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Understanding food insecurity in Nigeria

Understanding food insecurity in Nigeria

Owing to the discovery of petroleum, Nigeria has rapidly grown into a major food-importing nation as the government has become neglectful of the agricultural sector since petroleum is considered a more viable resource for economic development. This situation quickly polarised the nation into high- and low-income groups. Unfortunately, while only a small fraction of the population benefited from the oil wealth, the population suffered the misfortune of food insecurity as they could hardly afford the rising prices of imported foods. However, at a subsistence level, a sizable proportion of the population in Nigeria is still employed in the agricultural sector.

Food is, no doubt, the most basic of all human survival needs. Although so many efforts have been made to improve the quality as well as production of world food supplies, food insecurity remains prevalent, particularly in the global southern nations of Asia and Africa, and in Nigeria, malnutrition has resulted in the deaths of many of its citizens. African Food Security Briefs (AFSB) estimated that approximately one out of every three people in sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished. Achieving sustainable economic development in Nigeria and Africa at large will continue to be a mirage without well-nourished and healthy people.

Though Nigeria prides itself on being the giant of Africa, with its economy becoming the largest in 2014, the poverty rate in the country is alarming. Not less than 70 percent of the Nigerian population is surviving on less than a dollar per day, while food insecurity prevalence in low-income urban households and rural areas, respectively, stands at 79 percent and 71 percent. Since the discovery of oil in Nigeria in the 1970s, the agriculture sector has become less important to the government as it cannot withstand the economic sagacity of the oil industry. Thus, Nigeria became heavily dependent on the importation of food. The rural areas have become even more vulnerable to malnutrition, an erratic supply of food items, unaffordable food costs, low-quality foods, and sometimes a complete lack of food. This situation is more prevalent in many parts of the northern region of Nigeria.

Nigeria is blessed with a very diverse and rich vegetation capable of supporting a large population of livestock and has an estimated surface water volume of about 267.7 billion cubic metres and underground water of about 57.9 billion cubic metres. The ecological zones in Nigeria are also very diverse, with the semi-arid Sudan (Sahel) zone, the Guinea Savannah and Derived Savannah zones, as well as the Forest and Mangrove (high rainfall, moist sub-humid, and very high humidity) zones. A few variations exist within each ecological zone. The ecology and trends in precipitation in a region determine what kind of farming system the people will practice, their food preferences, and how they make use of natural resources in their environment.

Agriculture in Nigeria has remained the largest non-oil contributor to the national economy, accounting for 41.84 percent of the GDP in 2009 and employing almost 70 percent of the national workforce. The farmers are mostly small-scale subsistence farmers, totalling about 14 million, with an average farm size of 1 hectare in the south and 3 hectares in the north of Nigeria. Despite the fact that the sector has been neglected by the Federal Government following the discovery of commercial quantities of petroleum resources in the 1970s, the inevitability of agriculture to the Nigerian economy cannot be overemphasised.

Nigeria is predominantly an agrarian state, with over 70 percent of its economically active population employed in agriculture. Different regions cultivate different crops based on soil characteristics and climatic conditions. However, oil discoveries in the south-south region have limited agricultural activities due to industrialization and frequent oil spills. The north-west and south-east regions have balanced conditions for agriculture but have the highest level of education and seek opportunities outside the sector.

Food insecurity in Nigeria is a complex issue influenced by various factors. The oil sector’s revenue has led to a shift from agriculture, causing a decline in local production. Socio-political instability, civil war, dwindling human resources, gender inequality, education, poor health facilities, and a loss of good governance have contributed to the issue. The prime agents of food insecurity in Nigeria include a lack of enthusiasm for local products, the rise of the oil sector, and socio-political instability.

The whole of these processes requires a lot of power and fuel to keep food prices low and affordable for the common man. However, with escalating prices of petroleum products, there have been calls for diversification to increase energy efficiency. One key alternative is biofuel and other agriculture-based energy production. This alternative will create more competition for food items, particularly in developing nations, and depending on how the process is managed, it may increase food insecurity.

Òrúnbon, a journalist, poet and public affairs analyst. Can be reached via: [email protected] or 08034493944 and 08029301122.