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We should be food advocates

Tomatoes are displayed in baskets for sale at a local food market in Lagos

by Natasha Ellah

What do I mean by this? Simply someone who is passionate about their food and cares about where their food comes from. Constantly we are bombarded by food choices. Healthy or not? Fried or roasted? Grilled or boiled? From a packet or freshly made? But do we ask ourselves the most important question when it comes to food choices: where does our food come from? Or are we happy to have the option of being able to order convenient food at our favorite restaurants?

The food industry in Nigeria is changing due to the rising middle class, this is a great thing however, the love for imported foodstuff maims our local food industries. An article in the International Journal of Economics, Commerce and Management showed that Nigeria imported about ₦1 billion worth of food per day in the period 1990-2011. This was about USD 9.28 million worth of food per day in the period. Let’s write that again. ₦1 billion Naira was spent each day importing food. This yearly spend is 3.5 times more than what South Africa, the number one food producer in Africa, invested in their agricultural industry in 2013. These funds could have been spent on developing the Nigerian food and agricultural sector through investing in efficient transportation links, processing zones, farmer training and food certification techniques.

Nigeria does not need to import food at such exorbitant levels. It is richly endowed with fertile land, intelligent and resourceful people. We should be able to have local, reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. I do agree that variety is the spice of life and it is nice to have several varieties of fish to choose to put on your plate. But, not at the detriment to local farmers and agribusiness owners. Imported food has the risk of not only being sub-standard, but also dangerous to our physical health and the health of our economy if not regulated properly. Although NAFDAC, the Nigerian Food and Drugs Regulator, makes efforts to protect the Nigerian people from sub-standard food, it may not be able to fully curb sub-standard imports entering the country. Just last year, due to the Ebola breakout, the Federal Government warned against eating frozen chickens. This highlights the fact that they are aware of some of the risks in the supply chain process of imported goods in Nigeria such as the length of storage of frozen chickens before they reach Nigeria, the break in cold chain storage due to several hours of land travel through Nigeria through illegal routes and the absence of quality product certification.

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How can we change these trends? By choosing to be cognizant. Choose local produce, fresh vegetables, ask your butcher where the meat comes from, and ask your local restaurant where the chicken on your plate came from. If you choose to eat imported food, make sure that you are aware of the risks. You may think this is far-fetched but this is what happens in developing countries. People in developed countries know that food is life and choose to not to give others a chance to poison them. As Nigeria is on its way to being developed then we need to care about these issues. We need to support the local agribusiness industry and have a sense of national pride in our food and food products. Most importantly, do not buy food from where you are not sure of its origin.

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