As Africans we need to start appreciating the things we have in Africa, especially nature’s endowment. We also need to preserve our culture, our heritage, and the true versions of our stories and pass them intact from one generation to the next.
There are so many things we took for granted in Africa. We still take them for granted on the home soil. When l was a little boy in Nigeria, l had not doubt in my mind that all the food, including fruits and vegetables, were coming from nature and in natural ways. It is possible to write a book then about “feeding without fears” in Nigeria.
I remember my involvements and experiences in farming as a school boy. We planted crops as part of practical Agricultural Science. We even tilled the soil and prepared them for cultivation. Groundnut was my favourite. There was no need to cultivate water leaf (spinach); it was growing everywhere—along the roadside, among the bushes, and just about anywhere there was soil and moisture.
I remember the poultry I kept in the backyard. My love for the hens and cocks was for them to grow up and end up in my pot of soup on that famous kerosene stove. Some of these adventures must have helped in forming me. I have patience to see things through. I know how sweet the reward is for genuine labour.
In Nigeria we have everything that nature could provide for life in the tropical region. There is rainfall, and there is adequate sunshine. There is a clear demarcation for day and night. We have all kinds of trees. We have mango trees, the coconut trees, the orange trees, the cocoa plant trees. We have the sugarcane plantations. We have cashew crops and so on. Irrespective of where these crops are found, one didn’t have to worry about consuming them. It was unthinkable that certain chemicals inimical to human health were consumed with them. We were children, we felt safe. The good stories about growing up in Nigeria are varied and marvelous.
Now in Europe and other parts of the advance world, it is very disturbing to note how unnatural the foods we eat are. It is extremely disturbing to walk into the stores and find all kinds of labels on the food items. What is biological mango? What is ecological mango? What is fair trade banana? What is ordinary banana? What is ecological carrot? Reading food labels and tags on fruits and vegetables is a way of life that emanated from outside of Africa. It may be the beginning of fear or wisdom depending on your views about food and nutrition. In whichever case, it is not a pleasant trauma.
As a child, when I bought oranges at Agboju market, or when I jumped and plucked Mama Tunji’s mango and ran away to eat it while hiding, I had no idea that one day I would be settling down to first read the labels before buying or eating fruits. One day a friend who thought that she had found a new knowledge tried to explain to me the difference between ecological and biological fruits and vegetables. What an effort to make..!
In the Western countries, we are in some deep trouble because we eat all kinds of things that we don’t even know where they are coming from. How can anyone trust the labels on fruits and vegetables in these days when people are fed pork and horse meat as beef? When meat and fruits are made by artificial methods, how can expiry dates be valid? When I was growing up in Nigeria, I had no idea that one day I would be living in another country and eating meat and chicken that are produced in factories. I miss my poultry! Where are all these fake and giant bananas coming from? There is trouble here; we eat synthetic materials as food. Some oranges are bigger than the human head. Some bananas are bigger than the African plantain. We are in trouble.
For Africans, it is sad that many of these fake products and synthetic food items have crept into the continent. In Nigeria, I remember the influx of fake chicken and turkey into the Nigerian market. This year, 2015, the Nigerian customs continues to fight the smuggling of the fake poultry products from neighbouring countries into Nigeria. In Nigerian traffic, especially in Lagos, everything is sold. The shiny green apples look purely synthesized. Sometimes you’ll think they have been taken for polishing at the shoemaker’s stall. Nigeria has since become a consuming society and a dumping ground for all kinds of fake food products and dangerous medicines. The failure of governance and the systemic collapse of institutions in Nigeria left much to be desired. There is no shame greater than the importation of food and crops that can be produced in Nigeria. It was totally senseless to relegate agriculture as the leading foreign income earner for regionally governed Nigeria. The rulers of Nigeria are weak intellectually. They even import petroleum products! Their dumbness is exposed in their primitive accumulation while sacrificing the present and the future at the same time, all for nothing.
In Nigeria, we took for granted all the free gifts of nature. Nigeria is a rich country in all ways and by all ways. The Nigerian president can continue to misfire—calling Nigeria a poor country—because of his low intellectual capacity and inability to reason out the meaning of rich or blessed with. The Nigerian climate is perfect for agricultural practises. The countries that have a long winter season would probably stop synthesizing food items if they have such optimal climate.
I will not forget that eating fruits while growing up in Nigeria was devoid of looking for tags and labels. There was no doubt about the safety of the crops that my grandfather nurtured on his farmland in Igbogila. I had no doubt buying roasted plantain-boli at the roadside or oranges from the hawkers. We ate healthy and unless we exposed our skin to malaria parasites we hardly become ill. In comparison, the reports of catching an ordinary cold all year round in the advanced countries is amazingly high.
The present and upcoming generations of Nigerians must be told the true stories. There was trust in Nigeria in the past, and there was dignity in labour. Sadly, when things fell apart politically, everything else fell apart. The proportions of failure in Nigeria since 1966 especially are unimaginable. It is a sad story.
For Nigeria, food production that will completely eliminate reliance on import and adulteration is still very possible. The potentials are still there, and though the climate may have changed, it is not significant enough to disrupt full-blown back to the golden days of Nigeria.
The blueprints that allowed Nigeria to flourish under regional government up ’till the early 70s need to be reintroduced. It is getting clearer that the APC mandate is a fluke, as Nigerian politicians remain hell-bent on looting and destroying Nigeria because of the nonsensical unitary system that gives power to one man as if he is a dictator, even under a democratic system.
How did the Old Western Region succeed with the regional farm settlement schemes alongside a world-class education system? What made the groundnut pyramid in Northern Nigeria so high? Why was the East home to cassava, yam, and other cash crops? The answers to these questions that will return Nigeria to her rightful position in cocoa export, oil-palm production, yam, and groundnut export are political!
How we let go of healthy living in Nigeria is related to the collapse of the agricultural sector, and it happened due to bad governments. Living in places where natural foods are now produced by synthetic methods or gene modification makes one appreciate the continent of Africa that is blessed by Mother Nature. In my part of Africa, the tropical zone of Sub-Saharan nature smiled on us and provided optimally for our living. When we are ready, Mother Nature will still be waiting.
A deep-rooted and sincere reorientation of the citizens will be necessary to rid Nigerians of their affinity for food and things that are foreign. Those who indulge in illegal importation of food stuffs should spend years behind bars. They are a risk to people’s health and also economic saboteurs for local and indigenous farmers.
The health of the citizenry is the wealth of the nation. Repeatedly, a functional political method is an integral part of the solutions to all of the problems in Nigeria. This is where the burden falls back on the citizens. They have a collective right to fight the politicians and take back their functional regions and bring back the days before the civil war, when there was abundance and prosperity.
It will be a long road to freedom.
[Photo credit to Robert]
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