The recent alarm given by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that 25.3 million Nigerians are likely to face acute food insecurity in the country, especially during the June to August 2023 period, described as the Lean Season should be taken with all the seriousness it deserves. The figure is higher than the 19.45 million forecasts in 2022. That has become a wake-up call and more expedient for the President Bola Tinubu-led government, as well as the newly sworn-in state governors, to do the needful. Proactive measures will certainly save more lives and farmlands, than waiting for the onslaught of the floods and the government looking for the cure. According to the FAO, widespread flooding recorded in 2022 worsened the situation. It reportedly affected 33 of Nigeria’s 36 states, with over two million people falling as victims.
The report, titled: “Crop Prospect and Food Situation”, assessed 45 countries to provide insight into the food situation with particular attention on Low-Income Food Deficit Countries. On its part, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) revealed that flooding in the 2022 rainy season damaged more than 676,000 hectares of farmlands. This is responsible for the low harvests and increased the risk of food insecurity. Expectedly, insecurity comes in as another significant factor acting as a frictional force affecting food security. According to the FAO report, the state of insecurity, as reflected in conflicts among farmers and herders, have led to many farmers being killed, with the displacement of about 3.17 million people, constraining farmers’ access to their lands. In fact, access to food has been affected by the insecurity in the north-east states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY). That is in addition to banditry and kidnapping, especially in states such as Benue, Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto and Niger.
Out of the 17 million people considered food insecure as of January, three million are said to live in the northeast BAY states. Going into the specifics, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), food inflation surged from the 23.75 per cent recorded in December 2022, to 24.32 per cent in January 2023, being the highest in the last four years. Food inflation for January was primarily caused by the increase in the prices of such items as yams, tubers, tomatoes and vegetables. What makes the food and nutrition insecurity situation more dicey and delicate is that children, especially those under-5 are the most vulnerable. It is reportedly stated that 6 million of the 17 million food-insecure Nigerians are children living in the northern states of Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara states. According to FAO reports, in the BAY states alone, the number of children vulnerable to acute malnutrition is expected to increase from 1.74 million in 2022 to 2 million in 2023.
To battle food insecurity, the United Nations is calling on the Federal Government of Nigeria, public and private stakeholders, the donor agencies for collaborative efforts. This should begin with Public Private Partnership (PPP) showing the way forward. Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) have their important role to play. To do so, they should borrow a fresh leaf from UNICEF, which working with the government and partners was able to reach approximately 650,000 children across six states with life-saving nutrition services in 2022. We are also of the view that the Tinubu-led administration should listen to the admonition of Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB). Adesina clearly stated that Nigeria needs food and energy security for sustainable economic development.
The statement was made at the 2023 Nigerian International Energy Summit (NIES) in April 2023. He added that: “With a population expected to nearly double from 217 million in 2022 to over 400 million in 2050, Nigeria will emerge as the world’s third most populous nation. There is a need to guarantee food and energy security by building a domestic economy resilient to global and regional shocks, which have increased in frequency and intensity.” What is required is the meeting of the eggheads in the agric sector, including agriculturists, agric engineers, food technologists to crosspollinate ideas assisted with a strong database to provide the policy makers with answers to these questions. How do we encourage more Nigerians to go into farming, especially the modern and organic type with the benefits of farm extension workers, to enlighten them and gain access to early-maturing, disease-resistant hybrid seedlings with greater harvest? Also, how do they gain knowledge and apply such on food preservation, processing, packaging, modern marketing and even exporting them with those processed to international standard? How do they access loans with single digit interest rates with payment spread over the years? How do they get to their farmlands without the fear of terrorists and bandits? We are of the firm belief that the answers to these important questions, as well as having strong and dependable infrastructure of good access roads, reliable and safe potable water, as well as electric power supply will go a long way to boosting food security