In a remote community of Miango, Bassa local government area of Plateau State, North-Central Nigeria, 28 years old mother of four, Rebecca Auta, was anxious about their next meal. She had given her kids kunu (a local juice) for breakfast, and the leftover tuwo and kuka (baobab seed) soup from the previous evening meal was meant for lunch; there was nothing for the evening meal but before noon the children were already looking for the tuwo.
She pacified them with more kunu so they could have the tuwo for lunch but the children would have none of that because they were hungry. During a visit to their home at about 11 am on March, 25th, the fragile-looking children, the oldest being 10 were seen with tear-filled eyes pleading for food.
The equally fragile-looking Mrs. Auta whose husband was killed in 2021 at their Te’egbe hamlet of Bassa explained her situation thus: “The children are always hungry and I don’t have what to give them. It was not like this when we had our farms. Armed herdsmen invaded our community on the night of the 20th of June, 2021. My husband who went out with others to defend the community was killed.
“I could not stay back there because we were constantly attacked, our farmlands and food barns destroyed, so I ran with the children and other families to Miango. Staying here has been difficult, I don’t have any land to cultivate, and the people who used to offer help in the past have stopped because they are also in need, I run errands for people so we can feed.”
Causes of food crises:
Recurring violent conflicts between farmers/herders; environmental degradation, high cost of living, floods, high cost of farm inputs and others have encouraged food shortage not just in Plateau State but the entire country.
In the Irigweland, Bassa; where Auta hails from, local records in 2021 show that many households became poorer due to the sustained destruction of farmlands and means of livelihood. The National President of, the Irigwe Youths Movement, Ezekiel Bini said, “Within nine weeks, starting from June 2021, over 700 farmlands with crops worth millions of Naira were destroyed. Crops such as maize, sweet potatoes, acha, Irish potatoes, pepper, tomatoes, cabbage, carrot, green pepper, soya beans, etc. were destroyed.
“Farmlands were destroyed at Chuvo, Ri-bakwa, Nnunche, Kpara, Te’egbe, Zonwrru, Nzhwaruba, Ancha, Rikwe-Chongu, Nchetahu, Kpachudu, Zanwra and others. Even now, the situation has not abated; irrigation farms are still being overrun by cows. These are deliberate attempts to cripple a people, unleash hunger in the land and turn us destitute.”
Similarly, factors listed earlier had forced farmers to abandon their farms in communities in other North Central States of Benue, Nasarawa, Niger, Kogi and Kwara as well as Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. The hitherto struggle for economic resources like land, freshwater, and grass, among others between crop farmers and herders has culminated in criminality such as violent attacks, mass/isolated killings and cattle rustling among others.
The situation is not different in the Southern part of Kaduna State, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara in the North-West as well as the North-East States of Bauchi, Adamawa, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe where armed banditry, trans-border crimes, the Boko Haram insurgency, environmental degradation hinder large-scale food production.
In the South-West, problems of overpopulation and a high cost of living cause food crises in the States, especially Lagos, Oyo, and Ogun.
Food shortages are prevalent in the South-East region States of Imo, Abia, Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi which are ravaged by large-scale environmental degradation, farmers/herders’ conflicts, small landmass and a high cost of living; only those with economic power can purchase food in the needed quality and quantity, those without are more likely to suffer from some forms of malnutrition.
Reasons for food shortage and malnutrition in Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers in the South-South region are closely related to what is obtained in the South-East.
Mrs. Auta blames her inability to access food on a lack of land to cultivate and a lack of sustainable means of income to buy from the market.
In Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, a petty trader and mother of three, Itoro Emmanuel’s problem of food shortage is the prevalent high cost of living.
Recall that an October 2022 National Bureau of Statistics, NBS Consumer Price Index report indicates that food inflation in Kwara State was 33.09%, Kogi (28.46%), Ebonyi (27.41%), Rivers (27.41%), Akwa Ibom (27.25%), Lagos (26.52%) etc.
Mrs. Emmanuel, who sells cassava meal at the Itam main market lamented, “Every day, foodstuff gets costlier and our income has not increased, cows are eating the cassava and other crops in the farms, people are afraid of going to the farm so when we don’t farm, what will we eat? I only sell fufu, I still need to buy soup ingredients but when I can’t afford them, I improvise and sometimes, the children will refuse to eat because they don’t like the food but we have to force them to eat.”
Similarly, Ngozi, a petty trader at the Cele bus stop market, Lagos admitted, “I have been a trader for over 20 years. Over the years, things have been very difficult, three years ago, the quantity of stockfish we used to buy for N800 and sold for N1,000 is now being bought at N1,000 and sold at N1,200. Egusi (melon seed) is also very costly, a measure (4L bucket) is now N9,000 as against N4,000 0r N5,000 in the past, a small size of smoked fish used to be N400, now it is N600, I sell it N700.
“The people we buy from also buy from others who buy from the farmers, they complain that things are very costly and the cost of transportation is also high. My customers are complaining and are not buying as much as they used to buy.
“Lagos is a tough place, my family of five people live in a small place with a living room and a bedroom, we share the kitchen and bathroom with other tenants. The cost of the rent has been hiked to the present rate of N200,000 per year. Eating is not by what you want but by what is available, we survive daily by divine intervention.”
A farmer, Stephen Osunkeye observed, “…the cost of food makes one feel unhappy. Even the staple food has become so expensive and unaffordable for the average Nigerian. In my opinion, there has not been any serious intervention in the food crisis and hunger by relevant authorities. Farmers especially at the grassroots have not been supported adequately with agricultural incentives.”
The malnutrition situation:
The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) reported “37% of Nigerian children under five are stunted. 7% are wasted (thin for their height), 22% are underweight (thin for their age), and 2% are overweight (heavy for their height). 68% of children aged 6-59 months and 58% of women aged 15-49 are anaemic.
“The proportion of stunted children is highest in the North West (57%) and lowest in the South East (18%). By state, stunting is most prevalent in Kebbi (66%) and least prevalent in Anambra (14%). The proportion of children who are wasted is approximately twice as high in the North East (10%) and North West (9%) as in the other zones (4%-6%).
Last month, a report from UNICEF, noted that the number of adolescent girls and women aged 15-49 years who are undernourished in Nigeria soared from 5.6 million in 2018 to 7.3 million in 2021 and that Nigeria was among the 12 hardest hit countries by the global food and nutrition crisis, and alerted the situation is putting women and children at risk.
The 12 countries are Nigeria, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen which represent the epicentre of a global nutrition crisis that has been increased by recent impacts of COVID-19 and exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and ongoing drought, conflict, and instability in some of the countries.
The report tagged: Undernourished and Overlooked: A Global Nutrition Crisis in Adolescent Girls and Women released ahead of International Women’s Day notes that “In Nigeria, 55% of adolescent girls and women suffer from anaemia while nearly half of the Nigerian women of reproductive age do not consume the recommended diet of at least five out of 10 food groups (grains and tubers, pulses, nuts and seeds, dairy, meat, poultry and fish, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, other vitamin A rich fruits and vegetables, other vegetables and other fruits) according to the 2022 National Food Consumption and Micronutrient Survey…”
UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, Cristian Munduate, said: “To ensure a better future for our children, we must prioritize the access of adolescent girls and women to nutritious food and essential nutrition services. The nutrition crisis is deepening among them, and urgent action is needed from all partners including the government of Nigeria and the international community. We cannot afford to overlook this crisis, and we must work together to transform food, health and social protection systems for adolescent girls and women.”
In Nigeria, the 2022 Cadre Harmonize analysis published by the government shows that 17 million Nigerians are suffering from acute food insecurity, and over 25 million people will need food assistance during the 2023 lean season.
The report called on governments, development and humanitarian partners and donors, civil society organizations and development actors to transform food, health and social protection systems for adolescent girls and women by prioritizing adolescent girls’ and women’s access to nutritious, safe and affordable diets, and protecting adolescent girls and women from ultra-processed foods through marketing restrictions, compulsory front-of-pack labelling and taxation among others.
At a recent Advocacy meeting on the first 1000 days of a Child and COVAX Uptake in Lagos, a call was made for urgent treatment of over 200, 000 children in the State who are wasted and stunted.
Ada Ezeogu, UNICEF’s Nutrition Specialist said “In terms of percentage, the stunting rate in Lagos is lower at 17.2 compared to Oyo with 34.5 per cent but when converted to absolute numbers you will see a huge number than Oyo due to its large population… we know that stunting does not just affect physical growth but also cognitive development…
“Fortunately, Lagos is already doing some management of Severe Acute Malnutrition, SAM. They use Ready-Therapeutic-Food. If there are underlying conditions, they would be treated. We encourage mothers to take these children immediately to health facilities for treatment.”
Similarly, the Executive Secretary, of Civil Society-Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria, Sunday Okoronkwo pointed out that “Malnutrition among women and girls is alarming, it is a challenge that proper attention has not been paid to it. There is a mention of interventions for pregnant women, and lactating mothers in our nutrition strategy, guidelines, and plans, but there are other women and girls that are not captured, like the woman who is not pregnant or breastfeeding, or the adolescent girl who will eventually become a mother, they also have nutritional needs and they need to be considered in getting the nutrition they need…”
Rural women farmers can help:
A women farmers’ group, Small-scale Women Farmers of Nigeria, SWOFON said women’s productivity is crucial in agriculture and rural economy development. SWOFON’s Ogechi Okebugwu maintained, “Cluster farming is a way out, favourable loan facilities and easy access should be enhanced, and women should be given access to land to cultivate.
“The inheritance issue is affecting women negatively. Women are not allowed to own land, we don’t have the money to buy land, and even when we get lands leased to us, the owner shows up when the crop is yet to be harvested to demand a return for the land. All these are not encouraging women in agriculture because our time, resources, and energy is wasted. If women can have access to information, land, funds, inputs and education, we will do more in creating value and bringing more women on board…”
Many States and the federal governments have taken steps to tackle the food crisis and malnutrition.
The Akwa Ibom option:
In preparation for the 2023 farming season, the Government through the State Ministry of Agriculture distributed farm inputs like hybrid cassava cuttings, maize and other inputs to secondary schools and others in the State to improve the expected yield during harvest time.
The Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr. Offiong Offor, said the exercise was to “ensure an increase in food production,” and stated, “We must commend Governor Emmanuel for his efforts to make Akwa Ibom food a sufficient state. This is as illustrated through the distribution of different farm inputs to farmers, groups and public schools as well as access to finance and training.”
There is a commitment to explore the potential of the Blue Economy in the coastal State in line with the AU Agenda 2063.
The governor-elect, Mr. Umo Eno noted “With great potential for growth and innovation, the Blue Economy can create jobs, spur economic growth, mitigate the impacts of climate change and help meet the food needs of a growing population, it is a vital area of interest which will prioritize wealth creation through rural development.
“We will make deliberate and concerted efforts to boost human capital development by vigorously investing in the Blue Economy. We will harness all opportunities of wealth creation from the variety of natural resources available in the sea because it has a greater capacity to employ our youthful demography, thereby reducing rural-urban drift, while increasing participation in the exchange market at export levels.”
Kaduna State: Milk firm to the rescue
The Kaduna State government, partners with a Danish government and a private organization to end farmers-herders conflict and boost milk production by establishing a grazing reserve.
Dr. Ishaq Bello, the Chief Executive of the Damau Milk Value Chain Foundation, said the effort is to ensure a sustainable supply of raw milk to the Danish firm. 400 farmers were mobilized to work in a cluster to execute the programme.
The Managing Director of Kaduna Market Development and Management Company (KMDMC), Tamar Nandul, said, “The farmers will be taught basic animal husbandry, sanitation and hygiene and how to administer First Aid when the cows are sick, before taking them to the vet clinic located within the farm. They will also be taught financial literacy. We are trying to ensure transformation in dairy farming so that the country can be self-sufficient in milk production.”
The Executive Chairman of the Damau Cooperative, Idi Abdul said, “The project ensures that herders no longer practice the traditional open grazing, this would mitigate some of the conflicts between herdsmen and farmers. The programme will make milk available to Nigeria, preserve our foreign exchange which is spent on importing products, and provide job opportunities.”
Plateau (SLTP established)
Professor John Wade, who heads the State Livestock Transformation Programme, SLTP noted, “It took us about one and half years to plan, this is an intervention programme, we need the people to buy in and take off. We did some training for farmers and herders, stimulating their interest in forming cooperatives and other things.
“We have done some pilot activities like pasture, the ones that are good for milk production, the ones that are good for beef production. We have tried to develop some infrastructure like the milking house.
“By the time we provide the conducive environment for the herders to take care of their livestock while being sedentary and for the farmers to continue cultivating their crops that will both be for cash and consumption, we will mitigate the conflict between the farmers and herders. It is only then that you can talk of food security, and strike a balance with nutrition…
“We will get the women involved, that will be helpful as nutritional components for the growth of the children particularly the under-five, that do go through hell, in terms of malnutrition. When we start the food production, we will gear up the efforts at the school feeding programme, to help the children overcome all malnutrition and other things.”
With its 22million citizens, plans have taken off through the Lagos Central Food Security Systems and Logistics hub, in the Epe area of the State to create wealth for more than five million people, feed more than 10 million of them, guarantee food supplies, provide storage facilities for more than 1,500 trucks per day.
The State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu said “The project aims at putting in place the required infrastructure to address the increasing population of Lagos, thereby reducing pressure on its ability to feed itself. The project will ensure the highest consideration for consumer protection, while also catering for specialized logistics and centralized procurement systems on a produce-by-produce level…”
The Commissioner for Agriculture, Abisola Olusanya, added, “It would lead to an influx of services in sectors such as real estate, banking, logistics, hospitality and a host of others. This is given the population increase, growth in per capita income, and improvement in the people’s standard of living.
“Upon completion, the Food Security Systems & Central Logistics Hub will unleash the huge potential in both the midstream and downstream sectors of the agricultural and foods sector. This project will further reaffirm the state as the preferred market destination for agricultural produce along the West African corridor.”
The facility is a component of the five-year Agricultural and Food Systems Road Map (2021–2025) launched in 2021 by Governor Sanwo-Olu to enhance food sufficiency in Lagos. The government has stepped up activities in the Agro-Processing, Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support (APPEALS) Project. Thus far, 879 farmers and Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) have benefited from the Lagos APPEALS Project.
The project is aimed at enhancing the productivity of small-scale farmers in the three identified value chains of poultry, aquaculture and rice through capacity building, provision of infrastructure, and empowerment.
National intervention: The NLTP initiative/others:
The federal government proposed the National Livestock Transformation Plan, NLTP with some States like Kogi, Plateau and others chosen as pilot States to test run inclusive herding and crop farming.
Dry season farming (irrigation) is also encouraged as farmers access funds from financing agencies, like the African Development Bank, and AfDB for increased crop production. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development distributes inputs every year in every geo-political zone and insurance schemes are initiated for farmers who are in flood-prone areas.
“We are improving the production of agriculture products in areas where there is security to make up for areas that have security challenges. Security agencies are helping to provide some measures of security,” an Agriculture Ministry official said.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Abdullahi Yahaya advocated improved budgetary allocation saying, “It is appalling that a country of over 200 million people would have a low budget on agriculture…”
To improve security, the Federal Executive Council and FEC approved the ratification of the African Union Convention on Cross-Border Cooperation.
The Minister of State, Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Zubairu Dada, explained, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented a memo to Council on the African Union Convention on Cross Border Cooperation, the Niamey Convention. The Convention aims to promote cross-border cooperation at local, sub-regional and regional levels. This Convention is aimed at facilitating the peaceful resolution of border disputes between member states.
“It is also intended to promote peace and stability through the prevention of conflicts, the integration of the continent and the deepening of unity amongst member states. It provides an opportunity to share intelligence between us and our neighbours. It also provides a mechanism for the promotion of economic integration of the continent, cross-border cooperation that will help trade facilitation and promote African Continental Free Trade Agreement which has just come into effect in the entire continent.”
Meanwhile, since 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration initiated some schemes to promote domestic production of food and cut down import dependence, which saps the country billions of dollars in foreign reserves.
Some of these programmes include the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI); the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) and Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) championed by the Central Bank of Nigeria; National Rice and Wheat Task Force; National Livestock Transformation Plan, among others.
Each year, an intervention fund (ecological fund) is budgeted for by the federal government to address ecological challenges in communities across the country. Also, Agencies like HYPPADEC, NDDC, NEDC, NEMA and others have been established to address peculiar problems in the various regions.
The AU is interested in having Africans’ food security and nutrition status improved hence the frameworks to encourage member countries to key into them and make progress.
The AU Commissioner for Economic Development, Tourism, Trade, Industry and Mining, ETTIM, H.E Albert Muchanga in a recent interview reiterated the need for deeper continental economic integration as well as agro-processing in the regional and continental value chain and pointed out, Africa is an agricultural continent but science, technology, innovation and researches are needed to develop the sector.
His words, “…. Africa is an agricultural continent. We have most of the lands that are virgins, and we have lots of water, but the tragedy is that we import food. So, we are working to ensure that we make Africa sufficient in food…”
This article was developed with support from the African Union through the African Union Agenda 2063 Pitch Zone Awards, a partnership with the African Women in Media.