Nigeria: Tackling Food Insecurity Amid Economic Turbulence By Olawale Rotimi Opeyemi
Despite millions of cultivatable land, good rainfall, sun light and weather, high population strength and millions of dollar voted to various agricultural schemes in Nigeria over the years, food insecurity remains a major battle to win. The discovery of oil led to a dramatic shift from agriculture in Nigeria; agricultural productivity dropped significantly following oil boom during the 80s into 90s, Nigeria that formerly exported palm oil among other agricultural products to other continents started relying on importation of food items she can produce.
Though global food commodity prices rose 4.2 per cent in June, their steepest monthly increase of the past four years according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, political instability, insecurity, speedily growing population, flooding and drought, rural-urban migration, lack of funding for farmers, economic instability, ethnic and religious rivalry are some causes of food insecurity in Nigeria. However, agriculture if done right can provide food for all Nigerians, create decent jobs and incomes while ensuring rural development and environmental preservation.
Globally, of the one in nine people in the world today (795 million) who are undernourished, the vast majority of world’s hungry people live in developing countries where at least 12.9 percent is malnourished. While 23 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry in Africa alone, one in every two-child death in Nigeria is from malnutrition, with over 1, 219 children dying daily as reported by the Head of Nutrition at Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health. Food insecurity is a major cause of malnutrition.
As defined by the United Nations World Food Programme, people are considered food insecure when there is no “availability and adequate access at all times to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” Following the definition, as reported by The Cable-a foremost Nigerian digital newspaper, a survey assessing the socio-economic state of Nigerian households conducted by Philips Consulting between May and June 2016 revealed that 51 percent of Nigeria’s 183million people (i.e. 93million Nigerians) lack access to adequate to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to maintain health and active life.
The survey conveyed the strong link between unemployment and food insecurity in Nigeria; about 40 percent of employed respondents in the survey had never experienced food insecurity compared to 20 percent of unemployed and 28 percent of self-employed respondents. Due to lack of financial inflow, unemployed people are more vulnerable to food insecurity; in recent months, following economic turbulence in Nigeria, high and rigorous foreign exchange process, many businesses are closing down while several others are laying off staffs in hundreds.
Unemployment in Nigeria has increased significantly, up from 10.4 percent in the last quarter of 2015, Nigeria’s unemployment rate stood at 12.1 percent at the end of 2016 first quarter, the highest since December 2009. The National Bureau Statistics reported that 518,000 Nigerians became unemployed within 3 months in 2016.
As Nigeria’s population grows exponentially with no sign of relent and the economy faced with more turbulence, millions of Nigerians are faced with serious food insecurity. The surge in cost of food items has made it more difficult for unemployed and underemployed Nigerians to access food needed for healthy living.
While the population keeps growing speedily and economic crisis remain prevalent, Nigeria must tackle food insecurity which can be described as ‘time bomb’ before it explodes. Aside the fact that people facing food insecurity may die of hunger and live in unhealthy condition, hunger may equally lead to anger-motivated vices in the society. Even though the government has major roles to play in this, over the years, indications show the need for strong and purposeful collaboration between the government and private sector in solving this major issue in the nearest future.
Since Nigerian land is cultivable and the nation has good farming population, investment in agricultural sector must be taken seriously in order to cut food importation and boost local production. Nigeria spends $11 billion on food importation annually, if invested into the nation’s agricultural sector; it will increase productivity and make food available to millions of Nigerians at lesser prices.
Thousands of Nigerian farmers are small holders; they are unable to increase production due to lack of access to finance, capacity building training and modern trends in farming. 500 million small farms worldwide provide up to 80 per cent of food consumed in a large part of the developing world. This implies that, increased investment in smallholder farmers will increase agricultural productivity in Nigeria. This chain is important to make adequate food supply available in local markets. Engaging women farmers is also key, giving them access to finance and training would reduce food insecurity in Nigeria drastically.
Apparently, with shrinking oil revenue which has weakened Nigeria’s economic strength, deliberate and purposeful investment in the agriculture sector offers key solutions for development, and it is primal for hunger and poverty eradication in the nation and beyond.
(Olawale Rotimi Opeyemi is a writer/journalist; he can be reached via +2348105508224 or firstname.lastname@example.org)