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Mitigating intolerable hunger in the land

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THAT Nigeria placed a distant 98th position out of 107 countries rated in the latest Global Hunger Index though unfortunate, might not have come to many as a surprise but true reflection of the acute food shortages experienced by citizens nationwide and we challenge governments to quickly ameliorate the rising food crisis.

We are deeply worried that at a time the human race is battling a deadly pandemic, COVID-19 and its devastating consequences, millions of citizens are unable to feed well while others are at risk of looming starvation especially in the North East geo-political zone that had been ravaged by Boko Haram terrorists in the past 12 years.
A clear indication of the worsening food crisis is evident in the latest survey across major markets in the country where the prices of most services, goods and staple food items such as rice, beans, garri, plantain, yam, beef,  palm oil, fish, pepper, tomatoes, onions, bread, egg and groundnut oil and cereals, potatoes, vegetables, alcoholic and food beverages have skyrocketted by over 20 per cent and gone almost beyond the reach of the low and middle income earners.
Specifically, food inflation, rose 21.03 per  cent in July 2021 compared to 21.83 per cent in June 2021, reflecting the continued rise in food prices in June, though at a slightly slower speed than it did in June last year, according to the latest report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) that also put the Consumer Price Index which measures inflation at 17.38% (year-on-year) in July 2021.
We demand an immediate, proactive and appropriate response by the governments and other stakeholders to tackle the food scarcity and increasing prices to save many less privileged citizens from starvation and ultimately, a major humanitarian crisis.
Before now, there had been strident cries by many concerned citizens of the worsening insecurity in the land manifesting in forms of terrorism, banditry, killer Fulani herdsmen and kidnapping, that have forced hundreds of farmers to abandon their farmlands. This posed threat to food security which unfortunately, the Federal Government failed to tackle decisively to guarantee safety of lives and property of the people.
Similarly, we further note that other underlining factors, such as poor storage facilities, climate change, rising cost of energy and logistics, stifling government’s policies, natural  disasters, the Coronavirus pandemic, devaluation of the Naira, closure of land borders, rising demand have immensely contributed to the increasing food scarcity, its attendant soaring prices, hunger and poor living standard.
In our view, therefore, it is a combination of these factors as well as the inability of the Federal and State Governments to rise up to the challenges and render necessary incentives to farmers and fishermen for improved agricultural yield that has plunged the country into the current avoidable food crisis amid increasing poverty level which has driven many people especially the poor, into criminality since the devil finds work for the idle hand.
It is regrettable and an irony also, that the above unsavoury scenario is playing out in a largely agrarian country blessed with rich arable land, favourable weather with over 70 per cent of her population made up of mostly farmers  coupled with rising youth unemployment, cost of goods and services due to inflation.
The larger implication of these factors, we believe, is that the country currently has insufficient quantities of food items to meet demand and may likely miss out in the current global push, under the Social Development Goals Two: “to attain zero hunger by 2030” if all hands are not on deck by stakeholders to keep the country nourished through increased food cultivation and preservation.
We are, therefore, not surprised but saddened that Nigeria recently ranked 98 among 107 nations rated on Global Hunger Index and further adjudged as attaining a critical hunger level with a proportion of undernourished people in the population rising from 7.6 per cent in 2012 to 12.6 per cent in 2020 at a time the most populous black nation is reeling as the poverty capital of the world with over 80 million citizens fallen below the poverty line.
It is against this backdrop that the recent alarm by the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General, Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, decrying the pitiable conditions of Nigerians must be taken very seriously by the relevant authorities even as he challenged Governors to ensure that there is adequate supply of food in the face of global food shortage.
According to him, the standard of living among most Nigerians had dipped and the poverty level reached unacceptable level declaring at a summit in Gombe State, organised by the Da’awah Coordination Council of Nigeria (DCCN) that, “What I am saying and I can say it anywhere, we must tell ourselves the whole truth. Let’s not deceive ourselves that things are getting better. A hungry man is an angry man. We must check the poverty level in this country. Without food, there will be no peace and without peace, there will be no security.”
We believe that more than ever before, it is imperative for the powers-that-be especially President Muhammadu Buhari, the 36 states governors as well as members of the Federal and State Executive Councils to heed the monarch’s timely counsel as a national priority to quickly and decisively tackle the current security challenges in order for displaced farmers to return to their farms because there cannot be any meaningful social and economic development when lives and property are not guaranteed.
It is commendable that the global community through the United Nations, UN, has taken keen interest in the unfolding precarious food situation in the North East which informed the decision of the Secretary-General, António Guterres to establish a task force in collaboration with other aid organisations to address food insecurity in Northern Nigeria.
Reacting to statistics predicting that 4.4 million people, including internally-displaced persons, IDPs, face critical food shortages, with 775,000 people being at extreme risk of catastrophic food insecurity this year, he observed that “this is the worst outlook in four years,” adding that humanitarian community is working with the government and local authorities to scale up the distribution of food in high-risk areas such as Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.
It should be noted that the UN also, has estimated that a total of  8.7 million people in Nigeria including 2.2 million IDPs desperately need urgent assistance in food supply.
To mitigate the food shortages and looming aggravated hunger nationwide, we challenge the Federal and State Governments to immediately think outside the box in implementing agricultural policies that will encourage more Nigerians into commercial agriculture since experience has shown that subsistence and small scale farming cannot meet increasing food demand of over 200 million citizens.
This calls for immediate action and not rhetorics by stakeholders even as we welcome the  N12.3 billion from the Federal Government earmarked as agricultural subsidy to about 2.2 million farmers. We demand that  money of this laudable initiative should immediately get directly to the hands of the farmers and not to be diverted like other past interventions or palliative measures to members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
In our view, this should be undertaken diligently alongside Anchors Borrowers Programme designed by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to assist farmers boost rice production in the country while the states must roll out incentives including making agricultural inputs readily available to genuine farmers and fishermen affordable cost.
Efforts should also be intensified by government to assist small scale businesses into the sale of foodstuffs in the provision of storage facilities especially for sellers of perishable goods like tomatoes, pepper, fruits who should be encouraged to form cooperative societies to stop further wastes.
We believe that to attain food security in the short run and for citizens to afford three square meals daily, Nigeria requires a collective and urgent collaborative effort among the stakeholders including the public, private, non-profit and development sector to boost farmers’ productivity, reduce the high rates of post-harvest losses, massively improve value addition, local processing, ensure market linkages and above all frontally address insecurity challenge across the country which has kept considerable number of farmers out of farmlands. The time to act is now.
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