• Monday, May 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

The HANCI – Nigeria’s agricultural report card

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 May finds us celebrating the dignity of labour and the efforts of workers and unions the world over. A few weeks from now, we will also be celebrating the children of this nation as well as 14 years of democracy. This month also finds Nigeria occupying the 30th position on the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI) – an index devoted to measuring government commitment to the twin issues of hunger and under-nutrition. This year’s index and its accompanying report, which were released last month, are based on a comparison among 45 developing countries according to their government’s performance and their overall record in the aforementioned areas.

The difference and common thread between hunger and nutrition are explained in the report as follows: “Hunger is the result of an empty stomach and is caused by people having insufficient income or social and economic entitlements to access food. Hunger makes people more susceptible to disease and thus leads to increased illness and death. Hunger strongly undermines development.

“Under-nutrition is related to, though subtly different from, hunger. Under-nutrition is not only a consequence of hunger, but can also exist in the absence of hunger, and can be caused by non-food factors. Under-nutrition results from both a critical lack of nutrients in people’s diets and a weakened immune system.”

Developed by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), the HANCI splits 22 indicators of political commitment and performance between hunger and nutrition, weighing both equally (50-50) in order to come up with an overall ranking for each country. Commitment is measured across three areas of government action: legal frameworks, government policies and programmes, and public expenditures. While legal frameworks underscore how citizens’ economic and social rights and access to justice are enshrined in constitutional law, public policies show how important on the government’s daily priority list; and public expenditures speak to whether the government is really putting its money where its mouth is.

The main legal framework indices in this assessment are constitutional right to food, women’s access to agricultural land, constitutional right to social security, and women’s economic rights. For government policies, the HANCI looks at security of access to land, access to improved drinking water, access to sanitation, skilled birth attendance. Access to land, for example, “enables people to produce food for self-consumption and for markets”. And security of access sheds light on whether people are able to “take entrepreneurial risks and to invest in the productivity of land”. Furthermore, the HANCI looks beyond direct interventions and considers the larger picture – such as whether there exists an enabling environment in the country (e.g., a well-functioning health system) for the attainment of hunger and nutrition goals. As such, its approach is multifaceted and governments are evaluated on how multi-sectoral they are in their goals towards national development.

Before assessing Nigeria’s performance, it might be useful to look at how some of the other countries fared. Guatemala was the highest ranked country; Malawi was second; Ghana came tenth; and Guinea Bissau was all the way at the bottom of the list.

The report reveals that Guatemala is doing a good job of “ensuring that public policy is informed by robust and up-to-date evidence on nutrition statuses” but also using a multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder coordination mechanism to ensure that it records progress on all fronts. In Africa, Malawi – with a very low Gross National Income per capita of $870 – has also been lauded for adopting this “best practice”, integrating nutrition as a national agenda within several ministries including agriculture; water and irrigation; gender and youth; health; education; and even within the local government bureaucracies. Malawi also has a farmer subsidy programme which has greatly improved farmers’ access to land and economic security, even though its record is less impressive when it comes to women’s access to land. Guinea Bissau, on the other hand, is reportedly only paying lip service to agriculture by committing to the Maputo Declaration to invest 10 percent of its revenue in agriculture but failing to honour this commitment. Women, thus, have a poorer chance of enjoying social security and are more vulnerable to hunger, malnutrition, and destitution.

So where does that leave Nigeria? Well, according to the HANCI, with a pretty unimpressive record given its comparatively greater economic strength. The report has a really cool feature that allows one to move across the hunger-nutrition spectrum in order to determine whether countries are prioritising one over the other and consequently doing better in one respect. When one moves to the nutrition extreme, Nigeria actually fares better, ranking 27th out of the 45 countries, but if the numbers are reversed in favour of hunger, Nigeria moves four ranks down from its overall 30th position. Within many sub-indicators, Nigeria is described as a low commitment or low effectiveness country, especially in comparison to the other developing countries analysed.

In general, the performance of the 45 countries reveals some important insights: (1) that “economic growth is necessary but not sufficient to rapidly accelerate reduction of hunger and malnutrition unless it is equitable”; (2) that countries do not have to be really prosperous to commit and make decent strides in the fight against hunger and malnutrition; and (3) that “low wealth or slow economic growth in a country does not necessarily imply low levels of political commitment”.

Nigerian agricultural stakeholders – especially government officials and advocacy groups – would do well to read this report in its entirety at hancindex.org even if they do not end up agreeing with its findings. And in case anyone is wondering, here’s why the report matters. First of all, questions of accuracy aside, it puts countries to the task on their mandate to address hunger and malnutrition. It also gives them a chance to be transparent in their efforts, correct misconceptions, and address the concerns of their citizens. Secondly, it highlights areas on which civil societies can hold their governments to account and advocate for the prioritisation of certain policies and agendas. Thirdly, it showcases the efforts of nations that we can consider as role models and gives us insights into how they are able to turn commitment into effectiveness.

So let us consider the HANCI our May report card and like good students, let us – as government officials, or members of the civil society – take it as a challenge to move beyond lip service, to move beyond our current efforts, however laudable they are, and to move agendas, officials, and proposals until we are somewhere among the top ten nations on the HANCI and paving the way for other countries to follow.

 

TUKENI OBASI

Obasi is a syndicated columnist, co-founder of the Youth Consortium for Progress and one of the program managers for the Harambe Incubator for Sustainable and Rural Development (HISARD).

[email protected]

 

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