Nigeria is set to experience a lean food supply crisis from this month to August as more than seven million people would, as predicted, suffer acute hunger within the period.
The 2020 Global Report on Food Crises by the Global Network Against Food Crisis (GNAFC) and the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) made the revelation in a recently released report.
Similarly, the World Food Programme disclosed that people with insufficient food consumption globally are 0.99 billion currently.
As the world population aggressively moves towards 8 billion (7,789,727,000 around noon on June 7, 2020), more than 10 per cent of the people are suffering from food insufficiency.
And, experts have expressed worry that conflicts and climate change may aggravate the tragedy if actions are not urgently taken.
The COVID-19 pandemic and effects of climate change combined, food production, distribution and disposable incomes of the poor around the world have been jeopardised, they said.
The WFP report also disclosed that 15 countries are currently with “very high levels of hunger,” indicating that world leaders should be proactive, as conflicts and economic crises could escalate the situation.
The GNAFC and FSIN said in Nigeria, “the number of acutely food-insecure people during the June–August 2020 lean season is forecast at 7.1 million, over 40 per cent up from the same period last year.”
The situation poses threats to the actualisation of the global Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 2.1 of “ending hunger and ensuring access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.”
The Guardian obtained the data through HungerMapLIVE, which the WFP has developed to track and predict key aspects of food insecurity every day. Such key indicators that feed into analyses are the number of people with insufficient food consumption and those employing crisis-level or above coping strategies, among others.
The deteriorating situations expected in Nigeria are the result of poor child-feeding practices coupled with seasonal food shortages and increased morbidity in the insurgency-affected states.
In Nigeria, the expected deterioration, it was indicated, is mainly due to the intensification of armed violence in conflict-affected north-eastern areas (Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states and others such as Benue, Kogi and Nasarawa), where tight supplies continue to sustain high food prices and farming is frequently interrupted as herder-farmer/ethnic crises continue.
“In these states, around 3.7 million people are expected to be facing a crisis or worse in June–August 2020 – which constitutes a significant increase (23 per cent) compared to the same period in 2019,” the report stated.
At the regional level, the nutrition situation is expected to deteriorate as a result of “the spread of diseases, limited access to food and basic services as well as limited access to humanitarian aid, such as in conflict areas in Burkina Faso, Mali, northern Nigeria and Yemen.”
In Chad and Niger republics, due to the seasonal increase in malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections around May to September yearly, and constitute the main driving factors of acute malnutrition, the situation is expected to deteriorate in all provinces, according to the WFP report.
Vice-Chancellor of Al-Qalam University and grain production specialist, Prof. Shehu Garki Ado, confirmed that the period June to August is generally referred to as the hunger period.
He said, “It is a time when the current year’s products have not been harvested while the previous year’s stock had been exhausted in Nigeria. So, the food insecurity situation will be aggravated by the global pandemic, COVID-19.”
The restrictions of movement imposed by the various governments also contribute immensely to the food insecurity situation, Prof. Ado explained, saying, “This is because a lot of people are living below poverty level of say N400 per person payday. The majority of young people depend on menial jobs conducted on a daily basis to earn a living. With the lockdown imposed in the country, those people who earn their bread on a daily basis are facing serious food insecurity challenges.”
The vice-chancellor added that the palliative promised by governments reached only an insignificant number of people from the reports given in print and electronic media.
“A lot of corrupt practices have been alleged against the government officials responsible for the distributions. Such problems result in some people complaining that if they do not die by COVID-19, they could be killed by hunger!
“Many such people threaten to go out to search for their daily bread in defiance to the government’s lockdown directive. Many households have already lost some of their loved ones while others are emaciated owing to the hunger they are facing. This situation calls for an emergency response to food production not only in Nigeria but also in Africa,” Ado suggested.
Ado emphasised that food security is an issue of income, either to buy food or to produce one’s own food. And, to avert the food insecurity in Nigeria, the don said, requires sufficient funds to enable food production and also buy food for the urban consumers.
“Definitely, the government needs to support farmers immediately with quality inputs, including seed, fertilizer, chemicals, etc. This will enable farmers to produce more crops for food security not only for Nigeria but also the neighbouring countries of the West African sub-region.
“Nigeria is the largest producer and also consumer of many crops, including cowpea and cassava and produces more than half of the total maize in West and Central Africa. So, in terms of food production, Nigeria needs to plan for not only its citizens but also the citizens of surrounding countries in West and Central Africa, who usually migrate in their numbers to Nigeria in search of food,” he said.
Ado said no country could be truly independent as long as it depends on food imports and “that the first independence is for food; all others can follow. So, self-sufficiency in food production, value addition of what is produced and storage are necessary.”
He recommended intensive cultivation of crops and livestock husbandry since the population is increasing at an alarming rate.
“Irrigation is another area, which must be developed to get sufficient food and employment. If irrigation facilities are developed, the influx of rural persons trooping to cities at the end of the rainy season will be greatly reduced,” he said.
Going forward, Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Prof. Felix Kolawole Salako, said the agricultural system must be organised in a better way to make it profitable from the farm to the dining table. This would stimulate favourable responses for investments and financing, and in the long run, food security.
“We are now witnessing a situation where foreigners are proving beyond a reasonable doubt that profitable agriculture can be practised in Nigeria, on Nigerian soil.
“Food security is about availability in required quantity and with required quality for the health of all in every ramification,” Salako said.
Similarly, the President of Farm and Infrastructures Foundation and Chairman, Voices for Food Security, Prof. G. B. Ayoola, in reaction to the threat, said, “I am afraid, hunger looms! I have a feeling that we are presently [currently] emptying the food store – the grain silos, the yam barns, the thumbs, etc.”
He suggested that now is the time to declare a state of emergency on the food sector, “when food is considered as a matter of national security, as Mr. President once put it.”
Prof. Ayoola added, “In that case, it becomes an item on the agenda of his National Security Adviser, not that of agriculture minister only. The two public officers should quickly join forces to mobilise resources as done in wartime ….”
He also advocated “massive infrastructure approach, when all incremental incomes accruing from petroleum from now should be used in providing rural infrastructure of all types.”
A former Executive Secretary of Plantation Owners Forum of Nigeria (POFON), Mr Fatai Afolabi, also expressed worry over deficient food production in the country. He said Nigeria should be proactive in its responses to avert the looming food security challenges.
“Already, a large population of farmers and agribusinesses have had their produce and products held back in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown as the major off-takers in the food industry have shut down and they could not move their product or products into alternative markets due to the restrictions in inter-state movements.
“For perishables, huge losses have been incurred. In effect, the cash flows of most agribusinesses have been adversely affected, if not completely crippled,” he said.
Farmers have had to cut down their exposures for fear of losing their crops to rampaging herdsmen or being victims of banditry, including kidnapping or being killed, he added.
He recommended that the government should consider a national food supply stimulus package for farmers and agribusinesses to enable them to recover and return to their productive food supply chain activities.
While stating the preparedness of the Federal Government to prevent hunger and support the vulnerable Nigerians, the Director of Information in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Theophilus Ogaziechi, said, apart from empowering farmers with free farm inputs, grains and other food items had been released to the Ministry of Humanitarian Services through the Strategic Grain Reserves to cushion the effect of food insufficiency on Nigerians.
“The Federal Government has ensured that inputs, such as seedlings and others, are given to farmers. The Honourable Minister of Agriculture did flag off the release of free inputs to farmers in Kano and is doing same tomorrow (today) in Kaduna. He is going around the zones to make sure that farm inputs are made available to farmers free.
“Palliatives were released to the vulnerable. 75,000 tonnes of grains are still being distributed. It is still ongoing,” Ogaziechi said.