Violence remains major obstacle to achieving food security
Food remains a vital part of every human’s life and food insecurity has become an issue of global concern. The number of people who experience food insecurity in Nigeria has increased over the years. Data from Statista shows that between 2014 and 2016, the rate of food insecurity rose by 6.6 per cent. This increased to 9.3 per cent between 2015 and 2017, 12.1 per cent between 2016 and 2018, 14.8 per cent between 2017 and 2019 and 21.4 per cent between 2018 and 2020. This confirms the 2021 Global Hunger Index (GHI) which ranks Nigeria as the 103rd out of 135 countries with an index of 28.3, in the same league with Afghanistan.
Production of food and cash crops was relatively self-sufficient but this gradually changed after Nigeria shifted from agriculture to oil production. As oil prices went up, interest in agriculture waned. Now, the country is feeling the brunt of rising food items, which have gone up by over 100 per cent since 2006.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in its “Selected Food Price Watch” for February 2022 showed data for year-on-year increase in food prices of selected foods in Nigeria. The average price of one dozen of agric eggs (medium-sized) increased year-on-year by 26.4 per cent from Feb 2021 to February 2022 while the average price of 1kg of tomato increased year-on-year by 46.03 per cent. Similarly, the average price of 1kg of yam tuber increased year-on-year by 39.9 per cent and the average price of 1kg of rice (imported high quality sold loose) increased year-on-year by 10.7 per cent.
Nigeria is still far from achieving food security in major parts of the country, especially regions rampant with insecurity and conflicts. As a result, many farmers have fled their homes and farming communities to urban areas in order to avoid being killed, therefore hindering agricultural activities.
The violence and conflict are disturbing food supplies, inhibiting access to basic services and markets and limiting agricultural activities and livelihood opportunities. With more than 4 million people facing food crisis in the Northern parts of Nigeria, establishing greater food security in Nigeria is more important than ever.
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) defines food insecurity as a situation in which people do not have adequate physical, social or economic access to food. In a report, the UNFAO predicted that about 19.4 million Nigerians will face food insecurity between June and August 2022. The report went further to state that this food crisis will affect Nigerians in 21 states which are Abia, Adamawa, Benue, Borno, Cross-river, Edo, Enugu, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Lagos, Niger, Plateau. Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe, Zamfara and including FCT and 416,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
The dangerous security conditions and high inflation rates are likely to aggravate acute food insecurity levels in coming months. This situation is already high in conflict affected regions such as the north-east states, mostly in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, north-west states such as Sokoto, Katsina, Zamfara and Kaduna States, as well as north-central states such as Benue and Niger, which are likely to be the key drivers to the upcoming food crisis. Higher year-on-year food prices continue to constrain food access for vulnerable households.
Factors also affecting household purchasing power include poor macroeconomic conditions, increased transportation costs to deliver the basic staple foods and below-average production. Despite increase in international oil prices, the macroeconomic conditions remain poor as inflation continues to rise.
Domestic fuel price increase is affecting transportation cost which is putting further pressure on local markets. Food prices still remain high in different parts of the country and will continue to increase, peaking during September to December period. Maize prices, a major staple for many poor households in Kano are 53.7 per cent higher than last year just as beans-white black eye is 107.7 percent higher than last year in the same state.
Many of these poor and conflict-affected households have run out of their own produced food stocks, due to fear of farming, and are now market reliant. High staple food prices and limited access to income are resulting in many households facing crisis outcomes. Households worst affected by the conflict and those in difficult-to-access areas who have limited access to humanitarian assistance and are mainly dependent on wild foods and grasses. In less conflict-affected areas, most households were able to engage in the main season harvest and are consuming own-produced foods. Additionally, these households earn income through agricultural labour.
The road ahead
The second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of the United Nations talks about ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture. In order to help achieve this, the United Nations (UN) has announced an allocation of $15 million to Nigeria to address the current situation of food insecurity as the spillover effects of the Ukraine war threaten to push millions closer to famine.
The fund will come from the $100 million earmarked for Africa and the Middle East to mitigate the raging food crisis in the regions. The UN stated that the contribution is from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and would go into relief projects in Nigeria, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, and Yemen.
In the same light, agricultural organisations such as the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has addressed major issues concerning food security, nutrition and the sustainable development goals by providing decent jobs for young people in agriculture. The Director-General, Sanginga, noted that some of the breakthroughs, if scaled out, could lift Africa out of poverty and bring the continent on the path of prosperity.
These include IITA’s improved varieties of cassava, maize, soybeans, yam, banana/plantains, and cowpeas that are resistant to pest and diseases, and high yielding.
“We also have several other initiatives/projects that have demonstrated how countries can transform agriculture. For instance, the IITA Cassava Weed Management Project clearly demonstrates the possibility of doubling cassava yield from the current national average of 10 tons/ha to more than 20 tons/ha,” he added.
Also, the World Food Programme (WTF) is providing vulnerable children younger than 5 years and pregnant and breastfeeding Nigerian women with specialized nutritious food. With the support of United Nations Children’s Fund, (UNICEF), the WFP is able to provide an integrated package of essential health and nutrition services to reduce and address severe malnutrition among vulnerable Nigerian people, especially in the most isolated and remote regions. In the most conflict and violence-ridden states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, the WFP aims to expand its food security efforts to support 1.9 million citizens by the close of 2022.