The United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund deserves commendation for the $100 million it recently budgeted to tackle extreme hunger in seven countries, including Nigeria. The amount may look small compared to the number of the expected recipients, but it is a seed sown to start the fight against the hunger challenge. The beneficiaries are Nigeria, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Yemen. Out of the budgeted amount, Nigeria’s North-East region will reportedly get $15 million to address food insecurity. The worst hunger-hit states in Nigeria are Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, where some 5.1 million people are said to be at the risk of starvation during the next lean season between June and August 2021.
This is not surprising. That Nigeria is in the same league with such countries as Afghanistan, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo shows how we have degenerated as a country. Currently, Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world. In the 2020 Global Hunger Index, Nigeria ranks 98th out of 107 countries surveyed. This means the level of hunger in the country is very alarming and we are only better than nine other countries.
The common denominator in most of the countries being ravaged by hunger is long-term conflict or insecurity. That is the case with such countries as Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Currently, Afghanistan is the most terrorised country in the world. Nigeria occupies the third position.
In northern Nigeria where banditry and insurgency have become the order of the day, the hunger pandemic is worse. The other day, Boko Haram insurgents invaded a farm in Borno State and slaughtered no fewer than 67 farm workers. Series of similar attacks on Nigerian farmers by insurgents and herdsmen have seriously affected food production.
Part of the problem is that some young men who are not gainfully engaged become willing tools in the hands of criminal elements in our society. Some of them are recruited as members of the Boko Haram sect. Some join armed robbery and kidnap gangs and begin to terrorise innocent citizens. As it is now, many people can’t go to farm anymore.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the already precarious situation. In the heat of the pandemic early this year, government imposed a total lockdown in the country. It affected movement of goods and services. It also affected food production. This necessitated the distribution of palliatives to the most vulnerable members of the society. But distributing palliatives is a short-term relief measure for a long-term problem. Now, the silos are almost empty. The danger here is that the food we are consuming today was harvested in 2019. With less food production in 2020, the hunger situation will likely worsen in 2021.
Already, millions of people go to bed every day not knowing where the next meal will come from. Many children die of malnutrition while adults suffer from illnesses that could have easily been tackled by eating good food.
Now, the onus is on the federal and state governments to show the political will to fight this menace. To start with, we must be ready to defeat the insurgency war. As at today, millions of people have been displaced from their homes. They live in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps and depend solely on handouts from government and public spirited individuals to survive.
We must also invest more in agriculture. This investment should focus more on biotechnology and encouragement of private sector partnerships. In sub-Saharan Africa, a country like South Africa has embraced biotechnology and has encouraged the use of genetically engineered seeds that have engendered improved crop yields. Before it started planting genetically engineered maize in the 2001/02 season, South Africa was reportedly getting an average maize yields of about 2.4 tonnes per hectare. Today, the country now gets an average of about 5.9 tonnes per hectare. According to International Grains Council, South Africa produces about 16 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa maize. Nigeria produces about 15 per cent even with larger hectares of land than South Africa.
So far, government appears to be showing some concern. A few days ago, the National Council on Nutrition approved a five-year nutrition action plan to reduce hunger and malnutrition in Nigeria. Titled, ‘National Multi-Sectoral Plan of Action for Food and Nutrition (NMPFAN) 2021 -2025’, it is expected to reduce the proportion of people suffering malnutrition by 50 per cent. It is also expected to reduce stunting rate among under-five-year olds to 18 per cent by 2025. Nigerian governors endorsed this plan and pledged to work for its actualisation.
We believe that the best way to actualise this plan is for government to support the seed companies to enable them produce and supply quality seeds to Nigerian farmers. Quality seeds will not only engender higher yields but will also impact positively on the revenue of farmers and ultimately reduce hunger in the land.