Mitigating Food Insecurity in 2023

With the recent Global Hunger Index in which Nigeria is ranked 103 out of 121 countries, and with the National Bureau of Statistics estimating that 133 million Nigerians are multi-dimensionally poor with food as one of the indicators, Nigeria is no doubt at risk, writes Ugo Aliogo 

Nearly 25 million Nigerians are at risk of facing hunger between June and August 2023, if urgent action is not taken, according to the October 2022 Cadre Harmonisé, a government led and UN-supported food and nutrition analysis carried out twice a year.

The report stated that this is a projected increase from the estimated 17 million people currently at risk of food insecurity. Continued conflict, climate change, inflation and rising food prices are key drivers of this alarming trend. Food access has been affected by persistent violence in the north-east states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY) and armed banditry and kidnapping in states such as Katsina, Sokoto, Kaduna, Benue and Niger.

According to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), widespread flooding in the 2022 rainy season damaged more than 676,000 hectares of farmlands, which diminished harvests and increased the risk of food insecurity for families across the country. The flooding is one of the effects of climate change and variability impacting Nigeria. More extreme weather patterns affecting food security are anticipated in the future.

Of the 17 million people who are currently food insecure, 3 million are in the northeast BAY states. Without immediate action, this figure is expected to increase to 4.4 million in the lean season. This includes highly vulnerable displaced populations and returnees who are already struggling to survive a large-scale humanitarian crisis in which 8.3 million people need assistance.

Reacting to the development, the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Mr. Matthias Schmale, said: “The food security and nutrition situation across Nigeria is deeply concerning. I have visited nutrition stabilization centres filled with children who are fighting to stay alive. We must act now to ensure they and others get the lifesaving support they need.”

The report argued that Children are the most vulnerable to food insecurity. Approximately 6 of the 17 million food-insecure Nigerians today are children under 5 living in Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara states. There is a serious risk of mortality among children attributed to acute malnutrition. In the BAY states alone, the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition is expected to increase from 1.74 million in 2022 to 2 million in 2023.

The report revealed that UNICEF, working with the government and partners such as MSF and ALIMA, is investing in scaling up preventive nutrition interventions, while ensuring that vulnerable children have access to life-saving nutrition services. In 2022, UNICEF with partners was able to reach approximately 650,000 children with life-saving nutrition services across the six states mentioned above.

The report noted that the northwest region, around Katsina, Zamfara and Sokoto states, is an increasing food insecurity and malnutrition hotspot. An estimated 2.9 million people are currently critically food insecure (Cadre Harmonisé Phase 3 or worse.) This figure is projected to increase to 4.3 million in the lean season if urgent action is not taken.

Food Insecurity in 2023

With the recent Global Hunger Index in which Nigeria is ranked 103rd out of 121, and the government-controlled National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) estimating that 133 million Nigerians are multi-dimensionally poor with food as one of the indicators.

In his reaction, the Country Director, PLAN International, Mr. Usie Emmamuzou, said there was an urgent need for the government both at the federal and State level respectively to consider the looming crisis an emergency, adding that this is urgent not just in relation to hunger, but also in terms of economic development.

He explained that where a sector generating about 24 percent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in one year is under threat, government at all levels should prioritize an urgent response and classify the situation as a national crisis.

He urged government to take urgent steps to stop the forecasted catastrophic events by addressing all challenges and threats, which are institutional issues and man-made difficulties. 

“First is the issue of access to support and financing by the smallholder farmers who are responsible for 90 percent of Nigeria’s agricultural produce and about 98 per cent of food consumed in Nigerian homes, with the exception of wheat. Also, the government, as a matter of urgency, needs to now devise a workable response to the various violent conflicts and invasions that have chased farmers off the farmlands across the country. Ensuring that farmers find their way back to their farms and are safe there should be a priority now.  Therefore, the government should ensure the roads are safe, the forests free of criminals and access to agricultural input is made possible,” he said.

In his remarks, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) Auwal Rafsanjani, said one of the key responsibilities of a government is to ensure the adequate welfare of the citizens, adding that food security is one dimension of welfare that every responsible government must focus on in delivering to its citizens.

Insecurity and Sufficiency

The Director, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprises, (CPPE), Dr. Muda Yusuf, is of the view that the federal government needs to tackle the issue of insecurity which is affecting the agricultural sector, thereby reducing the agricultural output, led to displacement of millions of Nigerians, and it has contributed greatly to poverty in the country.

He explained that the agricultural sector is a critical sector because it is biggest employer of labour in the country, therefore with such sector is severely affected by insecurity, it means that it would have huge implications for food and poverty.

Yusuf maintained that insecurity and its impact on our agriculture sector is something that needs to be tackled, pointing out that this can bring some solution from the point of view of improving level of employment in our agricultural sector, which would now ensure that access to food and increase in the capacity to buy the food.

He remarked that if insecurity is tackled, the country would experience increase in agricultural output, and if output increases, prices are likely to drop, noting that if prices drop, affordability would increase, which would to reduce the problem of food insecurity in the country.

According to him, “What is very clear is that the food crisis has been worsened by the rising cost of food. There are global factors, but in our case, there are domestic factors. The second thing that needs to be done is to address the macro-economic issues especially factors that are driving food inflation. Presently, most families cannot afford protein in their meals because of the cost of chicken, fish and beef is expensive. Therefore there is need to manage the macro-economic environment in a way to reduce inflation is very important. Government can do this by looking at the macro-economic policies, the level of our fiscal deficit, looking at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) injection of liquidity into the economy. All the macro-economy issues fuelling inflation needs to be addressed at a policy level so that inflation and food malnutrition generally will drop.”

Fixing the Challenge

Rafsanjani stated that some of the major steps that the government must take in order to address the problem of food insecurity is to go back to the basics and truly prioritizes food production, employ the services of more advanced techniques and technologies that would meet the needs of the 21st century farming for efficient, and robust food production, build more agricultural facilities across the country.

His viewpoint is that there is need to abandon some bad policies that are not doing the country any good and adopt policies that best serve the interests and aspirations of Nigeria and Nigerians.

According to him, “The need for the government to truly engage the citizens in value reorientation in terms of the goals, vision and aspirations of Nigeria as a self-sufficient, self-reliant country that will cater for its growing population without much dependence on others for food. For example, according to an account by Africa research review, past efforts at improving food supply through agricultural production has not yielded successful results. The programmes that were introduced only helped to alienate peasant farmers who are the major producers of food in Nigeria.

“All the companies that had something to do with food production in the country are now dead and the government is doing nothing to revive the legacies of these companies because of misplaced priorities and inconsistency in government policies that will serve the interests of the people. Companies such as the National Grains Companies, National Root Crops Production Companies, North east, Western and National and Livestock Production Companies, Nigerian National Fish Company.”

The CPPE Director revealed that most of the farm inputs are expensive because they are imported and that is affecting the cost of food, livestock and productions.

Continuing, Yusuf said: “Government has to put in place policies to reduce the cost of those inputs, by making them a lot more affordable so that they can support agriculture. At the primary level, we need to introduce technology, because technology components in agricultural production is extremely and it is affecting productivity which in turn affects output. Output affects food crisis especially in the face of rising population.”

Post-harvest Losses

Flooding is a natural disaster but becomes man-made due to poor planning and response, and climate change has made it worse. Being a natural disaster means that it cannot be stopped from happening, but the impact can be mitigated.

There is an argument in some quarters that government lacks the technical know-how to mitigate the problems of flooding or probably put in place preventive measures. Emmamuzou however disagrees with this school of thought, noting that in term of flooding, the country is not lacking in reports and research products indicating causes and possible preventive steps, however he questioned the level of commitment on the part of the federal and state government in making use of available reports and research products to combat the problem.

He argued that while it appears, there is little that can be done about the issue, but the impact can be managed through adequate planning and execution, adding that unfortunately, the planning and implementation routines of successive governments have not been at par.

In his words: “Flooding is predictable and indeed, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) has consistently and correctly predicted flooding months ahead. Yet, every year has been worse off as no visible prevention efforts are put in place or where they are in place, are grossly inadequate. The Nigerian state and government should have a drastic change of attitude in term of response plans and execution. And adequate preparation should also be made for removing farmers, their families, communities and products from harm’s way in the occurrence of flooding led by State and Local Government authorities with support from development partners. Flooding becomes a disaster only when we fail to plan and take preventive steps to ensure the situation does not slip into one in which we record loss of lives and property.”

Task before the Incoming Government

The task before the incoming government to address food insecurity is enormous but it is fixable. Nigeria has an arable land area of 34 million hectares, much of which can grow diverse food to feed the nation’s population and even for export.

On this issue, the PLAN Country Director, advised the incoming government to make concrete plans at fixing the challenges threatening the agriculture sector, because there is red alert already on impeding famine, therefore, lack of knowledge of the challenge is not the problem.

He added: “The issue is what plans are in place? One of the challenges we also need to tackle is the issue of access to and ownership of lands. 99 percent of the food consumed in homes in Nigeria is planted by smallholder farmers and 70 per cent of the farm labour is women according to former minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbe. This means that in order to address the looming food crisis, we must address issues of lack of access to land, inability to own lands, exclusion from credit facilities and other forms of support by these women. 25 million people at risk of food insecurity is capable of taking the country back to the stone age.”

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