a vast range of fields and participants from different parts of the country, and from outside the country. The goal of the dialogue was to discuss how Nigeria could attain “nutritious and safe food for all” a notion that is promulgated by the UN Food Systems Action Track 1.

Panel sessions line-up included these Members:

  • Michael Sunbola (Founder, Lagos Food Bank initiative)
  • Azeez Akande (CEO, Community Actions for Food Security (CAFS))
  • Eric Nyikwagh (Country Representative, Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) Nigeria)
  • Oluwatosin Ogunsola (Ondo State Coordinator, Impact Youth Sustainability (IYS Nigeria))
  • Waliyat Oloyede (Lecturer/Researcher, University of Ilorin & Founder, Tahmamuq Essentials)
  • Amidat Adigun (Founder, Lo'meedar Fresh & Management Consultant, Credit Analyst)

Moderators:

  • Ahmed Tiamiyu (State Coordinator, UYSG Lagos Chapter)
  • Jubril Adigun (Research Director, UYSG Lagos Chapter)

Following the introductions, the dialogue was sent in motion with an exposition from the founder of the Lagos Food Bank Initiative, Mr. Michael Sunbola that talked about how the initiative is solving the on-the-go provision of foods to disadvantaged communities. A salient point of Sunbola’s short exposé was to drive towards sustainability, that is how do we move from not only trying to solve long term needs to availability of food, but to address immediate needs of especially underserved groups of the country. For instance, he mentioned that the world (Nigeria not being an exemption) witnessed an unprecedented demand for immediate access to food during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The discussions amongst the panellists, inquisitions from the moderators, Adigun and Tiamiyu and of course the questions from the participants culminated in the summarized points highlighted below:

  1. Bridging the Gender Gap that Exists in the Nigeria Food Systems chain

The gender gap that exists in several areas of society also prevails in the agricultural sector. And although women and children are most impacted by the devastating effects of an ineffective food system, they are also most marginalized when it comes to participation. There is a growing need to bring on board all the hands we can get and especially, to benefit from the pool of diversity that we have at our disposal.

There is a standing hypothesis that since women are natural caregivers, they may be in a better position to drive the production of nourishing foods for their wards. For instance, in the competitive market of accessing loans for starting an agricultural outfit or to scale up an existing field, women are not so favoured as their male counterparts. This is in addition to other challenges that make it difficult for the food system to thrive e.g., access to quality seeds or machinery.

2. Government Intervention Through Policy Formulations and Implementation

This is an important aspect of any country or region’s food system. The regulatory framework in Nigeria and most parts of the world is either ineffective or deliberately set out to favour only the elite class of the societies. While in fact, the large portion of entities that practice agriculture. On another end, lawmakers and regulators that are tasked with the responsibility of making policies bothering should endeavour to work together with the concerned farmers. It is a known fact that sometimes, policies designed in the chambers and offices do not translate well in practice. For this reason, it is important to bring the discussion on what policies and stipulations work for the farmers to the local frontier – either to farmers or even administrators of local municipalities.

3. Reduction of Food Waste and Fighting Food Scarcity

Food waste is a major concern for many nations in the world. Even in developed countries, they must contend with huge wastages due to inefficient production, distribution, storage and consumption of foods. As far back as 1967, food banks have been working towards helping to feed the less privileged by collecting overproduction excesses and close-to-expiry foods for redistribution to poor communities. It is a similar strategy that is being adopted by the Lagos Food Bank Initiative that now operates in two Nigerian states (Lagos and Ogun).

The Lagos Food Initiative has also founded a family farming venture that helps families set up small scale subsistence farming that can avail their immediate food and can be scaled for selling to others within their communities. This program also facilitates getting access to quality seeds for high yield cultivation and harvesting with the aim that it will enable families to plan their own food scheme and build a resilient food system. In the same vein, Mr. Eric Nyikwagh believes that hidden hunger (which is tantamount to undernourished foods among the upper low-income class) is a form of food scarcity that needs to be tackled.

4. Collaboration between different stakeholders

Favored by Mr. Azeez Salawu and Mr. Eric Nyikwagh, collaborations within and without the country are highly suggested. The local representatives will play an active role in this key point. Young Professional for Agricultural Development (YPARD Nigeria) currently has reached 16 states across Nigeria and are actively engaged in working with the local representatives. Private-public partnerships are being encouraged to build a formidable food system. It has begun with dialogues like the UN Food Systems Summit by well-meaning citizens of the world and it is expected to challenge the status quo. These collaborations will foster a consolidated collection of ideas from academia, research institutions, government apparatuses, investors, financial institutions, and middlemen and that will be especially useful for expediting growth in our food system in Nigeria. There should be efforts driven towards scaling up local production to regional, national, and international terrains. In the long term, this will ease the importation burden that sits on our head as a nation.

5. Capacity Building and Making Agriculture Attractive for University students

Many agriculture students and graduates are not equipped enough with the requisite skills that can make them deal with growing challenges in the food sector. They are either trained during their studies in archaic methods or fed with inadequate information to be useful for anything tangible in practice. These kinds of capacity building can be achieved by inculcating more hands-on and industrial fieldwork sabbaticals for students. According to information gathered from Mrs. Waliyat Oloyede, who is a lecturer at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ilorin, there is already an initiative in place where students carry out agricultural activities on school-owned lands.

It is perhaps, a reason students do not find agriculture as interesting because they see it as academic exercise rather than as an asset for long term food security within the nation. On another end, we need to showcase agriculture in the light of profitability when done correctly. The current narrative suggests that farming is only meant for low-income peasant farmers. One Mr. Udegbunam Damian Onuora wrote, “There is a need for change in curriculum in Agriculture faculty at the moment to graduate more competent agricultural practitioners”. Consequently, we need a more robust industrial and expert influence in helping to expand the horizons of the students.

6. Educating and Training the Public on how to access inexpensive, quality, and healthy food.

A popular belief is the nutritious and healthy food is expensive. Mrs. Amidat Adigun, CEO of Lo’meedar Fresh pointed out that as an attempt to correct this erroneous belief, their business has been empowering women in the society to opt for healthier foods for themselves and their children thereby, growing a healthier generation. Furthermore, we should encourage alternative foods that would have fewer negative effects on the environment as pointed by Mr. Oluwatosin Ogunshola of IYS Nigeria referring to one “Plant-based protein inclusion in diet is potent to reduce Meat Consumption - a key greenhouse gas emitter” by [email protected] and 50by40.

7. Investment in Storage Facilities

Like the proverbial handicapped man carrying a load on his head unstably where we focus on the badly sitting load and not the deformation with his legs that made his posture the way it is, we do not pay attention to the pivotal influence that having proper storage infrastructure would have on reducing food waste and ensuring a reliable and steady availability of food. With efficient storage, farm produce from long-distance communities and international frontiers can be housed for longer periods of time for year-round access. This will ease the strain on the logistical pipeline and streamline the food chain supply process. There seems to be a potential business opportunity in this regard.

As we all continue to contribute to the discourse and the campaign to develop our food systems, we must be ready to tackle all the different aspects of the food system chain, and everyone should play a part in re-engineering the ecosystem, particularly the youth have a critical role to play. Clifford Erhiyodavwe Edevbie wrote, “…in order to address food waste to accommodate food banking, we must first address the whole process of farming, beginning with local farmers during planting and harvesting, during transportation, flooding, during parties, electricity, etc. food waste within African is a huge loss.”.

Photo credit: United Youth for Sustainable Globe (UYSG) Nigeria

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Sunday, 24 October 2021

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