Food Crisis: Alarms, alerts and predictions

Food Crisis: Alarms, alerts and predictions
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By Marcel Okeke

As the first half of 2022 is fast drawing to a close, not a few global and regional agencies with focus on agriculture have stridently raised the alarm at the subsisting food crisis in Nigeria and predicted a worsening trend as the year drags on. Notably, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has warned that about 20 million Nigerians could face food crisis and nutrition insecurity by August this year. ECOWAS’ Executive Secretary, Rice Observatory, Dr Boladale Adebowale who raised this alarm at a recent function in Ibadan said the food crisis was being fueled by the fact that crop production is not meeting population growth, while the nation’s agricultural sector is threatened by insecurity, adverse weather conditions, and climate change, among others.

The ECOWAS chief added that the food crisis was also being exacerbated by low mechanization, poor seed quality and varieties, low access to agric credit, low agro-processing capacity, low investment in agricultural research, high prevalence of systemic inefficiencies and low productivity. In a similar vein, the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, also raised the alarm that the Russia-Ukraine war would create global problems, particularly for Africa, which imports a huge percentage of its food from the two countries. He said, “Already, the price of wheat has gone up about 60 per cent; maize and other grains will also be affected.” The AfDB boss also feared that “there may be a fertiliser crisis, as there would be about two million metric tons deficit, and that will affect food production by about 20 per cent. Africa will lose $11 billion worth of food, and coming shortly after COVID-19, that would be rather serious,” he said.

Dr Adesina who made these startling disclosures in Abuja while speaking on what he called the “AfDB’s$1.5 billion Africa Emergency Food Plan” said: “We were not ready for COVID-19, but we are now planning to avert food crisis on the continent; there is a plan to help farmers cultivate wheat, maize, rice, sorghum, and soybeans—to mitigate the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war.”

On its own part, the United National Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), warns that 19.4 million persons would face food insecurity across Nigeria between June and August 2022. The FAO report jointly produced with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) and other stakeholders, focuses on acute food and nutrition insecurity in the Sahel and West African region. The report said the food crisis will affect Nigerians in 21 states and FCT, including 416,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), adding that about 14.4 million people including 385,000 IDPs in 21 states and FCT of Nigeria were already facing the food crisis by May 2022.

In yet another report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), it is feared that Nigeria and 44 other countries around the world are severely exposed to the Ukraine war-induced food crisis. According to the BCG report, Nigeria and the other affected countries faced severe levels of extreme poverty, compounded by the ongoing economic and social challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional factors worsening the food crisis identified in the report include: heavy reliance on food imports, high import bills, high inflation, a high debt burden, climate risks, and civil unrests.

The Managing Director and Partner at BCG Nigeria, Stefano Niavas, while commenting on these findings, said, “the impact of the Ukraine war on our food systems calls for critical and immediate review of our budgetary allocations.

“Currently, Nigeria spends over 27 times of its agriculture allocation to service its debt. Compounded with the Ukraine war and the lingering challenges of COVID-19, the average debt-to-GDP ratio across the continent is expected to rise from 60 per cent to 70 per cent.

“To minimise the impact of the crisis on Nigeria’s food systems, the government and all critical stakeholders should ensure stabilising the rising cost of food and fertilizer by the provision of viable seedlings, supporting the growth of alternative nutritious grains, driving the adoption of innovative farm practices. The introduction of alternative sources of fertilizer will help reduce the country’s reliance on food imports,” he said.

Without any doubt these alarms, alerts and warnings by concerned agencies and organizations across the globe should be regarded as a red flag for Nigeria where the twin problem of insecurity and climate change is already making farming hopelessly unattractive to the people. The seeming enthusiasm of President Muhammadu Buhari and his justification for unilateral border closure (for a long time) was too simplistic to explain the unfolding dangerous trend in the nation’s agriculture. According to the United National Food and Agriculture Organisation, about 19.4 million people will face food insecurity across Nigeria between June and August 2022.

At the risk of re-stating the obvious, Nigerians are already thoroughly traumatised by raging terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and sundry criminality that make farming and other economic activities most deadly adventures. A direct consequence of this is a food crisis, long predicted in a 2020 Global Report on Food Crises, jointly released by the Food Security Information Network and other groups. The report had warned that Nigeria was set to experience a lean food supply crisis as more than seven million people would suffer acute hunger.

Subsequently, a World Food Programme report said that 15 countries, including Nigeria, were currently afflicted with “very high levels of hunger.” It admonished world leaders to be proactive, as conflict and economic crises could escalate the situation. Regrettably, the advice was not heeded in Nigeria as the country was already unavoidably deep in a food crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic had also hit hard on the economy. Already, food prices have risen very sharply, worsened by high energy and transportation costs.

Among other factors, the FAO had identified insecurity, especially insurgency in many northern states as drivers of the lingering food crisis, noting that no part of the country was free from the “blood-soaked grip of insecurity.” Details of the FAO report show that in November 2020, about 76 peasant farmers were gruesomely massacred by Boko Haram insurgents in Borno State.

The insurgents claimed the attacks were carried out as retribution for the farmers’ cooperation with the Nigerian military. The Presidency even blamed the farmers for not getting clearance from the military before going to their farms. Similar experiences were replicated in Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, and Plateau states, where farmers have been on the receiving end of a seemingly endless orgy of violence orchestrated by murderous herdsmen forcibly evicting farmers to make way for their cattle.

The ‘World Wealth Report’ published in 2019 had identified three main reasons for lack of access to food – conflict, climate change and a weak economy. All are present in Nigeria, and regrettably exacerbated by poor governance. Unarguably, efforts should be made to crush insurgency and criminality.

Aside from the insecurity that practically eliminates the farmers, the poor state of infrastructure in the rural areas where a large percentage of the farming population resides is a major disincentive to the country’s efforts at ensuring food security. The compelling need for providing good rural roads, off-grid electricity using solar so as to make life and living more conducive for rural populace cannot be overemphasised. And truly, state governments need to accord topmost priority to rural infrastructure and agriculture with strong private sector participation. All said, the current situation, if allowed it subsists, is obviously a leeway to arriving at the predicted doom of food crises. We pray the predictions do not turn an ineluctable fate for Nigeria!

  • Okeke, an economist, sustainability expert and business strategy consultant, is a Columnist with National Daily. He can be reached at: [email protected]