Climate Change Worsens  Hunger, Says Nutrition Expert

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Bennett Oghifo

Climate change has become a major challenge to the production of more food. “Extreme weather condition has negative impact on plant grown, on yield capacity of the plant, because of temperature variation, flooding from excessive rainfall. These have huge impact on the yield capacity of the crop. The increase in yield of food crop will be limited in the next 10 years, 20, 30 years because of the increasing in the number of environmental problems caused by climate change.”

This was declared by Professor Ismail Cakmak, Faculty Member, Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences, Sabanci University, Istanbul Turkey, who was the resource person at a training workshop OCP Africa organised in Lagos for journalists in Nigeria, recently.

OCP Africa is a subsidiary of OCP Group, a Moroccan company and the world’s largest producer and exporter of phosphate and phosphate-based fertilizers. The multinational company drives a bilateral partnership between Nigeria and Morocco on the supply of phosphate to blending plants in several states across the country.

Prof. Cakmak, who had his PhD at Cornell University, Stuttgart Germany, said he was currently working with two professors from the UK and Australia to develop a programme on crop nutrition at the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, Morocco.

He is also working on the HarvestPlus programme to improve the micronutrient content of food crops, stating that HarvestPlus is a breeding programme, adding that there are a lot of breeding programmes in Nigeria by IITA.

There is an ongoing programme to enrich maize, explaining that because HarvestPlus is a plant breeding programme that incorporates an Agronomic programme that uses fertilizer strategy to improve the micronutrient content of staple food crops by using micronutrient content fertilizer.

Prof. Cakmak said his other function is to coordinate the Agronomic Programme under the HarvestPlus Programme, explaining that for instance, they apply it on maize to ensure that it contains zinc, iodine, selenium, adding that the programme will start in Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Rwanda.

The professor discussed the ‘Role of Crop Nutrition in Improving Food Security’ and ‘Nutrition Security’, distinguishing them by saying that food security focuses on more biomass and that nutrition security aims to improve nutritional value/quality.

According to him, food security indicates lack of food, and that today 800 million people are without food, stating that this is absolute hunger problem.

Prof. Cakmak said many people suffer from hidden hunger, which he described as a situation where people have sufficient food on the table and that “they have no problem to fill the stomach but the problem is the nutritional value/nutritional quality of the food.

He said hidden hunger is a common problem in the world today, particularly in Africa, where he said people have food to fill the stomach but “the food, rich in starch/carbohydrate but low in essential minerals like vitamin A and other micronutrients.

Hidden hunger results from deficiency in iodine, zinc, selenium, protein, among other micronutrients, stating that the role of fertilizers is that the plant needs good nutrition and that if the fertilizers have good mineral nutrition, then it would get to the plant.

The Green Revolution programme, he said helped to increase yield per given area of land and that it made food available but that it also contributed to hidden hunger problem.

He said historically, meeting the calorie needs of the people was sufficient and that it was the main goal in the past, but that increasing just food production was not enough. The Green Revolution programme, he said succeeded in providing food on the table, but that it was not enough and that to some extent it contributed to hidden hunger problem, because “the higher the production, the higher the risk with dilution which is a reduction in the content of zinc, protein, and other micronutrients.”

Thus, he said nutrition security should be one of the primary goals of food security programmes, stating that agriculture should not focus mainly on producing more food, but also on healthy and nutritious food.

Prof. Cakmak, who discussed ‘Plant Mineral Nutrition in Addressing the Challenges of Food Security and ‘Plant Mineral Nutrition in Addressing the Challenges of Nutrition Security’, said hidden hunger is a problem of nutrition security. “My message is agriculture should not focus on producing more food, but on healthy and nutritious food.”

Regardless, he said there would be need to produce more food because of growing population, which is estimated to be eight or nine billion people by 2050. “This is huge increase and this may happen more in developing countries. If it increases, then there will be a lot of challenges in our lives.”

Nigeria’s population, he said is estimated to increase to 450 million by 2050, saying “this is a huge increase and we cannot change the size of the land, so the challenge is we have to produce more per given area, more than the population.”

Another challenge to healthy food production, he said was soil mining, explaining that it was a major challenge in Africa, as it was a result of increase food production that cause depletion of soil mineral nutrients. “Soil mining is a huge problem in Africa, considering the amount of yield it requires by 2050,” but said this situation could be solved by agronomic management, “good crop management, soil management, water management, fertilizer management- just applying fertilizer is not enough, we need to also pay attention to the use-efficiency of the fertilizer applied.”

He said the combined average depletion of nutrients like phosphorous, potassium is about 54kg per annum, describing it as very remarkable in Sub-Saharan Africa, saying countries in Africa need high production of food in the next 20 to 39 years.

Even now, a 2019 data he presented shows that as of this year, Nigeria imports huge amount of rice, 20.4 million metric tonnes, making it the biggest rice importer in the world after China. “This is a huge problem,” he said.

Africa’s soil nutrient deficiency problem, he said is human induced and that it was critical problem as at least 85 per cent of African countries have the problem.

He said it was common for people to say fertilizers are chemicals and that they damage the environment, but he quoted a philosopher, Paracelsus (1493-1541) who in his article, Toxicity (How Bad), said “The Dose is the Poison. So it is with fertilizer and everything else.”

He quantified the value of soil mineral nutrients removed from the soil annually as equivalent to $4 million.

At the opening of the training workshop, the company’s Vice President of Agronomy, Mr. Aniss Bouraqqadi said OCP is working on agriculture and the general development of Nigeria, adding that they had lots of initiatives and projects in this regard.

The Managing Director of OCP Africa in Nigeria, Mr. Mohamed Hettiti declared open the training.