• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Food security: Home gardening as a sustainable solution to Nigeria’s crises

Food security: Home gardening as a sustainable solution to Nigeria’s crises

Food, a fundamental human need according to Maslow’s hierarchy, has become a source of distress and even mortality in Nigeria.

The country grapples with severe food crises (food inflation and food insecurity), worsened by a weakening naira, low domestic agricultural output, and heavy reliance on costly imports.

In January 2024, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported an annual food inflation rate of 35.41 percent, sharply up from 24.32 percent a year earlier. By May, the inflation rate had surged to 40.66 percent year-on-year, impacting staple foods and essential commodities crucial for everyday life.

“The current food inflation experienced by Nigeria is caused by the market forces of demand and supply and not lack of availability,” Abubakar Kyari, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, said in a press briefing in February 2024.

Read also: Southwest states roll out food production plans to halt food crises

However, lower foreign reserves, ongoing insecurity, and currency fluctuations have worsened the situation, pushing food prices beyond the reach of many.

The meeting point: How food insecurity and food inflation lead to foodborne diseases

When food prices rise (food inflation), vulnerable populations, particularly low-income households, are forced to compromise on the quality and quantity of their food purchases.

This economic strain leads to food insecurity, where access to a diverse and nutritious diet becomes increasingly limited. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), high food prices exacerbate food insecurity by pushing essential nutrition out of reach for many households.

For instance, the cost of a healthy diet (CoHD), a metric measuring access to nutritious diets, rose to an average of N1,041 per adult per day by May 2024 in Nigeria.

CoHD has been rising faster than general inflation and food inflation, mainly driven by higher prices for starchy staples, legumes, nuts, seeds, and animal-source foods.

The consequences of food insecurity extend beyond hunger. Inadequate access to safe and nutritious food prompts individuals to resort to cheaper, less nutritious alternatives that may be improperly stored or contaminated.

This increases the risk of foodborne diseases, which disproportionately affect populations already vulnerable due to food insecurity.

“Inadequate access to safe and nutritious food prompts individuals to resort to cheaper, less nutritious alternatives that may be improperly stored or contaminated.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed in a report that foodborne diseases arise from consuming contaminated food or water, exacerbated by poor access to clean water and sanitation.

The paths to food security in Nigeria

Achieving food security—continuous access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food—remains a significant challenge for Nigeria, which ranked 107th out of 113 countries in the 2022 Global Food Security Index.

Globally, grassroots initiatives like home gardening have gained traction as sustainable solutions to food insecurity. This implies that Nigerians can mitigate the impact of food inflation and ensure a steady supply of nutritious food at lower costs by cultivating their own produce.

In Europe, several countries have embraced home gardening as a means to enhance food security and promote sustainable living. Norway, for example, has a long-standing tradition of promoting home gardening through community initiatives and educational programs. Citizens in cities like Oslo cultivate vegetables and herbs in community gardens, fostering a sense of self-reliance and reducing dependence on imported produce.

Similarly, Switzerland has seen a rise in urban gardening projects, where residents in urban areas use rooftops and small plots to grow their own food. Supported by local governments and NGOs, these initiatives not only improve food security but also promote environmental sustainability by reducing carbon footprints associated with food transportation.

Read also: Adefeko calls for urgent action to address food insecurity

Across Africa, home gardening serves as a strategy to bolster food security and resilience against climate variability. In Ethiopia, the practice of home garden agroforestry dates back centuries, with communities like those in Blue integrating trees, shrubs, and annual crops to meet nutritional needs.

This traditional system not only provides diverse food sources but also enhances soil fertility and reduces the burden of environmental shocks.

Cameroon also embraces home gardening as a climate change adaptation strategy. Communities cultivate resilient species of crops for household nutrition, animal fodder, and income generation. Home gardens in Cameroon act as local food banks during lean seasons, ensuring food access and reducing vulnerabilities associated with external market fluctuations.

These practices highlight the adaptive capacity of African communities to leverage local resources to meet food needs sustainably.

Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) professionals also emphasised that home gardening plays a vital role in enhancing food safety and security amid Nigeria’s challenges.

Recent data from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) highlights the severity of the situation. From January 1 to June 11, 2024, Nigeria reported 1,141 suspected cholera cases, including 65 confirmed cases and 30 fatalities, across 96 local government areas in 30 states. As the rainy season persists, the risk of cholera and other foodborne diseases may escalate.

Speaking in an interview with BusinessDay, Habeeb Salaudeen, OSHE and Facilities Executive (Central, East, and West Africa), at Beiersdorf, stressed the importance of home gardening as a proactive measure to ensure food quality and safety.

“Home gardening empowers individuals to control their food sources,” he said. “By growing your own produce, you reduce the risk of contamination and ensure freshness.”

Adejumoke Sangolana, an author and HSEQ professional, supports this perspective, highlighting the role of home gardening in mitigating foodborne risks. “Home gardening allows for greater control over growing conditions,” Sangolana said. “It promotes safe agricultural practices and reduces reliance on external, potentially unsafe food sources.”

Read also: Food security: Kwara distributes farm implements to 600,000 beneficiaries

Conclusion: food security through collective action

As Nigeria contends with the challenges of food inflation, insecurity, and foodborne diseases, prioritising robust food safety measures and promoting initiatives like home gardening are critical steps towards safeguarding public health and fostering sustainable development.

Africa’s most populous country can mitigate the impact of food-related health crises and build resilience against future challenges by empowering communities to grow their own food and strengthening food safety standards across the board.

Nigeria can pave the way towards a safer, more sustainable food future for all its citizens through collective action and informed policy decisions.