Isegbe: Poor Plant Health May Threaten Food Security

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Vincent Isegbe

James Emejo in Abuja

The Director General, Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), Dr. Vincent Isegbe, has said healthy plants remained key to meeting the tremendous challenge of feeding the growing Nigerian population.

He said Nigerian population was projected to reach 236 million by 2030 and 410 million by 2050, warning that “without a rich base of healthy plants, the population will outstrip food production, which will throw the world into a Malthusian crisis”.

Speaking in Abuja at the formal launch of activities to herald the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH) 2020, he said unhealthy plants currently posed serious threats to national food security and economy in general and should not be ignored.

He said: “Plant pests and diseases damage crops and may cause crop failure, in extreme cases. Their devastative impact leads to food scarcity, sharp increase in food prices and instability in the food market as well as the agro-allied industries.”
Furthermore, Isegbe noted that plant pests and diseases rob farmers of income and hard work and instigate a system-wide poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

He said there was an urgent need to begin to build a robust plant health system that can support the anticipated population explosion in the country and globally.
He also warned of an imminent food crisis except policies are perfected to subdue pests and diseases as well as boost food production.

He said: “In the very least, we have to improve our capacity to feed ourselves on a sustainable basis. This means that we must move speedily to adopt a forward-looking plant health policy and massively invest in the upgrade and expansion of our plant health infrastructure.
“If we are remiss in doing the needful in the run-up to 2050, we will be setting ourselves up for a potential food crisis.”
He said: “We cannot afford to leave plant health in the back burner. We need to rethink our scant regard for plant health and make it a priority.

“All development and economic policies must give pre-eminence to plant health. In addition, the annual budgets of the federal, state and local governments should accord meaningful allocations to plant health.
“I have to emphasise that this call for investment in plant health in Nigeria is not a plea that should be mere tokenism. Tokenism will do little or nothing because plant health is a capital intensive affair.”

The NAQS DG added: “We need much more than the traditional miserly allocations to plant health to reposition our plant healthcare system. At the federal level, we need, at the very minimum, an annual investment of N50 billion annually for the next five years to scale our plant health infrastructure to the proportion of our immediate needs.
“Our investment in plant health will be an investment in social security. It will enable us combat hunger, malnutrition and poverty. With healthy plants, there will be food for all; everyone will be adequately nourished; the income and quality of life of farming households will rise; and more people will find employment in spin-off activities across the value chain.

“Conversely, a single crop pest can be a harbinger of doom. Nigerians may recall the extensive destruction of farmlands visited on the country by the tomato moth (aka tomato ebola) in 2017.”
He said: “That lone pest inflicted colossal losses on farmers and led to a steep hike in tomato prices across the country. That moth still remains a viable threat to the Nigerian agricultural economy today, alongside fall armyworm of maize and the bacterial blight of cassava.

“The fact that one pest can precipitate an upheaval across the length and breadth of Nigeria illustrates the sensitivity of the food system to a pest outbreak. The prospect of multiple pest outbreaks is extremely dreary.
“It is capable of engendering severe disruptions that might alter the very stability of the polity. This is why plant health is as much a matter of food security as it is a matter of national security.”