Like Others Before, Nigeria Plans “Operation Feed Yourself”

Like Others Before, Nigeria Plans “Operation Feed Yourself”

Tuesday, November 9, 2021 2:18 pm

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo SAN virtually chairs a high-level meeting on Nutrition at the State House, Abuja. 8th Nov 2021. Photos; Tolani Alli

As part of other efforts to address malnutrition and related challenges in the country, the Federal Government in collaboration with States is considering under the auspices of the National Economic Council and the National Council on Nutrition, an “Operation Feed Yourself” initiative to encourage the establishment of urban farms and small home gardens, according to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN.

Prof. Osinbajo stated this late Monday at a High-Level Meeting on Nutrition attended by United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Mrs Amina Mohammed, State Governors, representatives of development partners including UNICEF, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Aliko Dangote Foundation, and convener of the UN Food System Dialogue, Mrs. Olusola Idowu who is also the Permanent Secretary, Budget and National Planning Ministry.

The plan for “Operation Feed Yourself” is one of three major plans arising from the UN-backed Food Systems Dialogues, to advance the fight against malnutrition. Others are providing support to farmers across the country, especially by providing useful weather and soil pattern information that will improve farming yields, and also encouraging State Governments to ensure prompt release of budget for nutrition and related activities.

At the meeting, presentations were made by the Deputy Secretary-General, the Dialogue Convener, Oyo State government which already has an integrated farming model, and the Director-General, Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMet) on how weather information can be helpful to farmers.

According to the Vice President, “there are practical steps that can be taken by the States and Federal Government in the next 12 months.

“I think that some of the suggestions are important, especially those that have come from the UN Food System Dialogue.”

The VP listed the different stages as; the establishment of Agribusiness Investment Hubs or farm settlements; the establishment of urban farms and homestead gardens by individuals and schools; the adoption of weather information to support farming; leveraging the support of the UN agencies and other partners for nutrition activities, and the call on MDAs and States to release funding for nutrition activities.

“States and the FGN will promote what the convener has described as “Operation Feed Yourself”. This is more of the establishment of urban farms and homestead gardens. This is simply something that we think should be a mass appeal to citizens in the States, and the encouragement we can give them so that individuals and schools develop their own farms or homestead gardens,” the VP noted.

“This obviously not only helps individuals and families but the excess can be sold to others and generally improve food security.

“The establishment of Agribusiness Investment Hubs or farm settlements or farm estates or any variety of those kinds of integrated farming arrangements will improve food and nutrition security. What we are recommending is the sort of model that Oyo State has or any of the variety that States have. That sort is obviously recommended because of the way that it is structured and the obviously good result that they have been getting.”

Speaking specifically about the funding of nutrition and related activities by MDAs and States, the VP noted that “this is something that we have made a point of importance even at the National Economic Council meetings.

“It is one of the action points as defined in the food transformation pathways which we already have issued and we are hoping that these budget releases will be specifically directed at the action points defined in the transformation pathways because these are ways by which we have identified that we can gain maximum traction in food security.”

“We urge the States to budget adequately for nutrition. Each MDA and State should adopt the national priority list, make budgetary provisions for those who haven’t concluded their 2022 annual budgets. I think there is still time to make adequate budgetary provision for nutrition in the 2022 budgets,” the VP added.

Prof. Osinbajo urged State governments to adopt partnerships that can be effective in scaling up nutrition and related activities.

He said “it is also clear that we can leverage on the support of the UN Agencies and other partners like the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Bank as well as our development partners, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Aliko Dangote Foundation.

“The Aliko Dangote Foundation was able to show what they have been doing especially with de-risking facilities that could be used by farmers in the various localities all over the country.”

Acknowledging the leadership of Nigeria to the UN agenda 2030 and the Africa Union agenda 2063, Mrs Amina Mohammed said the solution to many of the challenges associated with malnutrition “lie in Nigeria’s recent commitment through the Food Systems Summit process.”

Her words: “I will like to pay tribute to the leadership of the Vice President, Prof. Osinbajo, and to the efforts of the Mrs Olusola Idowu, as the national convener of the virtual engagement by His Excellency at the pre-summit and clear, focused, ambitious national pathways that were published ahead of the Food Systems Summit in September.”

She added that “at the Summit itself, His Excellency the President made decisive and inspiring commitments, and all these efforts of the emerging pathways, Nigeria has demonstrated a holistic approach to the Food Systems transformation which really underpins that transformation that it is about climate, it is about nutrition and about an inclusive economy.”

On his part, the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi said despite dwindling financial resources, the States will continue to “push on the frontier of improvement in nutritional issues.”

Also in a brief remark, the Chairman of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria, His Royal Highness, Sanusi Lamido urged relevant authorities to leverage technology to address the challenge of shortage of rainfall to boost farming activities in parts of the country.

Aside from the Convener of the Food Systems Dialogue, Mrs Olusola Idowu, the DG of NiMet, Prof. Mansur Matazu, and the Executive Adviser to the Oyo State Governor on Agriculture, Dr Debo Akande, the representatives of the FCDO and the Aliko Dangote Foundation also made presentations at the meeting.

Obasanjo’s Operation Feed the Nation

During the presentation of the 1976 budget, then head of state, General Obasanjo announced a proposed policy similar to a back to earth movement tagged Operation Feed the Nation, the programme was formally launched in May 1976 and in following months, appeals were directed to high schools, colleges and institutions to become self-reliant in food production by growing their own produce and selling the surplus. Biology and agriculture teachers in secondary schools took a crash course in farming in order to include it as part of their curriculum and secondary school students were advised to work on farmers during extended vacations.
In an article in New York Times, John Darnton, wrote: “It is an agricultural program aimed at achieving self-sufficiency in food production within a year, largely by encouraging citizens to dig up their backyards and plant vegetables. The food program is the most publicized project of the military Government under its new head of state, Lieut. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. It is aimed at building Nigerian nationalism, saving foreign exchange and combating an inflation rate of 40 per cent.
Apart from extensive publicity given to farming, government involvement, according to Sokari-George, E. in “Planning in Nigeria: The Agricultural Base” included extension services, subsidized fertilizer distribution and interest to increase commercial farming by large scale farmers. Aircraft were acquired to spray pesticides, poultry chicks were distributed to farmers. In addition, the government acquired large tracts of land to establish agricultural estates whereby plots were to be leased to farmers who receive extension support from the government.
In spite of a mass mobilization campaign to return to farming and focus on agricultural entrepreneurship, five years after, food production was still lagging behind population growth. A new administration, as Sokari-George put it, again launched a new programme, Green Revolution to replace Operation Feed the Nation.

Green Revolution

Remi Adeyemo, in ‘The food marketing system: Implications of the green revolution programme in Nigeria’, Agricultural Systems and Ibrahim Gusau. ‘Nigeria’s Green Revolution’, Africa Report wrote on the subject thus:
The Green revolution programme was a major agriculture policy of the Shehu Shagari administration and the Fourth National Development Plan. It was introduced in April 1980 and was intended as a programme to ensure self-sufficiency in food production and to introduce modern technology into the Nigerian agricultural sector largely through the introduction of modern inputs such as high yielding varieties of seeds, fertilizers and tractors. The programme encompassed a wide range of projects supportive to the nation’s agricultural development, this included 11 river basin development authorities, the Ministry of Water Resources, the National Food Production Programme, and the Agro Service centres.

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