• Saturday, May 25, 2024
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BusinessDay

Hunger games and Harvesting hope: Navigating Nigeria’s food crises

Nigeria’s food inflation

The specter of acute hunger looms, heckling down on a nation brimming with vast resources and potential opportunities. Nigeria is grappling with severe socio-economic challenges that endanger its economic growth, human capital, and overall development.

Nigeria is a country that is long used to suffering and hardship, but the current multi-dimensional cost of living crises is weighty- food insecurity, shortages of essentials, and rising prices of vital food staples- leading to widespread hunger and deprivation.

This crisis, which has plagued the country in recent years, casts a depressing shadow over the entire nation. The consequences of these afflictions extend far beyond immediate concerns, impacting not just survival but also posing significant threats to the economy due to conflicts, insecurity, and inflation.

Significantly, food insecurity has become a focal point of policy discussions worldwide, correlating with a surge in staple prices globally. Many countries reliant on food imports have witnessed a sharp uptick in food inflation due to geopolitical uncertainties in Europe and Asia in addition to the vestigial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This global crisis has had a direct impact on Nigeria, affecting families across rural and urban areas, irrespective of their socioeconomic status. Global food prices have soared by more than 52% since 2019, driven primarily by recent epidemics and the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The World Food Programme (WFP) depicted that over 785 million people globally do not have enough food and over 47 million people in 54 countries including Ethiopia, Yemen, South Sudan, and parts of Northern Nigeria are at an ‘emergency level’ or worse grips of famine.

The ramifications of diets bereft of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients pose dire strait to health and life prospects of millions more, casting a gloomy shadow over the future generation.

Nigeria’s Socio-economic Dynamics.
Nigeria boasts a population of over 220 million, ranking it as the sixth most populous nation globally.

It also holds the position of the tenth-largest crude oil producer worldwide. Despite achieving middle-income status in 2014, it is still within the lower-middle level. Thus, a concerning reality persists: approximately 84 million Nigerians, accounting for about 37% of the population, live below the poverty line. Moreover, over 133 million people endure multidimensional poverty factors, reflecting the deepening economic challenges.

In the 2023 Global Hungry Index (https://www.globalhungerindex.org/ranking.html), Nigeria ranks 109 out of 125 countries with a score of 28.3 typifying Nigeria’s level of hunger as serious.
4.4 million people are food insecure in northeast Nigeria 37% of people nationwide live below the poverty line​​​​​ 2.2 million people are internally displaced in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa State.​ 3 million people are affected by hunger and starvation in Borno State alone.

Source: Data extracted from Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), 2023
Hunger travails and the rising cost of living
According to the World Food Programme, an alarming 26.5 million Nigerians are expected to face acute hunger during the lean season of June to August 2024. This represents a significant increase from the 18.6 million individuals affected by food insecurity at the close of 2023.

In a similar vein, findings from the 2023 Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report highlight a stark situation: an estimated 20% of Nigerians grapple with undernourishment, while a distressing 45% of children under the age of five suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition and starvation. UNICEF further projects that around 9 million children face the risk of wasting and poor nutrition, with over 2.6 million of them likely to experience severe and acute undernourishment. These statistics underscore the urgent need for concerted efforts to address poverty and malnutrition across Nigeria.
Numerous factors contribute to these worrying circumstances: ongoing conflicts across different geopolitical regions, the impacts of climate change, and widespread price hikes affecting both food and non-food essentials. In the Northeast region, enduring conflicts and pervasive insecurity have displaced over 2.2 million people, while more than 4.4 million individuals are struggling with food insecurity in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa alone.

Borno, the epicenter of the crisis, bears the brunt, with over 3 million people affected. These challenges severely hinder both the availability and accessibility of food. Moreover, the rising incidents of armed banditry and kidnappings in the North-West and North-Central regions exacerbate the existing socio-economic hardship.

Nigeria also faces recurring challenges like droughts, floods, crop infestations, and other climate changes, all of which negatively impact agricultural productivity and increase the population’s vulnerability to hunger and deprivation.

In October 2023, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Nigeria reported that floods displaced nearly 9,000 households in Adamawa due to the persistent El Niño phenomena. This led to a widespread displacement of women, children, and the elderly, exacerbating food insecurity. Additionally, insurgent activities, multiple ‘illegal’ taxes, and dishonest sellers further strain the already fragile resource environment, worsening underdevelopment and heightening food and nutrition insecurity for vulnerable Nigerians. Tragically, many farmers have lost their lives, and others have been abducted or injured in their struggle for survival. These challenges underscore the dire circumstances faced by many Nigerians in the ongoing battle against hunger and deprivation.

Harvesting Hope: Cues from Recent Interventions
Restoring hope is one veritable means to reawaken people’s spirits while instilling confidence of a virile future. This effectively hinges on tackling food insecurity and/or food shortages that are impacting negatively on millions of households. Curiously, while several development interventions cum agricultural support programmes have been initiated by policymakers in the past, it is incumbent to have a critical look, in hindsight, at how they have fared especially in the wake of the current crisis.

As of 2023, the CBN had committed over N2 trillion in direct and indirect funding under her various agricultural interventions. While the impact is mixed, one that readily comes to mind is the popular Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) in 2015 and was meant to boost agriculture, engender food security, ensure self-reliance in rice production, create employment, by creating a new generation of smallholder farmers. It was intended to create a linkage between smallholder farmers (SHFs) who planted the key agricultural commodities (cereals like rice, maize, wheat; cotton, roots & tubers, tomato, legume, and livestock) and anchors in that are involved in food processing.
By 2022, over 4.8 million farmers have benefitted from the scheme during the unveiling of the stack of paddy rice pyramids harvested by the SHFs. Reports indicated that the rice distributed by the Governors as part of the government’s palliative disbursement was sourced through the initiative.

Key Metrics of ABP

But nine years down the line, the few gains of the scheme have been eroded by multiple clogs, despite the initial lofty expectations, eventually leading to its discontinuance. This is not unrelated to several factors, most of which are self-inflicting. Reports indicated instances of individuals who were not farmers infiltrating the scheme and obtaining loans unscrupulously. Additionally, there were concerns about the ineffective deployment of mechanization to enhance food production and insufficient storage capacities to handle post-harvest surpluses, particularly for perishable goods.
The opportunist mentality of average Nigerian farmers and extension workers in many of the benefitting states interpreted the intervention as their share of the ‘national cake’ that needs not to be repaid. For some, it was a case of gross underutilization, while others diverted their allocations to totally unrelated areas- to marry more wives or to travel for pilgrimage. Others failed to amortize their loans as agreed. According to a report from CBN, of the N1.08 trillion disbursed under the ABP, only N503 billion (about 52%) had been repaid before the suspension of the programme in January 2024. The same unfortunate outcomes have also characterized other interventions such as NIRSAL etc. All stakeholders need to do more about fool-proof debt recovery options especially those designed for boosting agricultural productivity.
Experts believe that some of the undesirable outcomes of the scheme should be a pointer to the government that supporting farmers with finance without addressing underlying issues will only drive inflation and food insecurity. More so, a campaign to inform the farmers of the purpose of the loan must be championed, clarifying to them that it is a loan and not a national cake. All these must be complemented with the right infrastructure to help reduce production costs, spur investment, and address the ease of doing business rather than mere cash handout.

Boosting security surveillance and effective conflict resolution could allow the farmers to farm without trepidation. More so, the alarming trend of smuggling essentials out of the country must be reversed while efforts must be made to clamp down on local hoarders who profiteer from food racketeering. Additionally, targeted R&D investment in modern farming techniques, and genetically modified organism (GMO) foods can also be encouraged to thrive to cushion the tension.
Amid the darkness of the “hunger games,” there’s a glimmer of hope. By taking a cue from the positives of the past intervention while remedying the negatives, Nigeria can tactically tackle its food crises and harvest a brighter tomorrow for all its citizens.