OPINION: Tackling Food Insecurity in Nigeria
Written by: Innocent Ekene Ifedilichukwu - Advocacy and Campaigns Manager (SURVIVE breakthrough)
While chatting to a woman selling roast maize close to Save the Children’s country office in Abuja, Nigeria, she gave me reasons for the high price of her wares.
“The rains didn't come on time, and this affected planting of maize and other crops,” she told me, speaking in local dialect. And she described the fear of attacks on the farm carried out by criminals.
“There will be scarcity of yam, cassava and other food products in the market this year, because farmers are not able to plant anything,” she warned.
She also told me farmlands and crops are being destroyed by free-roaming cows. She said the government and traditional leaders need to step in to stop the activities of herders.
UNDERSTANDING THE CAUSES
Nigeria is one of the most populous countries in the world with more than 200 million people. To maintain the health and wellbeing of this growing population, there are certain things that are sine qua non – basic amenities, food and shelter. These need to be available, affordable and accessing to all citizens, especially poor and vulnerable groups.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in Nigeria. There are various challenges along the food value chain of production, distribution, processing and storage. These include climate change, insurgency and conflict in many parts of the country, natural disasters and pandemic-related shocks, which all affect food production and push food prices up. Given the scale of these challenges for Nigeria, achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 of zero hunger and other related SDGs may be a tall order.
Conflict and violence are exacerbating food insufficiency in Nigeria. As the maize-seller I spoke to told me, there have been attacks on farming communities by various armed groups and agitators. These attacks are heightened by ethnic, religious and political tensions in the country. Families are losing their sources of livelihood on a daily basis.
One of the terrible manifestations of widespread deprivation in Nigeria is child poverty, the result of insufficient family livelihoods. Many Nigerians do not earn $1 per day. Nationally, about 43% of Nigerians (89 million people) live below the poverty line, while another 25% (53 million people) are vulnerable. For a country with massive wealth and a huge population to support commerce, a well-developed economy, and plenty of natural resources, the level of poverty remains unacceptable.
Finally, gender inequality in Nigeria is also a critical factor in food insecurity. Rural farmers are predominantly women who do not have access to land and credit and are cut out of certain household decisions. This has widened the gap between rich people and poor people. And it has created instability in food production and blocked the progress towards ending hunger.
WHAT ARE WE DOING?
Donor agencies have responded in many ways to improve living standards and wellbeing among vulnerable Nigerians, especially those affected by insurgency and violence in rural communities in Nigeria. Save the Children and many other humanitarian response organisations are programming around shock responsive social protection and child poverty. This includes providing food vouchers and cash transfers to identified families and supporting them to build back better and be able to settle.
Families are receiving health and nutrition education and being supported to use cash transfers well. Save the Children is also providing psychosocial support to families affected by insurgency, providing improved seedlings, supporting the formation of cooperative groups, and advocating to community structures to remove bias around gender.
We are also promoting the use of technology in food production, processing and storage. And we’re reintroducing agriculture extension workers in communities to support rural farmers with mechanised systems and facilitating access to local and international markets for the exchange of the food products.
FROM RECOMMENDATIONS TO ACTION
Alongside the activities of partners to ensuring food and nutrition security, government has taken action to improve the policy environment and coordinate activities of different players at all levels. For example, the government of Nigeria has coordinated series of food system dialogues.
Recommendations made during these dialogues include:
- Weather information needs to be collected and disseminated regularly.
- Farm settlements and estates should be revamped or established that are made up of groups of smallholder producers, including women and young people. Farm settlement estates should include all basic amenities (including the internet to discourage rural-to-urban migration).
- Governments at the local level should promote “Operations Feed Yourself” by helping households to access information and inputs that will encourage them to produce food around their houses to feed their families. Using any available space at home for gardening.
- Government should implement social protection law, using the social register to identify and support families who are affected by shocks caused by natural or man-made disasters.