PLAGUED by years of interminable Islamist terrorism, banditry and other unbridled security challenges, Nigeria’s ability to feed its mammoth population is becoming highly questionable. Already, millions of Nigerians are unable to feed like they used to do. With insecurity deteriorating to an extraordinary level, there is a real threat of hunger looming large over Africa’s most populous country. Nigeria occupied the 10th position in the 2020 Global Hunger Index where countries like Afghanistan, Haiti and Chad prominently featured among the ten hungriest countries.
Millions of Nigerians live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 per person per day, an amount which is impossible to support a healthy livelihood. But not since the Nigerian Civil War between 1967 and 1970 has the security situation been so devastating. This time, almost every part of the country is under siege of one form of insecurity or the other. The bloody breaches have created millions of internally displaced persons and rendered farming activities negligible in the North-East, North-West, and North-Central, regarded as the major food-producing regions. Farming in other regions is also increasingly being threatened.
According to the North-East Development Commission, over 2.6 million people are at risk of hunger in Borno State alone due to Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorist attacks. This is nearly half of the state’s population estimated at 5.86 million (2016). The Food and Agricultural Organisation said insurgency gas denied 65,800 farmers access to agricultural inputs.
Last November, the bloodthirsty Islamists beheaded 76 rice farmers in Zabarmari, Jere Local Government Area, for allegedly supporting the Nigerian military, aggravating the anarchy in the region. In March, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that at least 9.2 million Nigerians faced starvation.
To underline the growing insecurity that is driving farmers out of their traditional routines, the Nigerian military conducted airstrikes against bandits in two states – Niger and Zamfara – in mid-June. Airstrikes by the Nigerian Air Force have been going on for years but are yet to achieve peace. Those two states, along with Kebbi, Katsina, and Kaduna, have been witnessing large-scale conflict. Niger State Governor, Abubakar Bello, recently warned of imminent famine in the agrarian state. He said, “Bandits have forced us to change our way of life in Niger State; they stopped our children from going to school, stopped us from travelling on our roads, stopped farmers from going to the farms…”
As in Niger, the bandits have also sacked farms in Zamfara, Katsina and Kebbi states. Well-armed and exhibiting bravura, the non-state actors rustle cattle, kidnap for ransom and collect tributes from farmers before they (farmers) can farm. A June report said 113 towns in Zamfara have been deserted because of bandit attacks. In Katsina, herdsmen have displaced residents in 11 of the state’s 34 LGAs. Food inflation decreased to 22.28 percent in May from 22.95 percent in March. Overall, inflation trended up for months to 18.12 percent before a slight reduction to 17.93 percent in May. In 2020, rising food prices pushed an extra seven million Nigerians below the poverty line, the World Bank Nigeria Development Update stated.
For years, Fulani herdsmen have been rampaging through Benue and other states in the North-Central and the South, maiming, kidnapping and massacring farmers. With the President, Major-General Buhari (retd.), rejecting pragmatism, the herdsmen are terrorising farmers in the country’s food basket. In Benue, Governor Samuel Ortom said over one million persons had been displaced in eight of the state’s 23 LGAs. In all, 12 states are battling with the crisis of displaced persons.
Due to the nationwide turmoil, the food situation is deteriorating rapidly. Millions of people cannot feed adequately again as prices soar and inflation reduces disposable income. Currently, Nigeria has the highest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world. Every minute, five Nigerians fall into the extreme poverty trap, says the World Poverty Clock. The Global Food Security Index, a compilation of the Economic Intelligence Unit (an arm of The Economist), says Nigeria has been deteriorating since 2013, ranking it 94 among 113 countries in 2019. With a score of 29.2 (out of 100), Nigeria has a level of hunger that is serious, according to the Global Hunger Index, which ranks Nigeria 98th out of 107 countries it surveyed.
Unfortunately, things might get worse. Apart from climate change effects – Lake Chad has virtually dried up – and the ravaging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the President’s belligerent position on nomadism is a brittle source of conflict. Antagonistically, Buhari insists on the open grazing of cattle even though it has induced tension and insecurity across the country. This is partly why the N1.5 trillion intervention of the Federal Government in agriculture, through the Central Bank of Nigeria, involving a total of 3,107,890 farmers, is yielding a pitiable result.
Despite avowals, Nigeria is import-dependent. It imports basic foods, including rice, wheat, frozen poultry products, palm oil, vegetable oils, and fruits. In the first quarter of 2021, Nigeria’s agricultural imports exceeded exports by N503 billion, National Bureau of Statistics data revealed. This is risky. Very soon, it might be unable to fund that consumption trend again. At the last account, the foreign reserves plunged to a five-year low of $30 billion on June 17 despite rising crude prices. A country that cannot feed its citizens is courting disaster, as hunger provokes anger. Children will suffer and die from severe acute malnutrition because their young, developing bodies are less resilient to the effects of hunger.
To make amends, Nigeria should refocus on security. Much rests with Buhari and the 36 state governors. Open herding is disrupting farming among the small-holder farmers. The President should banish the idea. Along with the CBN, loans should be institutionalised for the animal husbandry business and ranching. The security system should be reviewed to extend effective security to rural communities where 34.66 percent of the population engaged in farming in 2020, according to the World Bank. Nigeria has an abundance of land resources. Large-scale farming that utilises industrial methods to intensify production should be encouraged. In many countries, farming has become a major attraction for equity funds, investment banks and other types of investors.
As much as possible, state governors should tackle insecurity in their domains by establishing security outfits. They should not relent until the Federal Government reviews the security architecture and implements state police. To save the country from the brink of famine, State governments should reduce the geographical isolation of rural communities by providing rural infrastructure, especially roads and electricity.