Government should scale up forces and stop the debilitating war 

Rising food prices, unemployment, and perpetual conflict are sparking fears of looming hunger in Nigeria. That’s the conclusion of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which in June expressed concerns that Nigeria’s economic outlook was challenging, with elevated inflation and high food prices. Last week, the global financial institution, once again warned that Nigeria risks slipping into food crisis which could degenerate into social unrest. “The effects of recent flooding and high fertilizer prices could become more entrenched impacting negatively both agricultural production and food prices in 2023,” the Fund stated. 

Even before the IMF warning, hunger was already a common staple for millions of Nigerians. Using a ‘cost of food basics’ analysis that compares the monthly minimum recommended spent on food per adult and average wage in 107 countries, a United Kingdom-based Institute of Development Studies last year placed Nigeria as the second poorest country in the world in terms of food affordability. The other countries where basic food is least affordable include Syria, Ethiopia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Indonesia, Algeria, Iran, and Uzbekistan. In the 2022 Global Hunger Index, Nigeria ranked 103rd out of the 121 countries, chalking up a level of hunger described as “serious.” Besides, a recent and more comprehensive report on poverty by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) estimated that 133 million Nigerians were multidimensionally poor using four indicators: food security, healthcare, education, and work.  

The irony of Nigeria is that some of the states where food prices have gone up are in major food-producing areas of the country. Sokoto is a major producer of beans, cowpea, groundnut, garlic, wheat, sugarcane, pepper, onions, and tomatoes. Groundnut, sorghum, sesame seed, maize, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and pepper are produced extensively in Plateau State. Likewise, Gombe is well known for groundnut, ginger, cowpea, sesame seed, tomatoes, and pepper. Plantain, oil palm and cassava are largely produced in Edo State. Also, Kano has extensive production of rice, garlic, sorghum, cowpea, wheat, pepper, onions, and tomatoes. But the insecurity in many of the rural communities has made it practically difficult for farmers to continue to engage in agricultural production optimally, causing market disruptions with attendant food price shocks. 

From the COVID-19 pandemic which constricted the economy to the Russia-Ukraine War, to an ailing national currency on a free fall and the recent mass flooding which disrupted supply chains, the challenges have been mounting. But for an economy that largely depends on imports – from petrol to fertilizers – the impact on the people, most of whom are unemployed, is hard. The situation is exacerbated by the unending conflict between farmers and herders in the food belt of the nation. It is therefore little surprise that Nigerians are reeling from soaring food prices.  

Indeed, before the recent alarm by the IMF, the United Nations had echoed similar sentiments, predicting a looming acute hunger in Nigeria and 20 other countries in the coming months. The gravity of the situation was better expressed in a statement by UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation Director-General, Qu Dongyu who noted that “The magnitude of suffering is alarming. It is incumbent upon all of us to act now and to act fast to save lives, safeguard livelihoods and prevent the worst situation.”  

Last week, as a way of addressing the hunger crisis, the Ministry of Agriculture claimed it had distributed assorted food commodities from the strategic food reserve to the vulnerable and flood victims in addition to the distribution of early maturing seeds, fertilisers, agro-chemicals and such-like. Notable as these may be, they are not likely to dent the looming food crisis. The government must do more by stopping the debilitating war and secure the country. Modern tools of technology must also be introduced as hoes and cutlasses or depending on other nations cannot effectively feed the nation. There is an urgent need to adopt automated systems which the smallholder farmers can also use without breaking the bank. The good news is that many of our young people are already going in that direction. They only need to be encouraged and supported.  

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