Editorial

Acute hunger alert in Nigeria

Among the 22 hunger hot spot countries, Nigeria, together with Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen are at the highest alert level for acute hunger in the world. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warned in a recent report that Sudan, Burkina Faso, Haiti and Mali had also been elevated to the highest alert level. The hot spots with very high concern are Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan, Myanmar and Syria. Others are Lebanon, Malawi, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

 

The United Nations (UN) agencies noted that “all hot spots at the highest level have communities facing or projected to face starvation, or are at risk of sliding towards catastrophic conditions, given they have already emergency levels of food insecurity and are facing severe aggravating factors.”   Executive Director of WFP, Cindy McCain, said more people in more places around the world were not only going hungry, but that the severity of the hunger they faced was worse than ever. This is lamentable. Many of the countries mentioned here are either fighting a war or in a state of war. In Sudan, for instance, there is an ongoing conflict which is predicted to drive over two million people into acute hunger in the coming months.   

Nigeria is not fighting any war now. So, it has no reason to be in this bracket with war-torn countries. But, the North-East region of the country alone has over 4 million citizens, especially in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states, on the danger list of food insecurity. In the 2022 Global Hunger Index, Nigeria also performed lowly, ranking 103 out of 121 countries. The country ranked the same 103 out of 116 countries in 2021. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had predicted that 25 million Nigerians risked severe hunger between June and August 2023 (lean season) if urgent measures were not taken to address the problem.   

Though Nigeria is not at war, the spate of insecurity in the country is a serious problem. There are renewed killings in states like Benue, Plateau, Kaduna and some other food baskets of the country. Herdsmen are mostly the culprits. They have driven farmers out of their farms. In some cases, their cows bulldoze their way into people’s farms and destroy crops and farmlands. The situation is such that many farmers now fear going to their farms. The Russia/Ukraine war as well as the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is also a major factor.

The last flooding that ravaged some states in Nigeria was also a disaster for our agriculture. It affected about 34 states including many food-producing states, killed over 600 people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of farms, many houses, shops, schools, livestock and staples like cassava, yam and rice. In Nasarawa State, for instance, the flood destroyed one of the biggest rice farms in Nigeria, the Olam Rice Farm. The loss amounted to about $15million. The flooding may have also affected the quality of soil and invariably, the quality of food in the country. We should not gloss over the fact that our youth population no longer has interest in agriculture. Almost every graduate is looking for white collar jobs. The advent of oil as the major source of revenue for the country worsened the situation. Farmers were looked down upon and farming seen as job for the poor, wretched villagers.

The consequence is that many youths roam the streets without jobs. Obviously, they have hunger and poverty to contend with. This is partly what has triggered insecurity in the country because when youths are hungry and jobless, they create jobs for themselves in the crime industry. Hunger has also led to different illnesses and deaths due to lack of good and balanced diet that fight diseases.  For us to come out of this inglorious hunger bracket we are in, insecurity must be tamed. The previous administration failed in securing farmers against the onslaught by herdsmen. The new government must make it a priority to rejig the security architecture of the country with a view to providing water-tight security for farmers and the entire citizens.

The FAO and WFP advocated urgent humanitarian action to save lives and livelihoods, and to also prevent starvation and death. Nigerian government should heed this advice by releasing the food in our silos to those who are in urgent need of it. The country also needs to really develop its agriculture and make it a business. Wealthy Nigerians should be encouraged to go into mechanised agriculture and all-season farming. Government should encourage them by giving them incentives.

There is need for diversification of our economy. Everything should not revolve around oil which is a depleting resource. Foreign investors should be encouraged to invest in our country and to offer employment to our teeming youths. This will go a long way in curbing hunger and insecurity in the country. 

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