Monday, 6 June 2016
Of Red Gold and Our Food System
After the madness, the season after. As a few baskets of tomatoes are trickling into our market stands one can only hope that the lessons of this tomato scarcity are not lost with the euphoria of seeing the worlds most popular fruit on display again.
We all heard the stories, we all experienced it in our own unique way. In my house we replaced the efficient rice and stew with the festive jollof rice but we were not celebrating. A different kind of party was starting that would really make me take a hard look again at our food value chain. As a farmer and an avid foodie, the picture was grim. The tomato scarcity was buzzing on social media, conventional media and every neighborhood media. Some people started the Tomatoeless stew, Tomatoeless jollof and all sorts of Tomatoeless recipes. Bride price was calculated in tomato baskets!! It was just insane. I found it quite telling that the buzz about the scarcity was everywhere while not much was said two months earlier when tomato farmers and sellers were cursing their luck with the glut of products in the market. Big baskets of tomatoes were going for 2000 naira and nobody raised any alarm. Why was it so suddenly abundant,? How were tomato growers faring? Can this process be sustained? The truth is after every season of abundance invariably comes scarcity.
The main cause of the scarcity was attributed to a form of tomato disease ravaging the three key Northern states that grows majority of the countries tomatos and all other vegetables for that matter. Also there were stories of massive paste manufacturing companies opening up across the country competiting with the open market for tomatoes. All this factors combined to create the worst tomato scarcity that the Nigerian economy had experienced. The main lesson I drew from this scarcity was that 1. Today it's tomato tommorow it could be rice, ground nut oil, egusi, yam or palm oil 2. Large scale agribusiness isn't a silver bullet to solving the issues of food security.
Our politicians have collectively made our consciousness irritated by certain words. Food security is one of such words. But don't be fooled by the hype the threat is real. Our food systems needs to be designed to be able to withstand any disruption to the production or supply pattern. The continued emphasis on monocropping by big Agro firms is not just dangerous but diabolical. Monocropping increases the chance of pest infestations, disease proliferation and destruction of soil structure. The other more serious issues is of our disjointed food systems. When the food we eat comes from miles away, their is a high level of threat to our food security. Not only is food with high mileage bad for the environment it creates a level of ignorance amongst the consumers leaving them susceptible to eating anything you put on their plates without thought of how it was produced, where and how the rice on your plate affects the livelihood of the grower. The disconnect between grower and food consumer damages our environment our economy and more importantly our health.
There is no silver-bullet for food security challenges but a diversified approach and more public inclusiveness in the food systems would help avoid another tomato scarcity like the one we just experienced. It's time for our communities to claim back our food value chain.