Food Systems, Nutrition And Lifestyle
Food is consumed mostly for survival in Nigeria. Like other developing countries, little to no attention is paid to the nutrient constituents and the impact of food on health. In 2021, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group reported that 91 million Nigerians now live below the poverty line and the figures are increasing significantly.
According to the UN, 9.2 million Nigerians constitute 6% of the global population with food consumption gaps and depleted livelihoods with Nigeria currently ranking 103 out of 116 countries assessed with a Global Hunger Index of 28.3% with at least 5% of the global burden of under-nutrition and more than 14 million malnourished children. Hence, it is expected that most Nigerians mix ingredients just to keep moving.
Institutional problems are plaguing ‘Nigeria’s food system’ which is a complex system encompassing all the people and processes from the farm through processing, transport, sales, and consumption.
Additionally, she suffers food value chain inefficiencies which have negatively impacted food security, quality and safety. As such, the absence of reliable and quantitative evidence on food losses and waste limits research and present a huge difficulty in making informed decisions and developing tailored strategies to address the myriad challenges in the Nigerian food system. Insecurity in forms of conflict, banditry, terrorism and kidnapping which has spread from the North East to all parts of Nigeria has greatly prevented her from attaining her full potential as the giant of Africa with her sub-optimally harnessed 34 million hectares of arable land.
The smallholder farmers who make up 80% of farmers in Nigeria are also affected by the insecurity as they are killed and displaced, leading to poor farm yield and loss of livelihood due to fear of being kidnapped or killed on their farmlands. While the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the weak health system in Nigeria, there is an even bigger epidemic, which is the National syndemic of a weakened food system, hunger, double burden of malnutrition, food waste, poverty, and insecurity. The aforementioned have completely thrown Nigeria off-track in achieving the food and agriculture-related SDGs by 2030. The population and health indices of a people only provide a true representation of the conditions of the people and the figures are negatively alarming.
The pandemic has further revealed an increase in diet-related diseases among Nigerians, including youths who are presumed to be healthier with a strong immune system. These diseases range from cardiovascular diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels, stroke, diabetes, obesity, cancer, dental diseases, kidney stones, osteoporosis and the list goes on. Unhealthy lifestyles have also predisposed the average Nigerian to degenerative diseases, thereby reducing their life expectancy, which is currently among the lowest in the continent and globally at 60.87 years (59 years for males and 63 years for females).
The average Nigerian is sedentary when he/she is not hustling. They are either in traffic, doing a 9-5 job which continues at home, and as such, spend more time in one position. The weekends are usually to sleep, relax, and consume high amounts of ultra-processed food and drinks, alcohol and tobacco products. The vicious cycle is endless and intentionally drastic lifestyle changes are expected to ease this syndemic in Nigeria, from buying local and eating healthy, prioritising all food groups in an adequate and balanced diet, drinking water, controlling portions to minimise food waste, exercising and leading healthy lifestyles. It may be difficult considering our peculiarities in Nigeria, but with commitment and determination, it is achievable.
Beauty Ezinne Japhet is a research analyst at Solina Centre for International Development and Research.
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