Food crisis: 82 million Nigerians may go hungry soon, UN warns

The United Nations has again predicted that 82 million Nigerians, about 64 per cent of the country’s population, may go hungry by 2030, calling on the government to tackle climate change, pest infestations, and other threats to agricultural productivity.

The prediction comes in the wake of a persistent hike in food prices in the country.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria’s food inflation rate hit a record high of 40.66 per cent in May 2024, surpassing the previous month’s 40.53 increase.

This surge represents the largest year-on-year increase in food prices since records began in 1996.

Historically, food inflation in Nigeria has averaged 13.42 per cent, with the lowest point of -17.50 per cent in January 2000.

In 2023, the Food and Agriculture Organisation predicted that no fewer than 2.6 million Nigerians in Borno, Sokoto and Zamfara states, and the FCT may face a food crisis between June and August 2024.

According to a government-led Cadre Harmonisé analysis released in March, 2024, approximately 4.8 million people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states are experiencing severe food insecurity, the highest level in seven years.

Also, as Nigerian workers commemorated the 2024 May Day, Organised Labour expressed concern about the country’s rising food prices and fuel scarcity, saying that the current situation threatened the survival of workers.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Olisa Agbakoba, also recently warned that a hunger riot might soon break out in Nigeria, calling on the Federal Government to act fast.

Speaking recently at the launch of CropWatch in Abuja, the Resident Humanitarian Coordinator of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, represented by one of the UN officials, Taofiq Braimoh, said, “The government of Nigeria, in collaboration with others, conducts an annual food security survey. This year’s results are alarming: approximately 22 million Nigerians will face food insecurity in 2023, and around 80-82 million are at risk of severe food insecurity by 2030.

“Nigeria, like many countries, grapples with food insecurity, climate change, unreliable water patterns, pest infestations, and other threats to agricultural productivity. As an agrarian society, our farms’ success directly impacts food availability for our population. Leveraging technology is crucial to strengthening our agriculture sector and ensuring food security.”

He stressed that satellite-based crop monitoring provided real-time data on crop conditions, enabling farmers and policymakers to make informed decisions and optimise agricultural practices.

He noted that the technology could help expedite the accomplishment of sustainable development goals in food and agriculture.

‘Climate change fuelling high hunger rate’

An agricultural economist from the Centre for Agricultural Development and Sustainable Environment at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Tobi Awolope, attributed the high hunger rate in Nigeria to climate change, which has severely affected smallholder farmers, the main players in food production.

Awolope, who spoke to our correspondent on Friday, noted that those farmers had a low adaptive capacity to cope with the effects of climate change, such as irregular rainfall patterns and lack of irrigation.

“Climate change has reversed the progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2, which aim to eradicate poverty and hunger. Smallholder farmers are struggling to adapt to the changing climate, and this has led to declining food availability and rising prices,” she said.

She emphasised the need for government support for farmers, including subsidising production inputs, and providing technology and irrigation assistance.

“Farmers cannot mitigate the effects of climate change alone. The government needs to step in and support them to ensure food security,” she stated.

Awolope also stressed the importance of utilising research recommendations to inform policy decisions, saying, “This is not the time to leave research output on the shelf. We need to use those recommendations to make informed decisions that will support our farmers and ensure food availability.”

* Transform agriculture with science, technology — Expert

Meanwhile, the Director General of the National Space Research and Development Agency, Dr Adepoju Mathew, highlighted the importance of science, technology, and innovation in advancing agricultural development and food security.

“The world population is projected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, and food production must increase by 70 per cent to meet this demand.

“Space science, technology, and innovation play a crucial role in transforming agriculture and enhancing food security,” he added.

* UN report reflects real situation— Farmers

Speaking with Saturday PUNCH, the National Secretary of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Dr Yinusu Alidu, said the UN report should be taken seriously, noting that it reflects the real situation in the country.

He said, “What the UN said is trending at the moment, because it reflects the real situation in the country. It is not magic; the UN is only gathering reports, and speaking to the current situation. They are using global warming, climate change, insecurity, and other factors to make the report. People like us on the field know already that the UN’s report is becoming real.

“This is July and there is not enough rain yet. Weather forecast experts have predicted that there is going to be a drought. They predicted that there was going to be a short rain period, and that rain may not fall after August. They advised farmers to plant crops that will yield and mature fast. If not, the crops will be stunted and will not yield well. If people use conventional modes of planting, their farms will be affected by drought.”

Alidu urged the government to act on the report to prevent a food crisis.

He said, “It is the responsibility of the government to prevent a food crisis. The government should encourage irrigation farming systems. The government needs to create dams and channel waste water for farming purposes. Water is being wasted a lot. This is the right time for the government to be serious about off-season farming. Seventy per cent of crops grown in Nigeria are planted with direct rain; few people use irrigation systems. The government has a responsibility to make farming easy for farmers. They should support the irrigation system.

“I don’t know why the government is taking a lackadaisical approach to farming. Maybe they believe they have the money to buy anything they want, regardless of the price, because they have money. What about the average Nigerian? I would only advise farmers to be smart and fast in farming.”

“UN report reflection of govt failure’

Also speaking with our correspondent, the President of Integrated Agricultural Services, South-West, Mr Adeyemi Adejare, described the UN’s report as a pointer to the government’s failures in supporting agriculture and farmers.

Adejare said Nigeria was already witnessing a shortage of food, saying only aggressive farming could help Nigeria out of the crisis.

He said, “The only way to avert the UN’s prediction is to engage in aggressive farming, and get genuine support from the government. Nigeria is facing food insecurity already, so we can’t shy away from what the UN said. It is a pointer to the government’s failure to support agriculture.

“The food industries and our farming system must reach a sustainable level to avert the prediction, and that requires a holistic approach. We need to discard the old farming, storing, and processing systems. Government at all levels must be genuinely committed to promoting agriculture.

“The government must empower farmers and encourage mechanised farming for the youth. The government must also provide soft loans and subsidise farming inplements for genuine farmers.”

Adejare noted that the UN report was correct, adding that the nation must take proactive actions to end food insecurity.

He said, “The UN report is correct. Currently, it will take Nigeria 30 uninterrupted farming and harvesting seasons to achieve food security, because of the shortage we have already.

“The government has not been fair to farmers. The northern farmers are enjoying little benefits from the government, but the South-West governors are not helping the farmers at all. The governors have not been helpful; they have been paying lip service to the promotion of agriculture.”

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