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World Food Day: Conflicts push 12.8m Nigerians to hunger

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
15 October 2021   |   4:22 am
Tomorrow is World Food Day; but despite assurances by President Muhammadu Buhari to make N600 billion loan facility available to 2.4 million farmers in the country, situations and forecasts have shown that Nigeria may face food insecurity...

[FILES] A trader display farm produce at Wuse Market, Abuja, Nigeria, on August 17, 2021. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

• Nigeria third of 15 African countries facing greatest food insecurity
• IDPs in Benue, nation’s food basket, about 2m
• ‘Nigeria to depend on food imports, smuggling till 2050’

Tomorrow is World Food Day; but despite assurances by President Muhammadu Buhari to make N600 billion loan facility available to 2.4 million farmers in the country, situations and forecasts have shown that Nigeria may face food insecurity, massive importation or smuggling till 2050 or beyond if drastic steps are not taken.

A World Bank forecast by the Foreign Affairs Service (FAS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Lagos Office’s forecast 2020/2021 has predicted Nigeria’s population will rise to about 400 million (392 million) by 2050, and the country will increasingly be reliant on imported foods because local agriculture is unable to keep up with surging food demand.

Also, a report released yesterday by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies said conflict remains the primary driver of acute food insecurity in Africa, affecting over 100 million people. According to the report, an estimated 106 million Africans face acute food insecurity—an Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) of Phase 3 (crisis) and above. This represents a doubling in the number of people experiencing acute food insecurity since 2018.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is experiencing “one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.” An estimated 26.2 million people (about 27 per cent of DRC’s population) are facing acute food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 & 4), the largest of any single African country. This is primarily because of ongoing armed violence and inter-communal conflicts in the country as well as the population displacement such violence has caused.

Of the 12 out of 15 African countries facing the greatest food insecurity presently, Nigeria comes third with a projected 12.8 million people experiencing acute food shortage, coming after DRC and Ethiopia. Not only does conflict cause death and destruction, it also leads to mass displacement, further exacerbating food insecurity.

The country cannot produce enough sequel to impacts of climate change, Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, escalating farmer/herder crisis, compounded by low investments in the agricultural sector and the COVID-19 pandemic, the report says.

It further listed other factors hampering efforts to increase food production despite political emphasis on agriculture to include inadequate agrochemicals, low-yielding varieties, small-scale production, minimal industrialisation of produce and nationwide insecurity.

The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported in May that Benue State, the food basket of the nation, had more than one million displaced people, although local government estimates put that figure much higher. Though official figures had it that over 1.5 million IDPs are taking refuge in several official and unofficial camps as well as host communities spread across the state, latest figures put the number of IDPs in the state at close to 1.8 million, a development that is way beyond the carrying capacity of the state government.

Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, said he fears the repercussions of rural flight on food output and the overall economy. “This crisis portends a great danger to the growth and development of Nigeria. Without adequate security, there can’t be farming to produce food for our people,” he said.

Benue produces food staples such as yam, rice, beans, and maize. It supplies 70 per cent of Nigeria’s soybean, according to the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission.

As evident in the high cost of food items, production data collated by different sources show Nigeria is deficient in major grains, such as maize, wheat and rice, which constitute major sources of staples in the country.

“The Government of Nigeria’s declining revenues are also expected to constrain farmers’ access to funds, including the availability of Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) funds to rice farmers. Declining government revenues along with heavy economic cost of lockdown restrictions have worsened the country’s food supply chain,” the forecast added.

Critical food grains in the country are rice, maize, wheat, sorghum, soybeans and beans, but it produces less than what it consumes in all, except sorghum.

On wheat production for 2020/2021, production forecast is 55,000 metric tonness, whereas consumption forecast is at 4.5 million tonnes. Closing the production gap will take several years if the government does not heed the advice of former Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, who said investment in heat-tolerant wheat should be up-scaled and cultivated.

“Area harvested in the same marketing year is also expected to drop by 10,000 hectares, from 60,000 hectares the previous year,” the report added.

Explaining reasons for the predicted decline, it says: “In Nigeria, farmers do not live on the farms and wheat is planted by November and harvested around April.

“The lockdown measures across Nigeria, which started on March 30, 2020, restricted access to farms and resulted in higher post-harvest losses, including high harvesting and transportation costs.”

It added that production “has not increased in recent years despite collaborations among the Federal Government, Flour Millers Association of Nigeria (FMAN) and Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN).”

Maize is one of the most important crops for food and animal feeds in the country and cultivated in almost all states of the federation. However, commercial production is concentrated in Kaduna, Niger, Borno, Oyo, Plateau, Katsina, Gombe, Bauchi, Kogi, Nassarawa, Benue, Kwara and Taraba states. However, insecurity in most of the states, such as Borno, Kaduna, Niger and Kogi has shrunk production capacity significantly.

PwC analysis indicates that Nigeria is Africa’s second largest maize producer after South Africa and the 14th largest producer globally. Also, data from FAO puts Nigeria’s total maize production in 2019 at about 11 million tonnes harvested from over 6.8 million hectares of land. This production level represents a growth rate of 49 per cent relative to the production level recorded a decade earlier.

According to various data sources such as National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), the country’s yearly maize demand for human consumption and animal feed production ranges from 12 to 15 million tonnes.

This puts Nigeria’s maize production versus demand gap at roughly between two and four million tonnes yearly.

Stakeholders say closing the gap requires concerted efforts by players across the value chain, but poor investment, natural disasters, low-yielding varieties of seeds, poor agronomic practices and insecurity have made the efforts counterproductive.

On rice, estimate from Africa Rice Centre, Ibadan, indicates that Nigeria’s production is about 6.8 million tonnes, while consumption hovers around 7.8 million tonnes.

USDA report states that there has been a decline in production following the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, which coincided with rice planting period (mid-March to mid-April, 2020), constrained access to farms, and disrupted distribution of inputs and equipment for rice farm operations.

It is also predicted that declining revenues would limit fund availability to rice farmers for critical inputs such as fertiliser, improved seeds and seedlings. Also, increasing Boko Haram and bandits activities plus large-scale population displacements in the insurgency-infested areas also continue to severely affect agricultural activities.

A gap of 1.75 million tonnes is predicted to be closed by imports and smuggling, which is likely to increase as populations also increase.

REACTING, a leader of All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Ibrahim Kabir, said: “The resilience of smallholder farmers would be put to test if insecurity persisted. The way forward to avert the food shortage by 2050, he said, is to stem insecurity by taking the fight to the enemies.

“Also, the farming system should be dominated by mechanisation and smart agriculture all the way,” he added.

A grain breeder at the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Ibadan, Prof. Samuel Olakojo, said Nigeria has material, human and natural resources to sustain and guarantee food production, but bandits have disrupted productivity of farmers.

He highlighted one of the challenges as high cost of major inputs in agribusiness, compelling farmers to abandon farming and agribusiness. “Diesel is costing N290 to N300 per litre. No farm machine can be powered without diesel. Therefore, cost of food produced locally is higher and prices could not compete in the same market with smuggled products.”

To forge ahead, Olakojo said climate change and its attendant effects should be systematically and comprehensively addressed as drought, soil degradation, flood, and desert encroachment were hampering food production.

He added: “The hope is still high for Nigeria in terms of sufficient food production and efficient distribution system if we are ready to cooperate with government and the government is sincere to deal with and fix our national security challenge.”

Chairman of AFAN in Kano State, Abdulrasheed Magaji, said the World Bank forecast could become a reality due to mismanagement of little resources allocated to the sector.

“We have millions of hectares of arable land, multiple agricultural interventions, both in-house through CBN and international donors or development agencies, but they are flagrantly abused and manipulated for personal benefits by those entrusted to execute them without being penalised.”

President, Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN), Adeola Adegoke, admitted that the situation of the country, such as insecurity and low investible resources into the sector is hampering production. He pointed to the direction of long-term food insecurity.

He, however, expressed optimism that if available resources could be harnessed properly and insecurity tackled with decisive actions, high food productivity would rebound, and the country might be able to produce what it would eat.

Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Livestock, Ibrahim Maigari Ahmadu, said: “About 70 per cent of states in the Northeast had experienced terrorists’ attacks and in the Northwest, it has been consistent rural banditry. Farmers no longer go to farms and the remaining few have relocated for safety. We may suffer food scarcity because farming activities have not been going on and we have been depending on a few states for some particular produce, especially in the North Central.”

MEANWHILE, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, has identified re-introduction of Growth Enhancement Scheme and e-wallet systems that would guarantee access to quality seeds and other inputs, as panacea for food insecurity. He said this at the Mid-Term Ministerial Performance Review Retreat of the Federal Government in Abuja earlier in the week.

To him, “the main reason for food insecurity is that farmers no longer have access to quality improved seeds, fertilizers, and farm inputs at large scale. Farmers across the country are asking for the Federal Government to restore, in their words, the popular Growth Enhancement Support Scheme and the e-Wallet system.”