A new report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has revealed that over 9.8 million people from 16 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are said to be suffering from food insecurity in Nigeria. According to the UN agency, Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Benue, Gombe, Taraba, Katsina and Jigawa states are reportedly struggling with food insecurity and malnutrition. Other states affected by the malaise are Kano, Bauchi, Plateau, Kaduna, Kebbi, Sokoto, Niger and the FCT.
The looming national hunger is frightening and must be averted.The ensuing food insecurity must have been exacerbated by insurgency, shrinking agricultural yields, flooding, abandonment of farmland, herdsmen/farmers conflict, inflation and scarcity of food items.The lockdown induced by COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession have contributed so much to the prevalent food insecurity.
Nothing epitomised the dire hunger situation Nigerians face than the recent mad rush for COVID-19 palliatives reportedly hidden in some warehouses across the country following the EndSARS protests. There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown brought economic hardship, including hunger and deprivation, on the people. The lockdown disrupted agricultural production and food supply chains thereby predisposing so many Nigerians to hunger.
Despite the relaxation of the COVID-19 lockdown measures, several households are still experiencing difficulties in accessing their basic food needs due to disrupted livelihoods. This has resulted to reduced opportunities for income, food and adequate nutrition.
Apart from the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing insurgency in the North East region has, more than any other factor, contributed to food insecurity in the war-torn zone. According to UN estimates, about 2.9 million people are food insecure in the North East. However, the figure has reportedly risen to 3.7million. Prolonged displacements, insecurity, lack of access to land and other resources have made matters worse for them.
Since farming is the worst hit, many people in the North East have lost their means of livelihood. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has expressed fears that without support, the affected families are most likely to face lean season as supply chains have been disrupted, leading to spike food prices.
The situation is scary but not unredeemable. Government and other stakeholders should rise up to the challenge and come up with initiatives to reverse the trend. Therefore, we commend the recent distribution of seeds and cash to some 36,000 vulnerable households in Cross River, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Bauchi and Borno states by the Federal Government. Let the government extend such gesture to other states to further boost our national food security. We also hope that counter-insurgency efforts in the North East should be accelerated to free up some areas for the people to occupy.
It is disturbing that time is running out for more than a million children trapped in the enclave with severe acute malnutrition and other needs. Let federal and state governments prioritise agriculture. They should revisit the agricultural policies of the defunct regions that made Nigeria economy to be vibrant during the First Republic.
We commend the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other development agencies for providing treatment to the severely malnourished children in Nigeria. Government should make agriculture attractive to young people, especially university graduates by giving them loans to set up their farms and be employers of labour.
The current emphasis on oil as the only means of earning national revenue is inimical to overall national development. With enough arable land, agriculture remains the easiest way to industrialise the country. With much attention to agriculture, we can grow enough food for our teeming population and have some for export. There is need to have adequate food reserves, which can be released during period of scarcity.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) should do more to encourage the development of agriculture. There is need to invest more on food storage and canning considering the fact that many food items and fruits and vegetables are allowed to perish due to lack of storage facilities. States and local governments must be part of the concerted efforts to ensure sustainable food security. More attention should be paid to agriculture and food value chain now that the nation is in her worst recession.
Government must ensure that all silos are filled with grains to curb the soaring food prices. Let farmers work in cooperatives and clusters so that they can easily access credit, farm inputs and needed machinery. Banks are more likely to lend to groups or clusters because they will be easier to monitor. We believe that prioritising agriculture remains the best way to stem the looming hunger and ensure the food security.