By Dakuku Peterside
In 2015, India put together a National Food Security Act, which helped 800 million people access publicly financed or subsidized food as an interim measure to fight hunger. This is a clue to Nigeria in her present conditions. It is essential to acknowledge that hunger is a complex issue with deep-rooted causes. We must confront the monster by engaging in sustainable solutions.
HUNGER is widespread and chronic in Nigeria. Its prevalence is one phenomenon that statistics cannot fully capture. Not even the global hunger index does justice to it. Another angle to the complexity of this phenomenon is this. Statistics deals with numbers but hunger deals with humans. Relying on quantitative data alone therefore to assess the state of hunger in Nigeria is the worst mistake anyone could make.
Quantitative data and analysis only show patterns and spread of hunger without delving into the individual lived experiences of those affected. Or its influences on their existence in all ramifications. Therefore, as bad as the statistics look, they are still child’s play when compared with the rich information from qualitative data chronicling the dehumanising lived experience of many poor and hungry Nigerians around us. Combining quantitative and qualitative data paints a horrifying picture of Nigeria’s food crisis and the hunger in the land.
According to UNICEF, about 25 million Nigerians are at risk of facing hunger between June and August 2023. This is the lean season. Given the current food inflation sweeping across the country, we fear even more people may join the ranks of the nation’s poor. Many families today cannot afford essential food items. Not even among the lower middle class are things any easy.
Careful observation during events and functions will reveal how the metaphorical “Item 7” has gained new prominence among participants. People scramble for food. Some even take food home for their families. Before now, low-income families manage to eat twice daily. These days, that is a luxury they cannot afford. Family heads and breadwinners are complaining bitterly that their ‘take home’ barely gets home. Much more cover the cost of food and other necessities of life.
Hunger has a new face, and you can see it in the faces of vulnerable adults and children who look malnourished or are on the brink of starvation. Unfortunately, children are the most vulnerable to food insecurity. Approximately six million food-insecure Nigerians today are children “under 5” living in Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara states.
There is a severe risk of mortality among children attributed to acute malnutrition, posits UNICEF. There is no gainsaying the devastating effect of hunger in Nigeria. Some parts of the country are affected the most, primarily due to conflicts, insecurity and climate change that have either stopped agricultural activities or have led to massive movement of people from farming and grazing zones to IDP centres dotted across the country.
A few structural issues exacerbating hunger in Nigeria include poverty. A significant portion of the Nigerian population live below the poverty line with limited access to food and other basic necessities. The lack of economic opportunities for many people in job opportunities or the availability of low-paying jobs has resulted in inadequate income to afford enough food, inefficient agricultural practices, agricultural challenges that impact food production and its value chain.
Harsh environmental conditions, including irregular rainfall patterns, drought and flooding, rapid population growth, limited access to education, poor infrastructure, including roads with few accessible rural roads to transport food easily, storage facilities and electricity, lack of investment in agriculture, inefficient governance, weak policy implementation and inadequate coordination among government agencies are some of the immediate throwbacks of the economic downturn. No doubt, food security and fighting hunger had not been our priority for quite a long while. That is the problem now staring us in the face.
Today, hunger amongst the populace is a clear and present danger which, if not addressed and effectively managed, could lead to a breakdown of law and order. Anger from hungry Nigerians is a persistent threat to national peace and security. Hunger driven angst is gradually flowing into the street as have been witnessed in the looting of venues where governments warehouse palliative in both the COVID-19 era and the withdrawal of fuel subsidies in Nigeria.
This trend may have severe consequences if not checkmated. Hunger dehumanises people and pushes them into a life of crime, superstition and penury. The devastating effect of hunger in Nigeria includes malnutrition with its concomitant health problems such as child cognitive developmental delays, stunted growth, weakened immune system and increased susceptibility to diseases. Maternal and child mortality rates are also higher in areas with high hunger levels. Second, hunger can hinder children’s access to education.
Malnourished children often have reduced energy and focus, making it difficult to engage in learning activities effectively. Third, it can lead to reduced productivity and economic potential. Malnourished individuals are less likely to be able to work and contribute fully to their communities and the economy. Fourth, hunger and poverty are interconnected. They can limit people’s ability to work and earn a living, perpetuating the cycle of poverty for generations. Fifth, persistent hunger can hinder the development of a skilled and productive workforce, which is essential for the long-term growth and stability of the country.
Besides, we must learn lessons from other countries that have faced similar difficulties and got out of them. I propose we study the situation in India in the 1950s and 1960s when it was the hunger epicentre of the world. India was referred to as the “begging bowl nation” because of the devastating impact of hunger on the nation. Today, with strategic planning and policy execution, Indians have reduced the case of hunger in their country and lifted themselves out of the world’s dungeons of poverty. None can in all righteousness describe India as the epicenter of hunger epicentre. Conversely, Nigeria is ingloriously moving towards holding that unenviable record.
In 2015, India put together a National Food Security Act, which helped 800 million people access publicly financed or subsidized food as an interim measure to fight hunger. This is a clue to Nigeria in her present conditions. It is essential to acknowledge that hunger is a complex issue with deep-rooted causes. We must confront the monster by engaging in sustainable solutions. These require collaboration, resources and long-term commitment from various stakeholders. Addressing hunger in Nigeria needs a multifaceted and comprehensive approach that involves efforts from the government, non-governmental organisations, international agencies, and the private sector.
The pertinent question begging for an answer is: how do we solve the hunger problem that is increasing at an alarming rate in Nigeria today? Fortunately, the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu administration professes to being fully prepared to take the war to hunger. The President recently declared a state of emergency on food insecurity and marshalled out programmes and activities his administration will undertake in the short term to tackle the menace of hunger in Nigeria.
His administration has mobilised over half a billion dollars for innovative, profitable, equitable and sustainable food systems transformation initiatives. This government has developed its Value Chain Development Programme, VCDP, as a unique example of a successful partnership between producers, the public sector and private operators. The VCDP aims to empower vulnerable farmers and youth to engage in commercial partnerships with some of the world’s most extensive food processing and marketing firms and capacitate Nigeria’s rural smallholders and operators, youth and women living below the poverty line to take advantage of the new Special Processing Zones.
The President, in his recent speech to the nation, promised to ensure prices of food items remain available and affordable and ordered the release of 200,000 metric tonnes of grain from strategic reserves to households across the country in addition to 225,000 metric tonnes of fertiliser, seedlings, and other farm inputs to farmers.
Dakuku Peterside is a Public Policy Analyst.