“Hunger is looming! That was the alarming but candid submission of Dr Madu Obiora, the Director General of the African Centre for Supply Chain (ACSC) at a recent stakeholders’ engagement on the rising food insecurity in Nigeria, the causes, and how to mitigate it.
‘Hunger looms in the land, every year, more people are entering the food insecure net and the number keeps rising, I can tell you that hunger is coming if we do not do anything about the rising issue of food supply chain disruption,’ he disclosed.
It is an understatement to assert that hunger looms, the situation is degenerating from normal to bad hunger, with consequences being mainly insecurity of lives and property.
It gets more worrisome. In October 2022, Cadre Harmonisé, a government-led and United Nations UN-supported food and nutrition analysis raised an alarm that nearly 25 million Nigerians are at risk of facing hunger between June and August 2023 (lean season) if urgent action is not taken.
This is a projected sharp increase from the estimated 17 million people currently at risk of food insecurity.
Factors responsible for this dire projection are linked to continued conflict, climate change, inflation, and rising food prices which are identified as key drivers of this alarming trend.
Food access has been affected by persistent violence in the north-east states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY States) and armed banditry and kidnapping in states such as Katsina, Sokoto, Kaduna, Benue, and Niger.
Of the 17 million people who are currently food insecure, 3 million are in the northeast BAY states. Without immediate action, this figure is expected to increase to 4.4 million in the lean season.
This includes highly vulnerable displaced populations and returnees who are already struggling to survive a large-scale humanitarian crisis in which 8.3 million people need assistance.
“The food security and nutrition situation across Nigeria is deeply concerning,” said Mr Matthias Schmale, the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria. “I have visited nutrition stabilization centres filled with children who are fighting to stay alive. We must act now to ensure they and others get the lifesaving support they need.”
Speaking also on the factors that are fuelling food insecurity, Dr Innocent Okuku, Vice President, West African Fertilizer Association (WAFA) pinpointed insecurity in many parts of the country as many farmers have now abandoned their farms while others are unable to get the required work-force to the farms.
“Many farmers cannot even go to the farm in many parts of the country because of insecurity like banditry, kidnappings and the likes, to even move labour to the farms is a constraint as well” he lamented.’’
This was also buttressed by Dr Obiora who pointed out that there are so many farm produce that have perished because they are unable to get to the final consumer.
“Today, many areas in Nigeria are in surplus of agricultural produce but they cannot get to town. Banditry and violence are disruptions to farming in Nigeria” he pointed out.
Extreme weather conditions as a result of climate change have also been fingered as being responsible for this worrisome development.
According to the National Emergency Management Agency, widespread flooding in the 2022 rainy season damaged more than 676,000 hectares of farmlands, which diminished harvests and increased the risk of food insecurity for families across the country.
More extreme weather patterns affecting food security are anticipated in the future.
A nexus has also been established between rising food prices and the escalating inflation in Nigeria which hit a staggering high of 22.41% in May 2023, up by 4.7% recorded in May in the previous year. Food inflation also rose to 24.82%.
Prices of food items have surged recently. According to Pricepally, a food price tracking platform, shortly before the June 2023 Eid-al-Adha celebrations, tomatoes (3.2 kg) rose to ₦11,000 at Ajah market, a 124% increase from March. Scotch bonnet pepper grew by at least 19% at Jakande, Ajah, and Oyingbo markets, the prices have continued to rise.
At Ajah market, bell pepper (tatashe) and cayenne pepper increased by 38% and 23%, respectively. Meanwhile, between March and June, the price of onions rose by 62% to reach ₦4,500 in Jakande, Ajah, and Oyingbo markets.
Other staple food items like Rice, garri, yam, and vegetable oil also witnessed exponential increases in recent times.
A bag of short-grain rice which sold for between N28,000 -N30, 000 now sells for about N43,000 and increases daily. A 25-liter keg of vegetable oil which previously sold for about N25,000 now has a market price of N38,000 while a bunch of plantains now sells for between N6,000 and N8,000 as against N3,000 to N4,000. Similarly, a bag of garri which previously carries a price tag of N14,000 or N15,000 now sells for N20,000.
Worried by this alarming development, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a few days ago after a meeting with stakeholders on agriculture and food production value-chain declared a state of emergency on food security.
“As a direct and immediate response to this crisis, a number of initiatives will be deployed in the coming weeks to reverse this inflationary trend and guarantee future uninterrupted supplies of affordable foods to ordinary Nigerians,” Tinubu had said through his Special Adviser to the President on Special Duties, Communications and Strategy, Dele Alake.
As a country, Mr. President has made it clear that we cannot be comfortable with seasonal farming. We can no longer afford to have farming down times.
We shall create and support a National Commodity Board that will review and continuously assess food prices as well as maintain a strategic food reserve that will be used as a price stabilisation mechanism for critical grains and other food items.
“Through this board, the government will moderate spikes and dips in food prices.”
The Special Adviser said the board would consist of stakeholders from the National Commodity Exchange (NCX), seed companies, National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) research institutes, NIRSAL microfinance bank, food processing/ agric processing associations, among others.
On how Nigeria can achieve food security, Okuku highlighted the need to build a resilient food supply chain.
He pointed out the need to improve local production and distribution of farm inputs and improve regional integration across West Africa as some of the ways Nigeria can achieve food security.
“We need to establish strategic reserves for inputs and outputs of agricultural products and expand on our investment in infrastructure to drive down the cost of logistics and distribution of farm produce. An effective and efficient supply chain management is absolutely critical to achieving food security”.
Unfortunately, you cannot be food secure if you don’t have an efficient supply chain system in place.
It is not all about the farmer producing the food but also for those who require the food to be able to access them in the market where the consumers will get them from, all of that is a supply chain function.
So, without an effective supply chain, we cannot even produce” he pointed out.
Dr Obiora is of the opinion that disruption in the supply chain further affected Nigeria’s already problematic supply chain.
“Creating resilience is actually strengthening our supply chain. Before COVID-19, our supply chain was already problematic. The quantity of perishable foods that Nigeria loses every year either because they were unable to get to where they will be sold or lack of an effective supply chain, is unimaginable.
According to him, the food items also need to move from the farm to the market where consumers will access them.
He said the intermodal transport system is also critical to making the supply chain system resilient, but Nigeria depends only on roads to move goods.
“Nigeria’s network of roads is not sufficient and the cost of moving farm produce by road is higher but if we have a functional rail system, the cost would be lower. We have inland waterways, but our rivers are not properly dredged to move large food items and there are a number of things that must be put in place because Nigeria has a broken supply chain system”.
The quantity of perishable foods that Nigeria loses every year either because they were unable to get to where they will be sold or lack of an effective supply chain, is unimaginable” he said.
Okuku also agrees that the government needs to work on improving infrastructure, adding that the private sector will come into the country to invest in order to provide efficient services once the environment is right.
On his part, Prof Samuel Odewunmi, a Professor of Transport, Environment and Logistics at the School of Transport and Logistics, Lagos State University, Ojo, there are many areas in the country that are in the surplus of agricultural products but unable to move the product to where they are required, so, there is a need to build a resilient food supply chain.
“There are several issues causing disruption including transportation and logistics. As of today, many areas are in possession of a surplus of agricultural materials but unable to bring them to where they are needed.
How do we build a robust resilient system that even when these disruptions come, we will be able to rise up and continue on our way? We cannot assume that in the present world that we are in that disruptions won’t come” he pointed out.