Nigeria is facing crisis from all fronts. It lags behind in almost all the indices of development. It is not just the poverty capital of the world but has also joined the league of countries regarded as hunger hot spots in the world. In a joint report, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) stated that food crisis had tightened its grip on Nigeria and 18 other countries. The report added that the number of people facing acute food insecurity globally was expected to continue to rise precipitously with starvation and death staring them in the face daily. Among the countries in this same league with Nigeria are Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Southern Sudan, and Yemen. Most of these countries are failed states.
FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, further lamented that the severe drought in the Horn of Africa had pushed people to the brink of starvation, destroying crops and killing livestock on which their survival depended. “People in the poorest countries in particular who have yet to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are suffering from the ripple effects of ongoing conflicts, in terms of prices, food and fertilizer supplies, as well as the climate emergency,” he said.
In a report last year, a United Kingdom-based think tank, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), had similarly placed Nigeria as the second poorest country in food affordability in the world. The number one country is Syria. Nigeria also ranks among the top 10 hunger-ravaged countries in the Global Hunger Index. The worst region is the North-East where over four million people are threatened by food insecurity. The worst states are Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. The hunger problem is worsened by the rate of inflation, especially food inflation which, as of August this year, rose to a 17-year high of 20.5 per cent.
Insecurity is the major driver of hunger. At the global level, the war between Russia and Ukraine is a major factor. Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat. In Nigeria, the internal security crisis equates to almost a war. Across the country, terrorists and bandits have made life unbearable for citizens. They routinely kidnap innocent citizens. The lucky ones are released after payment of heavy ransom. The unfortunate ones get killed. Tens of thousands of people have been killed. Millions of others have been displaced and are in different Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps.
In some parts of the country also, herdsmen and terrorists frequently attack farmers, a situation that has driven many of these farmers out of their farms. In 2020, Boko Haram terrorists invaded a farm at Zabarmari village in Jere Local Government Area of Borno State, and slaughtered no fewer than 67 farm workers. For some of those who escape bandits’ attacks, the headache is destruction of their crops by cows. In places like Zamfara, farmers and other villagers are forced to pay taxes to bandits to secure their freedom. A major cause of this insecurity is unemployment. A conservative estimate put the rate of unemployment in Nigeria at over 33 per cent. Since many youths cannot find jobs, they create one for themselves in the crime industry. Agriculture, which could have been a saving grace, is neglected because many youths do not fancy going to farms. They prefer white collar jobs, which are scarce these days. Leadership failure is at the root of these problems. Over the years, Nigeria has not been lucky to have a selfless and charismatic leader who can galvanise the people to achieve our main goals. Currently, many Nigerians, especially the youths, leave the country in droves. Our bright professionals, especially doctors, migrate abroad for greener pastures because they are not adequately rewarded at home. Amid these failures, there is much wastage in the system. The President and governors, most times, travel with a retinue of aides who collect humongous allowances. Some of these governors charter aircraft to go to where commercial airlines can fly to. Corruption is endemic and has seriously affected the fortunes of the country.
Incidentally, agriculture remains a major solution to hunger in Nigeria. Hence, governments at all levels should encourage farmers by ensuring adequate security for them. They should also come up with policies to tackle food crisis and follow them through. In 2020, the National Council on Nutrition approved a five-year nutrition action plan to reduce hunger and malnutrition in Nigeria. The plan, which is to run between 2021 and 2025, is expected to reduce the proportion of people suffering malnutrition by 50 per cent. Nigerian governors pledged to work for the actualisation of this plan. It is not certain how far government has gone with it.
Government should also consider giving incentives and subventions to farmers. We have enough land for food cultivation and we must do something to modernise our agriculture through deployment of biotechnology. Farmers should embrace mechanised and all-season farming. Seed companies should concentrate on genetically engineered seeds that will improve crop yields.
We commend the African Development Bank (AfDB), which reportedly launched $1.5 billion African Emergency Food Production Facility to prevent the looming food crisis. We urge other big organisations to come to the rescue of the affected countries.