• Thursday, July 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

Hunger, insecurity, and the cry for a better Nigeria

Stolen crops, strangled security: Is Nigeria ready to face hunger?

In Nigeria, the daily struggle for survival is intensifying. The cost of food is skyrocketing, with food inflation creeping up to 40.66 percent from 40.53 percent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). This is not just a statistic; it is a reflection of the harsh reality that millions of Nigerians face every day. Despite this, wages remain stagnant, and insecurity continues to disrupt daily life, leaving families in a precarious position.

Many Nigerians are now forced to make impossible choices between feeding their children and paying for essential services like healthcare and education. A BusinessDay survey highlights the desperation: the price of basic food items, such as tomatoes, has reached an astounding 1,000 Naira for just four small pieces. In response, many are turning to less expensive alternatives like carrots and cucumbers for their meals. This is not a sustainable way of living; it is a clear indication of an economy in distress.

Read also: Nigeria northeast risks mass hunger as UN funding dwindles

The public health crisis is another pressing issue. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) reports alarming numbers of cholera cases, exacerbated by inadequate waste disposal and flooding during the rainy season. Access to affordable medicine is another challenge, worsened by the departure of major pharmaceutical companies. This dire scenario underscores the urgent need for effective healthcare solutions.

Insecurity remains a critical issue demanding immediate attention. Security cannot be downplayed or politicised if the food crisis is to be resolved. Despite Nigeria’s significant military presence, insecurity persists unabated, disrupting supply chains and pushing farmers in northern Nigeria to pay militias for protection just to access their fields. The correlation between food supply chains and security is direct and severe.

With the onset of the rainy season, the threat of floods will exacerbate existing challenges, further disrupting already vulnerable supply lines. The interconnectedness of security and economic stability is evident globally, as seen in conflicts like the Russia-Ukraine war, which have impacted food prices.

The government must recognise the urgent need for a cohesive and effective economic strategy. Without decisive action, the country faces an escalating crisis that could lead to severe social unrest and further economic collapse.

“If action is taken too slowly, social unrest and economic hardships could worsen and endanger the welfare of the country and its citizens.”

Learning from global examples
India provides a pertinent case study. Recognising the fiscal burden posed by subsidies, the Indian government initiated a phased approach to subsidy removal, coupled with direct cash transfers to the most vulnerable households through the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme. This strategy managed inflation and improved the efficiency and targeting of subsidies.

Programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) provide rural employment and income support, mitigating the adverse effects of rising fuel prices on rural households. India’s approach demonstrates the importance of gradual reforms and robust social safety nets.

Egypt: Currency devaluation and structural reforms
In 2016, Egypt embarked on economic reforms with IMF support, including floating the Egyptian pound. This move initially caused a sharp rise in inflation, adversely affecting the poor. To counter these effects, Egypt expanded its “Takaful and Karama” programmes, providing cash transfers to millions of families. Structural reforms improved the business climate and attracted foreign direct investment, enhancing economic stability.

A path forward for Nigeria
Nigeria can draw valuable lessons from these countries. Implementing direct cash transfers to vulnerable households can protect the poorest segments from price shocks. Expanding social safety nets similar to India’s MGNREGA can provide rural employment and income support. Structural reforms to improve the business climate, attract foreign investment, and enhance fiscal sustainability are crucial.

Additionally, opening borders for the importation of food at cheaper rates and introducing food subsidies can help lower food prices and provide immediate relief to those most affected by rising inflation and economic hardship.

Read also: Group seeks Nasarawa govt support to end hunger, poverty

Nigerians cannot endure indefinitely under the current economic strain. The continuous pressure of rising prices, stagnant wages, and insecurity is pushing people to their limits. The government must act swiftly and decisively to alleviate these pressures before the situation reaches a breaking point. If action is taken too slowly, social unrest and economic hardships could worsen and endanger the welfare of the country and its citizens.

The resilience of Nigerians is not infinite. Just as materials have limits to their expansion before they break, so do people’s resilience and endurance under prolonged hardship.

The time for action is now, before the silent cries of hunger and despair become a roar of unrest and upheaval.

By implementing the proposed solutions and fostering a spirit of national unity, Nigeria can navigate this crisis.

With decisive action and collaboration, the country can emerge stronger, with a more robust economy and a social safety net that protects its most vulnerable citizens. This will not only alleviate the current suffering but also lay the foundation for a more prosperous and sustainable future for all Nigerians.