On page 4 of The Guardian newspaper of Tuesday, January 17, 2023, we find a news headline that states: “25m Nigerians at risk of severe hunger in 2023, FAO warns.” Under this news headline, we read about the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO’s) warning that some 25 million Nigerians are at risk of severe hunger between June and August this year (2023).
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) identified the main causes of hunger to include persistent conflicts, climate change, inflation, and rising food prices. In addition, currency depreciation has also been listed as a factor in the problem. The FAO noted that access to food has been affected by unrelenting terrorism in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States, as well as banditry and abductions in Katsina, Sokoto, Kaduna, Benue and Niger states.
It also recalled that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) reported that last year’s flooding claimed more than 676,000 hectares of farmland, diminishing harvests and increasing food insecurity across Nigeria, thereby contributing to the risk of hunger. The FAO, a UN agency, further stated that more extreme weather patterns affecting starvation are anticipated in the future.
The above-mentioned newspaper report also highlighted the fact that children are the most vulnerable to food insecurity. It stated that approximately six of the 17 million food insecure Nigerians today are children under the age of 5, living in Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara states. There is a serious risk of mortality among children, attributed to acute malnutrition. In the BAY states (Borno, Adamawa and Yobe) alone, the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition is expected to increase from 1.74 million in 2022 to two million in 2023.
The FAO Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Matthias Schmale, pointed out that UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), working with government and partners such as MSF and ALIMA, is investing in scaling up preventive nutrition interventions, while ensuring that vulnerable children have access to life-saving nutrition services. He further stated: “The food security and nutrition situation across Nigeria is deeply concerning. I have visited nutrition stabilisation centres filled with children, who are fighting to stay alive. We must act now to ensure they and others get the life-saving support they need.”
What can help reduce this risk of severe hunger? There is an urgent need for financial support. Also, apart from funding, there is also a need to revive and transform our agricultural and food systems to, among other things, deliver improved nutrition. All stakeholders need to redouble their efforts to boost food sufficiency and improve nutrition. It is not just about feeding people, it is also about providing the necessary nutrients for a healthy life.
Also, Nigeria has been grappling with security challenges, especially in the North-East and Middle-Belt areas of the country. This has also affected agriculture/farming in such areas, as many people are being hindered from planting or harvesting crops. If all these security challenges are properly addressed, it can help to reduce the high-risk hunger of famine.
Climate change is another factor that contributes to famine and hunger. Climate change refers to the increase in temperatures in the atmosphere over a long period of time. How does climate change affect the food supply? Floods and droughts brought on by climate change make it harder to produce food. Erratic rainfall patterns can also severely disrupt local food production. As a result, the price of food increases and access becomes more and more limited, putting many at higher risk of hunger.
The primary cause of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, which emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – primarily carbon dioxide. Unless climate change is reduced by substantial reductions of greenhouse gases, it will greatly increase hunger and famine, especially in the poorest parts of the world.
It is also important to note that preventing further spread of acute food shortages must start with producing food where it is needed the most. Prevention of hunger and famine must begin in the rural areas where people coping with high levels of food insecurity live. The focus in such areas should be on growing food where it is needed the most and keeping animals alive. This can help to stabilise and increase local food production, in order to prevent a breakout of famine.
In more isolated rural areas especially, the critical role of local and backyard food production in keeping families alive cannot be overemphasized. The importance of sustaining livestock can also not be overstated. Also, just one cup of milk a day can make the difference between life and death!
God’s Word, the Bible, comforts us with the hope of a time when there will be no food shortage and hunger. In Psalm 72:16 we read: “There will come to be plenty of grain on the earth; on the top of the mountains there will be an overflow.” (See also: Isaiah 49:10 and Revelation 7:16, 17).
By Daniel Ighakpe,