• Monday, June 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigeria’s hunger levels rising despite agric production push

Hunger is widespread and chronic in Nigeria. Its prevalence is one phenomenon that statistics cannot fully capture. Not even the global hunger index does justice to it. Another angle

Busayo Okusanya, a 40-year-old trader and a mother of four in Ikorodu, Lagos State, who has been struggling for over a year to pay her husband’s medical bills, can no longer afford to feed her children thrice daily.

Challenged by the harsh economic situation and the constant surge in prices of goods, Okusanya, whose business is almost collapsing, struggles daily to feed herself and her children.

“The continuous rise in the prices of food is making it difficult for us to feed properly. My children now go to bed hungry most times because I can no longer afford to feed them thrice daily,” she says.

“Sales are dwindling and my shop is almost empty. I spend the little I get daily feeding and taking care of my husband who is suffering from a stroke.”

Okusanya’s situation is not different from Ummi Ahmed, a 33-year-old housewife and mother of five in war-torn Mubi in Adamawa State – where people and animals fight to survive.

Ahmed has twins – Hussein and Hassan, and one of them has been sick from birth. The illness has eaten deep into the family’s finances, making feeding a daily struggle and leaving them hungry most times.

Ahmed saw differences between the twins since they were born, as Hassan did not grow well and vomited a lot.

“He is five years old now and hasn’t been growing. All the money we had in the last five years is finished; we spent everything on his medications,” she says. “We have no food to feed him. Our cost of living has doubled owing to inflation and we are left with nothing.”

“Currently, I have no milk for him. When he cries, I give him millet mixed with water, but it does not have the nourishment he needs. He is sickly,” she lamented, with a voice devoid of hope.

Like Okusanya and Ahmed, many households are struggling to get enough food for their families owing to accelerating inflation and dwindling incomes.

Nigeria’s inflation at 22.22 percent in April is far outpacing wage growth, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics.

Accelerating inflation, worsening insecurity, the aftermath of the pandemic and the Russia–Ukraine war have aggravated hunger levels in Nigeria and multiplied humanitarian needs, especially in war-torn northern regions of the country, experts say.

Experts say Nigeria has failed to grow more food for its fast-rising population, which must be fed with staples such as rice, beans, tomatoes, and maize, despite the government’s efforts to boost local production in recent years.

“Despite local production push we are still not growing enough for our people,” says AfricaFarmer Mogaji, chief executive officer of FarmCredit Limited. “The production shortfall with the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and worsening insecurity is accelerating hunger in the country.”

“More Nigerians go to bed hungry daily because they can’t afford to buy enough food and the situation is worsening owing to inflation,” he adds.

In April 2023, the United Nations World Food Programme said one in eight Nigerians – 24.8 million people — were facing acute hunger.

Also, a recent World Bank report on food security states that at least 64 million Nigerians are at risk of emergency food and nutritional assistance owing to the attendant effects of rising inflation, insecurity, and climate change among others.

“We need to grow more food to drive down prices and this looks unlikely owing to critical issues such as insecurity and climate change that have been curbing crop production in recent years,” Abiodun Olorundenro, operations manager at Aquashoots Limited, says in a response to questions.

“What this means is that food prices will remain high in 2023 owing to the shortfall, causing hunger levels to greatly rise,” he says.

With food prices climbing to record peaks last year, millions of Nigerians are already facing devastating hunger and malnutrition levels.

Globally, hunger levels are accelerating with 258 million people going to bed hungry in 2022, and more than 193 million people in 2021. I

In Nigeria, the hunger rate is growing at a faster pace as food prices which account for 60 percent of household spending continue in an upward trajectory.

“Hunger is a global problem but Nigeria’s case is unique because of our peculiar problems limiting food production, hunger is surging at a faster pace,” Ibrahim Kabiru, national president of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, says.

“We need to optimise productivity to bring down the prices of food but the naira has to be shored up so that purchasing power is strengthened.”

Read also: April food prices rise most in Kogi, Kwara, Bayelsa

A combined 2022 report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, WFP, and the United Nations listed Nigeria among five other countries as the ‘hotspot of global hunger’ – where people are facing catastrophic levels of hunger.

The country, with a Global Hunger Index score of 27.3 in 2022, ranked 103rd out of 121 countries, for the second year in a row. The index termed the level of hunger in the country as “serious.”

“We are facing hunger on an unprecedented scale, food prices have never been higher, and millions of lives and livelihoods are hanging in the balance,” António Guterres, UN secretary-general, wrote in the report’s foreword.

Nigerians are poorer than they were in 2021, with 63 percent of the population (133 million) suffering from multidimensional poverty.

The MPI considers poverty across several areas of potential deprivations, such as sanitation, time to healthcare, food security, and living standards.

Apart from rising hunger levels, malnutrition levels are also surging. Rising food prices are putting balanced diets out of reach for millions of Nigerians who are struggling to feed.

“I can’t afford to give my children an egg per day anymore despite knowing the importance to their development because it has become so expensive,” Moji Adeleke, a teacher and mother of four, says.