CROP IMPROVEMENT: IMPORTANT MEANS FOR NATIONAL FOOD SECURITY AND GROWTH
The demand for food continues to rise across Nigeria as population increases. Nigeria has about 79 million hectares of arable land, of which only 32 million hectares are cultivated. However inadequate access and a low supply of high-quality crops have contributed heavily to a shortfall in the nation’s food security. Adoption of crops with high productivity, short life cycles, and resistance to stress is advised. Crop improvement being targeted manipulation of crops’ genomes to get desired traits, can effectively increase food production and create numerous varieties of available crops to alleviate high rising food insecurity. Plant introduction and acclimatization being a method of crop improvement can introduce foreign crops in Nigeria, hence increasing the variability of food. To help facilitate crop improvement, researchers are advised to employ all the available crop improvement techniques in their daily work, government should make favourable policies and also have the political will to create an enabling environment to make research efforts productive.
Food security is the state achieved when food systems operate such that all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (Omeje and Ogbu, 2015).
Nigeria faces huge food security challenges. About 70 percent of the population live on less than N 100 (US$ 0.70) per day, suffering hunger and poverty. Despite its reputation as petroleum resource-dependent, Nigeria remains an agrarian economy. The sector provides over 40 % of gross domestic product (GDP) with between 60 and 70 % of the population productively engaged in farming. But large regional differences exist. For instance, in the southeast, 22% of the people live in rural areas with most of them engaged in non-farming activities (Adelekan, 2014).
Nigeria, being recognized as one of the largest countries in Africa, has about 79 million hectares of arable land, within which 32 million hectares are cultivated for agricultural purposes. Then, over 90% of agricultural production is rain-fed. Smallholders, mostly subsistence producers account for 80% of all farm holdings, which is carried out within the living environment. Through assessment, crop and livestock production remains below potential. Inadequate access and low uptake of high-quality seeds, low fertilizer use, and inefficient production systems lead to this shortfall (Adelekan, 2014). The demand for food continues to rise all over the world, even as the population rises. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimates that some 500 million people are severely undernourished (FAO 2010). If the world population continues to grow at 1.8 percent annually, food production will have to at least double in the next 40 years to keep pace with demand, leading to food insecurity. It is thought that the demand for food will double in 30 years; as people become more affluent, they will seek a greater and more varied diet. Moreover, not only will an increasing number of people need to be fed, but that food must be produced from inferior soil under poor climatic and deteriorating biological conditions. Existing biological and chemical technologies may not be adequate for the task. Faced with growing populations, many third-world countries like Nigeria urgently need to increase their agricultural output (Cui et al., 2014), to alleviate hunger in children, aged, and pregnant women.
Crop improvement can be defined as the genetic alteration of plants to satisfy human needs (Ardlie et al., 2012). Evolutionary, human breeding activities in various parts of the world have brought into existence, a few hundred species from the hundreds of thousands formerly available. In carrying out their usual cultivation and breeding activities, they transformed these species into crops through genetic alterations that involved conscious and unconscious selection by the environment, and the differential reproduction of variants. Through a long history of trial and error, relatively few plant species have become the mainstay of agriculture and thus the world’s food supply (Bhat and Srinivasan 2012). Some wild plants have been domesticated either in part or in full. This process of domestication involved the identification of certain useful wild species combined with a process of selection that brought about changes in appearance, quality, and productivity. During domestication, there is an alteration of the genetic content which may be instant or gradual. Some crop plants have been so changed that for many of them, maize, for example, their origins are obscure, with no extant close wild relatives (Buerstmayr et al., 2013). The selection process was unconscious, especially when natural selection plays the role. For example, in wild wheats, the grains scatter by disarticulation, and separation of the seed from the seed head. When these grains were harvested by cutting the heads with a sickle, an unconscious selection occurred for “non-shattering” types that would then be continually replanted (Ceccarelli et al., 2011). The selection of naturally occurring variants is the basis of crop improvement. Over thousands of years, this technique resulted in the development of modern basic crops. The discovery of techniques for asexual (vegetative) propagation, such as by using natural offshoots, rooting stem cuttings, or various grafting techniques, made it possible to “fix” genetic variants. This was the technique used for many tree fruits, enabling identical plants to be cultivated in orchards. Naturally produced seedlings derived from intercrosses of these selected plants were then available for selection again. Many present-day fruit crops are similar to those cultivated in antiquity, and some ancient selections are still cultivated, as seen in dates, for example. As humans carried improved crops to new locations, opportunities opened to increase genetic variation from natural intercrosses with new wild populations (Cooper et al., 2011).
Crop improvement has dramatically increased food production and created thousands of today’s crop varieties to meet a highly diversified and increasing demand for agricultural products. In conventional breeding, the genes preexisting within a species, or its close relatives are brought together by sexual crossing, and plants with desired characteristics are then selected (Doerge 2012).
Food security, efforts at its eradication and factors affecting food security in Nigeria.
Food security in a broad sense has to do with having at all times an adequate level of food and food products to meet increasing consumption demand to mitigate fluctuation in output and price (Idrisa et al., 2014). According to FAO (1996), food security is a situation when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food for a healthy and active life. Ladele and Ayoola (2013) see food security as a function of food production level, that is, a high level of food production is equal to food security. However, according to Oriola (2015), food security entails producing food that will go around every citizen both in quality and quantity. To achieve this, agricultural production needs to be enhanced with adequate knowledge of the environment, climatic conditions, the market, and its operation, and be aware of price and price mechanism, good transportation system, storage, and fashion modalities to check glut and be well prepared in case of disasters. Food insecurity is the lack of access to sufficient quality and quantity of safe nutritious food for an active and healthy life; the inability of households or individuals to meet the required consumption level in the face of fluctuating production, price, and income (Maharjan and Chhetri, 2016).
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