The Looming Food Crisis

The anxiety among the populace that Nigeria is facing a food crisis is palpable. The controversy over the issue of food insecurity in the country has been simmering; recent events only brought it starkly into public focus.  With the nefarious activities of terrorists and bandits in states like Benue, Niger, Plateau, Kaduna and Zamfara, there is a real risk that the people in these regions will no longer be able to contribute to the nation’s food basket.

Conflict and insecurity, rising inflation, and the climate crisis have continued to hamper food production in Nigeria for some time now.  An estimated 26.5 million people across the country are projected to face acute hunger in the June-August 2024 lean season, a staggering increase from the 18.6 million food-insecure people at the end of 2023.

There are reports that significant increases in kidnapping for ransom from December to February incited high levels of fear and increased the risk of engaging in income-generating activities. By February, poor households had largely exhausted their below-average harvests, resulting in early reliance on market purchases for food. As if this was not bad enough, poor economic conditions have severely depleted household purchasing power of most families.

This newspaper is worried about the impact of these activities on farmers. These hardworking Nigerians are being forced off their land, and their crops are being destroyed. This means that the food supply in the affected areas is dwindling, and the people are left without enough to eat, let alone sell. In Niger State, for example, bandits have seized farmlands and are using what is available for themselves. This is a clear indication of how dire the situation has become.

The recent bandits’ attacks reported in four villages in Shiroro local government area of Niger state have displaced 600 people even as they use villagers to work in the seized farmlands without pay. The affected areas are Lanta, Tunga, Dnakau, and Juweedna villages of Erena in Shiroro local government area. The villagers have abandoned their farms, and some areas have been taken over by the bandits who force some of those abducted and villagers to work for them.

Again, the conflict in the North East region has reportedly displaced 2.2 million people and has exposed another 4.4 million to food insecurity in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. Three million of them are in Borno State, the epicentre of insurgency in that geopolitical zone. Nigeria is subject to periodic droughts and floods. This has hurt agricultural output and increased the vulnerability of populations, especially in rural areas.

According to the World Food Programe (WFP), insurgent activities have added pressure to a fragile resource environment, deepened insecurity, hampered development, and heightened the food and nutrition insecurity of vulnerable women and children. WFP prioritises its operations to reach 1.1 million vulnerable people every month in northern Nigeria. Those receiving assistance include displaced people living in camps or host communities, vulnerable members of host communities, and people returning home after months of displacement.

Rural-urban migration is another major factor affecting agricultural production and, by implication, food sufficiency in rural communities. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported recently that the food inflation rate in May rose to 40.66 per cent, 15.84 percentage points higher than the 24.82 per cent recorded in May 2023.

The dire situation persuades us to urge the government to take aggressive action to address the insecurity in the North. Similarly, the government must recognise that food security is a fundamental human right and that it is the state’s responsibility to ensure that its citizens have access to food enough to sustain themselves and their families. This means that the government must take decisive action to address the root causes of insecurity and to provide adequate protection for farmers and their crops.

The government can also take steps to encourage investment in agriculture and provide support for small-scale farmers. This could include providing access to credit, training, and technical assistance. The government can also work with international partners to provide funding and technical assistance to support agricultural development in Nigeria.

In addition to government action, civil society organisations and the private sector can help address Nigeria’s looming food insecurity. These groups can work with farmers to provide support and resources and advocate for policies and programmes that promote food security.

Food insecurity in Nigeria, undoubtedly, is a serious issue requiring urgent attention from all stakeholders. The government must aggressively address the insecurity in the North and elsewhere in the country, promote agricultural development, and support small-scale farmers. Civil society organisations and the private sector must also play a role in addressing this issue. With a concerted and collaborative effort, the country may be able to avert the looming food insecurity and ensure that all Nigerians have access to enough food to sustain themselves and their families.

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