Hunger is ransacking every nook and cranny of millions of households in Nigeria. The report of the National Bureau of Statistics released in April 2022 indicated an astronomical increase in food prices by an average of 42% in the last year (BBC News). This figure is a conservative estimate as food prices skyrocketed to over 100% in many markets. The food crisis is caused by the poor food harvest of 2021, ravaging and deadly insecurity lurking in several farming areas, population explosion, low agricultural investment, and economic meltdown.
As I am writing this piece, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projected that 18 million people in Nigeria will be food insecure by June and August 2022. Among this number, 630,000 and 13,550 people will face an emergency and catastrophic situations, respectively. Reasons adduced by FAO are similar to those of NBS, which are compounded by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. The situation is getting gloomier by the day as we inch towards 2030, a target year for the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to achieve zero hunger in the world. This ugly trend causes much concern to Nigerians and friends of Nigeria particularly when all the required wherewithal of making Nigeria’s food secure are available. One of the dearest and most lovely friends of Nigeria is Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA).
SAA is a product of intense discussion, negotiations, and strenuous effort of three important personalities focused on eradicating hunger and poverty in Africa. Each of these personalities had reached the zenith of his career but found humanitarian service as an excellent vocation to add to his resume. The three men were Mr. Ryoichi Sasakawa (decease), Dr. Norman Borlaug (decease), and President Jimmy Carter. SAA came to Africa in 1986 but came to Nigeria in 1992. For more information on SAA in Nigeria, please, refer to my 2-part article titled “Sasakawa Africa Association: Three Decades of Hunger Eradication in Nigeria” published in this column on 16th and 23rd December 2021 can be accessed via my blog, www.deepthoughtwithmkothman.blogspot.com
So far, SAA has spent three decades making an enormous contribution to agricultural development in Nigeria. In the first decade of SAA intervention, 1992 to 2002, crops’ productivity enhancement through yield increase per area was considered a top priority. For instance, the average maize yield in Nigeria was then 1.5 tons per hectare, which was negligible compared with its yield potential of 8 tons per hectare. A few years of SAA working with farmers resulted in the unprecedented performance of crop productivity. The field evaluation report indicated a percent increase in crop yield for six promoted crops ranging from 102% for cowpea to 347% for maize. Thus, the result indicated a doubling of yield increase for cowpea and sesame, quadrupling for rice and wheat, tripling for millet, and quintupling for maize per unit area of production. These were quite outstanding results, which increased national food security attainment and significantly contributed to poverty eradication. When farmers observed an extraordinary increase in yield on their farms, they were then faced with the challenges of post-harvest losses as they could not handle high volumes of produce. To address the issue of post-harvest losses, SAA upscaled the intervention to include the promotion of post-harvest technology and marketing. This took SAA to the next two decades with more zeal and vigor that covered more crops and locations extending to 18 states across north and south of Nigeria. As of December 2021, SAA had directly increased the productivity of 18 million farmers with conservatively trice the number along crops value chains as indirect beneficiaries of the SAA program in Nigeria. Glancing at the typical annual scorecard of SAA-Nigeria is not only amazing but astonishingly pleasant with superb overperformance. For instance, in the most the difficult year of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic year, SAA-Nigeria achieved its target for capacity building of 100,000 farmers in addition to 114,500 farmers in Kano under KSADP, 420,500 farmers in Kaduna and Niger states under AGRA project. This made SAA-Nigeria score 635% in achievement in that year. In other years, much more was achieved. However, as impactful as SAA programs are to agriculture in Nigeria, food prices still skyrocket dwarfing the efforts but SAA is more determined to conquer hunger in Nigeria. This is the major reason why the SAA President, Dr. Makoto Kitanaka visited Nigeria for the first time after 30 years of SAA operation in Nigeria.
As the Chairman of the Neptune Prime Editorial Board, I led a team of season journalists to interact with the SAA President on 19th May 2022 in Abuja. I was astonishingly amazed to see the high level of enthusiasm in the renewed effort and commitment of SAA to address the challenges of agriculture in Nigeria. President Kitanaka was visibly elated as he explained his mission to Nigeria. He was in Nigeria to deliver the bundle of hopes to smallholder farmers who constitute 95% of the farming population and produce over 80% of the food. He said “we are here to commence digitization of agriculture in Nigeria” He added, “we have started a new five-year strategic plan to consolidate our gains, and intensify the war against hunger and poverty”. The strategic plan has three pillars. First is regenerative agriculture, which preserves and improves soil conditions. He said “good soil is the first thing that increases productivity.” The second is Nutrition sensitive agriculture. Farmers always suffer from malnutrition; SAA is offering solutions from the agricultural side through the provision of nutritious food materials for farmers’ health conditions. The last is Market-oriented agriculture; he said “farmers need to know the current information in agriculture by going to the market to know the prices of things to know when to produce, what to produce and when to sell”. Henceforth, SAA operations including the pillars are to be driven physically and virtually for high efficiency and effectiveness. Several Apps have been developed to electronically support farmers with value-addition information and knowledge-driven agriculture to astronomically increase farmers’ productivity. Some of the Apps are Akilimo, Rice Advice, E-kakachi, and Agroprone, which are all available in the Google store. To achieve the 5-year strategic plan, the SAA President visited other partners; IITA, AGRA, NISAL, FMARD, FAO, etc where he solicited their support. The plan targets the involvement of 18 states and 10,000 farmers per state per year for the next five years.
Last note, I must mention the personnel behind the SAA titanic success in Nigeria. They are all Nigerians working in Nigeria and make the most cherished and ideal dream of Nigeria’s unity in diversity. These are people from different corners of Nigeria, harmoniously and dedicatedly working together for a common purpose. Differences in religion, ethnicity, and region have no place in the working of SAA-Nigeria. These Nigerians are being led by the Country Director, Sani Miko, an astute professor of agronomy, and his deputy, indefatigable Dr. Abdulhamid Gambo. They rightly deserve global accolades and national awards for salvaging millions of Nigerians from hunger and poverty through judicious use of SAA funds for knowledge and skill creations in the agricultural sector. May God bless them.