Global Food Crisis: Any way out for Nigeria?

Nigeria, like all countries, is being affected by the sharp increase in food prices. Now the government, floating on the huge amounts of petrodollars coming into the country, has ordered 500,000 tons of rice to flood the Nigerian market in an attempt to get the price down. But will this solve the problem?

Nigeria, in spite of its oil reserves, is still fundamentally an agricultural country, at least in terms of the population working on the land. 71% of the Nigerian workforce is engaged in agriculture. Over 90% of Nigeria's agricultural output comes from peasant farmers who dwell in remote rural areas where 60% of the 150million total population lives. Agricultural landholdings are generally small and scattered, with the average number of farm plots per household ranging between 2 and 28 plots increasing from the South to the North. Nigeria cultivates over 25 million hectares of land for various food crops.

And yet, despite all these obviously abundant human and natural resources, Nigeria is still unable to feed her citizens. Nigeria produces only 500,000 tonnes of rice while annual consumption is 2.5 million tones. Nigeria is the world's second-largest rice importer after Singapore. Before now, Nigeria spent over $350million on rice importation alone. Now there is a global food crisis, but can the Nigeria ruling class turns things round overnight?

Why the crisis?

The present world food crisis is primarily a grains shortages crisis. Annual world grains output has been declining for decades. It was estimated at 1,900million tons or less in 1995, this was at a time when over 3,000million tons of grains produced annually is required to meet global dietary needs. Today, world grains carryover stocks are at the same absolute level they were over 25 years ago. Stocks dropped from 460-490 million metric tons in the late 1980s down to less than 250million tons in 1995 - the level of stock in 1969. Scores of countries have gone from national self-sufficiency in basic grains, to import dependency or donated cereals aid. But now, the grains are not even there for grab.

Various reasons have been advanced as the cause, mainly from bourgeois apologists. Nature is first to be blamed: the Myanmar cyclone that flooded 5000 square kilometres has been blamed, floods in Indonesia and Sri Lanka are also mentioned. But how do you explain a colossal reduction in the stock that brought the 1995 stocks to the 1969 level while the population keeps on growing? A devalued dollar has also been blamed, as have high prices of petrol and so on. But what was the value of the dollar in 1995? How much was the petrol during this period in question?

No way can e accept these excuses; these reasons are one-sided and could not completely explain what went wrong. Necessity sometimes expresses itself as an accident. What is happening is a necessary product of capitalism in its present senile stage. Capitalism reigns in anarchy. Capitalism means domination of the non-living over the living, of profit over labour and, most accurately, capitalism means horror without end.

The present food crisis is linked directly to one fact provided by the CIA World Fact Book of January 2008, which reveals that of the US$46,660,000 million world GDP, agriculture is just 4% of this sum, industry 32%, while the service sector carries a whopping 64% of total GDP.

Capitalists want to make money out of money, without taking any risk in production. More capital is going to speculative businesses and stocks, under the guise of services. Capitalism does not exist for the benefit of human beings, but for profit. It is taking money away from productive investment, into gambling and weapons of mass destruction. It brings a life of luxury to a diminishing few and misery for an ever-expanding majority.

What we are presently experiencing is the inevitable outcome of the way capitalism works. All the aforementioned reasons advanced by bourgeois apologists are just the last straw that broke the camel's back. As if this were not enough inhumanity against humankind, the food that is not enough to meet our dietary needs is now being used for biofuels. Capitalists prefer fuelling a car to feeding a hungry man. A forecast issued by the International Food Policy Research Institute points out that a termination of the swindle of subsidies for biofuels production would result in an immediate 20% price reductions for corn, 14% for manioc, and 11% for wheat, but does this appeal to the defenders of a system that survives on human misery?

How sincere is the ruling class's attempt to resolve the crisis?

The working class in Nigeria, as in any other country, should not be carried away with the crocodile tears being shed by the bourgeoisie. They are pretending as if they only discovered today that over two billion human beings have always been living without food, decent shelter and good clothes; that in Nigeria for instance, 71% of the population lives on less than US$1 a day, that over one million children die annually in Africa of malaria; 26,500-30,000 children die each day due to poverty. Tens of millions die simply because they are poor. They have no access to good health care, education, electricity and other modern amenities.

What has alarmed the ruling class is the spate of protests and bloody riots of the people that has been sweeping round the world. It is estimated that food related protest are going on in over 40 countries. A government has been swept away in Haiti as a result. Egypt is in turmoil. Senegal experienced some of the bloodiest rioting in the recent past, all for food.

The masses have been pushed to the limit of their tolerance. Trotsky said many years ago, that the bourgeoisie will only concede a little to the masses when it is threatened with losing everything. What has alarmed the ruling classes is not the deplorable, unfortunate condition of the people, but the fear of losing control, of losing their property, fear of the people moving farther than the limits set by the labour leadership, fear of revolution.

If the people had remained docile, the ruling class would have simply treated this crisis the way they have treated all previous injustices against humanity, blaming the people and nature for all the anguish, as they are fond of doing.

Can the Nigerian government resolve the crisis?

The Nigerian government is in a far better position today to carry this deceit to a far extent. The Nigerian government is presently raking in big money, thanks to the petro-dollars. As a result of this, the government can afford to completely remove all duties and taxes on imported grains as they announced two weeks ago. The Nigerian government has concluded deals with the Thai, Indian and American governments to import 500,000 tons of rice to flood the Nigerian market. The first batch of the consignments will enter Nigeria by the middle of June. The plan is to sell this rice at half its price to the people. The government has also promised to pump 100billion Naira into agriculture as a long-term solution to the food shortage. With petrol at over $130 per barrel, the Nigerian government can promise heaven and earth.

But there are series of challenges confronting the Nigerian ruling class, which makes all these emergency measures laughable. First among these is the issue of corruption. Corruption is a life wire of any regime in a backward country like Nigeria; only a government of the working class could end corruption. Most of this rice will not reach the ordinary people that need it.

A very innocent and ordinary question can be asked; why can't the government carry out a massive cultivation of the land to grow grain, especially rice, corn and wheat, that can be grow in Nigeria? The problem is that this step is impermissible under capitalism. The policy as dictated by the IMF/World Bank is that the government has no business doing business. Imperialism has imposed on Nigeria via the various Structural Adjustment Programmes a policy that states that subsidies on food, fertilisers, fuel, transport etc. are bad for the economy. The same programmes dictate that the economy of a country like Nigeria must be completely open to the world market. The end result has been the destruction of industry and agriculture.

Capitalist government exists for the few and thrives only when there is mass poverty and misery. The massive importation of food - provided as "relief" in the short-term ‑ will further undermine the already sick local production. Cheap - subsidised - agricultural produce from the richer countries will further undermine the small Nigerian farmers.

What they have not been capable of doing for decades would require a miracle for them to urgently do now. Although, at present they have money to order 500,000 tons of rice, to manage the removal of taxes and duties on grain importation, in short, to carry out a form of deception, this money will not always be there. Rather than this money solving the food problem, under capitalism it will exacerbate it, it will further undermine the local production, it will further fuel corruption and further destabilize an already unstable political atmosphere.

Capitalist Nigeria absolutely incapable of solving this fundamental problem

The present food crisis is a necessary outcome of the workings of capitalism; a capitalist Nigeria is absolutely incapable of solving this fundamental problem. Just as it is incapable of uniting Nigerians, just as it is incapable of developing industry, as it is incapable of building a modern infrastructure, of ending corruption and most deplorably of ending the misery of Nigerians, to expect it to resolve this one is to expect the Lion to eat grass.

In half a century of formal independence the Nigerian ruling class has proven incapable of developing a modern infrastructure. It has not even been capable of maintaining its own oil refineries, which have all collapsed and now Nigeria, an oil-exporting country, is forced to import refined fuel! Oil, which should have provided a real material improvement for the masses, has actually contributed to the deindustrialisation of Nigeria's already meagre industrial base and at the same time the collapse of its agriculture. All that the ruling elite has been capable of has been leeching off the wealth produced by the workers of the country. Nothing is going to change now. If anything it is getting worse.

Only a socialist Nigeria, under the democratic control of the working class, can permanently end the various crises we are saddled with. Combining the immense material resources and the millions of Nigerian workers and peasants, the country could lift itself out of poverty very soon, and provide enough food for its population.

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