Clean environment, HIV AIDS and global warming are some of the challenges of the 21st century, but if recent events are something to go by, the list may well now include the stress of feeding the over 6 billion citizens of the world. The saying that when the stomach is empty, patience runs short couldn’t be farther from the truth. Indeed, scenes coming out from some parts of the world have given credence to the fact.
Reports indicate that food prices have increased the world over by 83%, and these have led to several protests around the globe by consumer advocates. In Haiti, the food riots unfortunately claimed the life of an innocent Nigerian soldier. There have also been angry bread ques in Egypt. Senegal, a country that imports virtually all her food needs is in crises.
Prior to this development, scarcity of food and hunger have been the problem that chiefly confronts the Sub-Saharan African nations, and the recent situation can only make the problem worse as West Africa imports 60% of her food. This is a part of the world whose citizens lives on less than 1$ a day.
Thus the recent food crisis being a global one, the solution to the problem in the short run is far fetched. The world trade in rice for instance is about 30 million tons per year. Australia being one of the exporters of rice is currently suffering from drought , though she controls only about 15% of the global market share.
And, on the other hand, major rice exporting countries such as Vietnam, China and India have decided to restrict export to stabilize prices as domestic demands have continued to increase in their respective countries.
Of course, which country wouldn’t? In the recent past, the Public and Private sectors in Nigeria have been exporting Cassava mainly to China. Reactively, It is expected in view of the current situation, that the Nigerian government would place a ban on such export. It would be recalled that before the latest global crisis, the prices of staples in Nigeria have already been on the increase. A situation that could be attributed to rural-Urban migration, lack of storage facilities, electricity and dearth of good roads..
Abroad, Nigerian packaged foods have neither been cheap. In Europe, for example, there has been a gradual but steady increase in the prices of Nigerian-packaged foods. Nigerians in diaspora have been experiencing steady increase in the prices of Cassava/yam flour and Garri. Equally, my favored bitter-leaf has suffered the same fate; If you’ve ran out of stock of the one brought from home, you may not be lucky going to an African shop to get some.These days the tiny sachets containing the bitter-leaf are sprinkled with just a few leaves, and then each ballooned with enough water and allowed to freeze. To the unsuspecting prospect, the sheer size of each frozen sachet might just be enough to justify the high price tag on it.
Another major source of the current food crises is the diversion to bio-fuel as a future alternative energy source. It is expected that by 2020 the bio-fuel will account for 10% of the global energy use. But the cultivation of bio-crops is not without its adverse effects. Experts have invariably linked the global food shortage to the conversion of arable lands to bio-fuel purposes. Brazil, as one of the major food exporters, has in the recent past been actively engaged in ethanol production through the use of her vast arable lands. In the U.S, she has rather increased her grains for ethanol production.
In all, it means that China, U.S, India, Brazil etc. have either turned inward to satisfy their growing domestic demands, or have taken to bio-fuel production to cut their future spending on the ever increasing oil prices. This is besides the objective of environmental concerns, which in part have led the drive for bio-fuel research around the globe. Consequently the inability of food exporters to export has left countries who can’t feed their population; countries who rely on the labor of some other nations’ farmers to feed their citizens in a hungry mood. Nigeria is a heavy importer of food.
What ever may be the gains of bio-fuel, the fact is that its usage which is intended to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from petroleum industry operations and products would in fact, in another way, fuel the destruction of the environment through the cutting down of the trees that purifies the air we breath. At the receiving end would be the indigenous people. Their farmlands and forests would be confiscated for massive bio-crop farming which they would possibly gain nothing from. A situation that might turn out similar to that of the oil producing areas of Nigeria, where even the multi nationals shy away from their Corporate Social Responsibilities.
It is certain that the energy hungry superpowers of the world would stop at nothing in achieving this objective. The first test on a mixture that included bio-fuel to power a big aircraft was very successful. That may well mean that the poor and vulnerable nations of the world, in addition to the freeze in food exports, might be in for a long haul. The scramble for more lands will certainly follow the current trend. I and you know too well the part of the world where they would be looking at.
The solution is simple. Food importing countries have to make effort to provide their own agro needs, and weigh carefully the implications to their environment visàvis entering into an agreement for bio-crop farming. Or we may be heading for a time when many nations will be facing the problem of not only food scarcity but desertification as well. Though, energy is central to the modern man’s survival, many factors must be considered in order to achieve the right balance.