It has been predicted that 25 million Nigerians risk severe hunger between June and August 2023 (lean season) if urgent measures are not taken to address the problem. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) quoted the October 2022 Cadre Harmonise, a government-led and UN-supported food and nutrition analysis, as noting that the figure was a projected increase from the over 17 million people currently at risk of food insecurity in the country. Out of this number, three million people are in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States. The figure in these three states is estimated to rise to 4.4 million in the lean season if immediate action is not taken.
The report described the North-West region of Nigeria, especially Katsina, Zamfara and Sokoto, as being food insecure and malnutrition hotspot. Currently, an estimated 2.9 million people are said to be critically food insecure in that region and, without an urgent action, the figure is projected to increase to 4.3 million in the lean season. It identified persistent conflicts, climate change, inflation and rising food prices as some of the drivers of this disturbing trend.
UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Mathias Schmale, noted: “The food security and nutrition situation across Nigeria is deeply concerning. I have visited nutrition stabilisation centres filled with children, who are fighting to stay alive. We must act now to ensure they and others get the life-saving support they need.”
Last year, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in conjunction with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), in a joint report, stated that food crisis had tightened its grip on Nigeria and 18 other countries. Nigeria is also among the top 10 hunger-ravaged countries in the world. The worst affected states are in the North.
The problem can be traced to the neglect of agriculture. Currently, the type of agriculture we engage in cannot feed our huge population. Most of our farmers still do seasonal farming. They still use crude implements. Even, some of the few farmers we have now are afraid to go to their farms. At the heart of the problem is insecurity. The three worst states mentioned in the report are in the North where insecurity festers. In Borno State, for instance, about 67 farm workers were killed when Boko Haram terrorists invaded their farm at Zabarmari village in Jere Local Government Area in 2020. In some parts of the North Central like Benue and Plateau, the same problem exists. These farmers have had to battle herdsmen and bandits at different times and some of them have consequently been killed. Some, like in Zamfara State, are forced to pay taxes to bandits and terrorists to secure their freedom. The ongoing Russia/Ukrainian war is also a factor that has contributed to food insecurity in the country. Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat.
Besides, there was heavy flooding in about 34 states of the federation last year. It happened to be the worst flooding in Nigeria in over a decade. This caused a lot of damage to houses, schools, shops and thousands of hectares of farms, and invariably, contributed to the food shortages in the country. It also affected livestock and staples like rice, yam, and cassava. The flooding affected the Olam Rice Farm in Nasarawa State said to be the largest rice farm in Nigeria. The UN said the flooding was expected to shoot up the number of people suffering food insecurity in the country.
Government needs to do something about this projected hunger. The first step is to tackle insecurity in the country. President Muhammadu Buhari has often promised to tackle the problem, but this has not been translated into concrete action. Our security forces should be well equipped and motivated to face the criminal elements in our society.
Government should also create the enabling environment for companies to thrive. It should also give incentives and subventions to farmers. We have enough land for food cultivation if only adequate security could be guaranteed. It is only the government that can guarantee the security.
On their part, farmers need to embrace mechanised farming. There are modern technologies like biotechnology they can deploy to produce better and high yielding crops both for consumption and for export. Genetically engineered seeds that will improve crop yields should be encouraged. All-season farming is also ideal if we must tackle hunger in Nigeria. This requires putting adequate dams in place and encouraging private sector partnerships.
Big organisations, donor agencies or companies could be of help in reducing hunger in the country. They could help by offering employment to our teeming youths because the major cause of the insecurity in the country is unemployment. A conservative estimate put the rate of unemployment in Nigeria at over 33 per cent. As the United Nations puts it, support for vulnerable families across Nigeria is needed today, not tomorrow.