Nigeria and the Avoidable Challenges of Food Insecurity: How Planning, Distribution, and Technology Can Make a Difference

By Aladeokomo Babatunde S.

Food insecurity, a major problem in Nigeria affects millions of individuals who find it difficult to get adequate food and nourishment. The United Nations lists inflation, rising food costs, violence, and climate change as some of the major factors contributing to food insecurity in Nigeria.

According to UN projections, if immediate action is not done, around 25 million Nigerians might be hungry between June and August of 2024. From the estimated 17 million individuals who are now at risk of food insecurity, this is a predicted rise. This worrying trend is mostly caused by ongoing violence, rising food costs, inflation, and climate change. Persistent violence in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe (BAY) and armed banditry and abduction in areas like Katsina, Sokoto, Kaduna, Benue, and Niger have hindered access to food.

The National Emergency Management Agency reports that extensive flooding during the rainy season of 2022 destroyed over 676,000 hectares of farmlands, reducing harvests and raising the possibility of food insecurity for households nationwide. One consequence of climatic variability and change on Nigeria is floods. Future weather patterns are expected to be more harsh, which will impact food security.

Currently, 3 million people live in the northeastern BAY states out of a total of 17 million that face food insecurity. In the lean season, this number is predicted to rise to 4.4 million in the absence of prompt action. This includes very vulnerable populations who have been displaced and those who have returned and are already fighting to survive amid a massive humanitarian catastrophe that is requiring aid for 8.3 million people. The most susceptible group to food insecurity is children. Six out of the 17 million Nigerians who lack access to food now reside in Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Sokoto, Katsina, and Zamfara states and are under the age of five. When acute malnutrition is the cause, children are at grave danger of dying. It is projected that the number of children experiencing acute malnutrition would rise from 1.74 million in 2022 to 2 million in 2024 in the BAY states alone. In order to ensure that disadvantaged children have access to life-saving nutrition services, UNICEF is investing in scaling up preventive nutrition interventions in collaboration with the government and partners like MSF and ALIMA.

In the six aforementioned states, UNICEF and its partners were able to provide life-saving nutrition assistance to around 650,000 children in 2022. The northwest, including the states of Katsina, Zamfara, and Sokoto, is becoming a hotspot for malnutrition and food insecurity. 2.9 million people are thought to be severely food insecure at the moment (Cadre Harmonisé Phase 3 or worse.)

The issue of food insecurity in Nigeria is one of the elements of a failed state. This has been on the rise right from the pre – independent Nigeria through the post independent era. Virtually every successive government over the years has promised to diversify the economy of the country from oil-based into agricultural but this has never surpassed the level of idealization and policy formation. Food security, food production and massive food processing is very key to the survival of the largest democracy in Africa and the largest black race in the world.

Going by the definition of food security, we can have a clear understanding of what food insecurity is all about and the problem facing Nigeria presently in this area. According to EC-FAO food security exist in any territory when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preference for an active and healthy life.

If there is anything to go by in this definition one can arguably states that Nigeria has never in her history attain the level of food security. This issue of concern therefore cast an aspersion on the kind of leadership we have got in the last six decades of this nation. The fundamental of protecting lives and properties among other oath for political office holders that ought to lead into the integral part of national security has also call into question the ability and integrity of all who had taken such sacred national oath.

To domesticate the definition of food security and test-run it on the present realities of increasing price of commodities and food items amid shortage of food in Nigeria, we shall limit our scope to planning alone as a necessity for the attainment of food security status in Nigeria. It is worthy of note that the issue of food security is multidimensional in nature with so many approaches and concerns that keeps evolving daily.

Over the years, government intervention at every level at attaining food security majorly revolves round policies to provide access to seedling, provision of incentives and more concentration on crop production only. Government and stake holders in this sector of the economy has collectively done less in terms of planning.

With effective planning and implementable policy in place the issue of food insecurity in Nigeria can improve above 100% in the space of four democratic years. Food planning in this regard will include but not limited to transportation planning, data appreciation, price standardization and regulation, Research, science and technology. All these key fundamentals of food planning are germane to national food security and by extension national security.

Although Nigeria no doubt is facing harsh economic meltdown as a result of widespread insecurity, corruption, over dependence on oil revenue and failed foreign policies but one can argue differently that the issue at hand in terms of food insecurity is more of food shortage orchestrated by poor planning and not of low production as it is been painted in the public eye.

One of the crucial elements of food planning for food security is distribution. Nigeria current food shortage is on the rise because among many other things no authority is closely monitoring food distribution at reasonable intervals across the country. In any case, food distribution monitoring cannot be easy unless there is leverage on data science and technology. We experience a lot of food wastage daily across the country as a result of ineffective food distribution. Furthermore, effective food distribution also leverage on effective transportation system. Effective food planning is not only key to food availability but also key to food accessibility. If there are no plan to access the available food, production in the first place has been rendered useless. Government must double their effort in providing efficient transportation system that connects producers easily to consumers. If we keep relying on othe infrastructural deficit we have in our transportation sector, we may never attain the level of food security as a nation. In essence if there are no proper data on food mobility some part of the country will be witnessing extreme food shortage while another part is witnessing wastage.

For Nigeria to attain food security we also need to pay a serious attention to secondary and tertiary production. In this regard we must leverage on our capacity in primary production and invest heavily in food processing and storage. At the present most of our production is still seasonal and since we have little capacity for processing and storage, we experience a lot of wastage at this level of production therefore contributing heavily to national food insecurity. A plan towards massive food processing and food storage will go a long way to rescue this nation from the rising hunger.

Besides effective food distribution, transportation planning, data appreciation, food processing and food storage, planning also involves regulations that can bring about standardization, price regulation and customer protection. A standardized price will help citizens get value for their money and it will also mitigate the issue of retailers overshooting the price of food items for selfish gains. If there are no price and quality regulations consumers may find it difficult to access quality foods needed for their well-being while the same amount of food is horded somewhere to waste.

Finally, there is no way we can attain food security in this generation neglecting the input of research, science and technology. Our academic and research institutions that ought to be the initiator of solutions that will drive national food security seems to have been running a parallel objective from the ultimate goal of governance for too long and Government that supposed to be the financial and the beneficiary of academic research have refused to fund these institutions. For us to lift Nigeria out of hunger, food shortage and food insecurity, government and research institutions will have to work harmoniously just as the public and private sector will have to agree to.

In all, government will have to take a bold step by leading the way through deliberate appreciation of data, funding of research institutions, provision of infrastructure, and empowering food regulatory agencies to demand standardized products with reasonable price from producers.

Aladeokomo Babatunde S, is a Food Security Campaigner and Human Right advocate wrote from Lagos Nigeria

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