Nigerians and the government need to act fast or face the consequences of famine.

The world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, the United Nations has said.

UN Humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien said more than 20 million people are facing the threat of starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme have warned that 8.2 million Nigerians may starve to death in the next 3 months.

The organisations jointly stated that: “Missing the upcoming season starting in May is likely to result in a serious protracted livelihoods crisis with consequences stretching into 2018.” 

A recent report by the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) revealed that Nigeria is expected to face famine in 2017.

The report says the rampage of Boko Haram insurgents contributed negatively to market activity and normal livelihoods for Nigerians.

The report further disclosed that an estimate of 70 million people across 45 countries will require emergency food assistance this year.

                                                             Credit: Davenpost

A Country Living In Past Glory

Nigeria has huge agricultural potential.

With over 84 million hectares of arable land, of which only 40% is cultivated; a population of 167 million people, making her Africa’s largest market; 230 billion cubic meters of water; and abundant and reliable rainfall in over two thirds of its territory,

The country has some of the richest natural resources for agricultural production in the world.

Not surprisingly, Nigeria used to be a major player in the global agricultural market, as the world’s largest producer of groundnuts and palm oil in the 1960s, and the second largest exporter of cocoa.

The country was also self-sufficient in food production before the emergence of oil in the 1960s according to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

In the past four years, Nigeria’s agriculture sector has undergone major reforms and transformation.

The introduction of Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) brought about modifications in the input delivery or Growth Enhancement Support (GES) Scheme, agricultural financing and value chain development.

This includes the Staple Crop Processing Zones, and farm mechanization which have yielded abundant harvest for farmers and great gains for the country. 

Between 2011 and 2014, national food production grew by 21 million MT and led to a sharp reduction in food imports.  Nigeria’s food import bill fell from an all-time high of N3.19 trillion in 2011 to N635 billion in 2013; a 403% reduction.  Direct farm jobs rose by 3.56 million in the period 2012 to 2014.

This has, however, changed as the country is presently experiencing scarcity of food along with increase in the prices of stable items.

farmland

                                          Credit: AgroNigeria

The War Against Terror

The Federal Government said in January that the food crisis caused by the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East might linger.

It said this was because farmers in the North East and some towns in neighbouring countries were unable to farm for 6 years.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said that the Boko Haram insurgency affected 7 countries and more than 20 million people.

A former Director of the Economic Financial Crimes Commission in Nigeria, Chido Onumah, reacting to the effect of insurgency also pointed out that corruption led to Boko Haram, which equally led to insurgency that is about to cause famine.

He adds that the lack of political will to define clearly what polices to pursue in terms of agriculture has escalated cases of food scarcity.

There have been repeated warnings about the effects of food shortages caused by the Boko Haram conflict, which has killed over 100,000 people and left 2.6 million homeless since 2009.

But despite the huge numbers involved, the situation has received little attention compared with other humanitarian crises around the world - even within Nigeria.

The United Nations said nearly 250,000 children under 5 could suffer from severe malnutrition in 2016 in Borno state alone.

A nutrition specialist with the UN children's fund Unicef, Dr Bamidele Omotola, said global acute malnutrition rates are "far, far, far above what [we find] in an emergency situation".

"I do remember that the last time we had such serious cases was like when we had the Nigerian civil war (from 1967-70)," he added.

Boko Haram

                                        Credit: AFP

Operation Feed the Nations

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) have partnered to ensure farmers have necessary inputs, particularly in northeast Nigeria, which is suffering the most.

Besides assistance to small scale subsistence farmers, WFP and FAO are partnering further to ensure joint emergency food assistance, agriculture and livelihoods support to internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees and host communities in the northeast.

The joint response intends to reduce food consumption gaps and needs, treat and prevent acute malnutrition and rebuild livelihoods of vulnerable affected populations.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) say they are targeting provision of food and livelihood for 1.8 million persons in two Northern states.

Mr Douglas Mercado, the Deputy Country Director of WFP, said this at the National Consolidation Workshop on Cadre Harmonize of Food and Nutrition Insecurity Analysis in 16 states of Northern Nigeria.

Mercado said in Abuja that the move was to assist vulnerable households to recover their livelihoods and achieve food security following the crisis in the area.

He said the assistance would come through the distribution of food items and cash transfers of N23, 000 each to the affected persons.

“By December last year, we reached one million people in Yobe state through food distribution, cash transfer and supplementary nutrition.

“We plan to scale up to reach 1.8 million people between April and May. We will continue to use the Cadre Harmonise’ to reach the most vulnerable food insecure people in Yobe and Borno.

“We are trying to reach the most vulnerable households and provide them with assistance. In areas where we have their markets functioning, we try to give them cash based transfer so that they can buy their own foods.

“For those places with functional markets, we distribute food items to them. We have made a lot of difference in terms of food in Nigeria since last year.’’

Also, Mr Patrick David, the FAO’s Officer-in-Charge of Nigeria, said that no fewer than 10 million people were under threat of food crisis in 16 Northern states of the country.

He listed the states to include Jigawa, Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Adamawa, Niger, Benue, Zamfara, Kaduna, Kano, Gombe, Plateau, Taraba, Sokoto, Kebbi and Katsina.

David said the organisation was working with WFP and other donor agencies to ensure food security in the states.

The World Bank said it is working on a financial package of more than $1.6 billion to build social protection systems, strengthen community resilience and maintain service delivery vulnerable countries afflicted by famine.

The bank’s President, Jim Yong Kim, said the aid would assist millions in sub-Saharan Africa and Yemen.

World Bank is mobilising an immediate response for Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

The financial package includes existing operations of over $870 million that would help communities threatened by famine.

Ongoing conflicts and civil insecurity are further intensifying the food insecurity of millions of people across the region, and there is already widespread displacement and other cross-border spillovers.

Drought conditions also extend to Uganda and parts of Tanzania.

The last famine was declared in 2011 in Somalia during which 260,000 people died.

The last time Nigeria too experienced famine was in the post-Biafra era in the early 80s where over 1 million Nigerians died.

Would the government fold his hands and allow a repeat of the post-Biafra era?