The global food environment has continued to decline, with 29.6 percent (2.4 billion people) facing moderate or severe food insecurity in 2022. This decline is attributed to structural issues, including Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, which have slowed growth in the past three years. The Nigerian economy is also experiencing its share of food insecurity and has declared a state of emergency on food security recently. But what is food insecurity, and why should we care?
Food insecurity is centered on four key pillars, which include availability, affordability, quality and safety, as well as sustainability and adaptation. However, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defined food insecurity as the lack of regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development for an active and healthy life, due to unavailability and/or lack of resources to obtain food.
The remainder of this article provides an overview of food insecurity in Nigeria, the role of international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the government.
The Nigerian Case:
Given the definition of food insecurity, the 2022 Global Food Security Index report highlights Nigeria's position as the 107th out of 113 countries with food security, assessing performance across four pivotal pillars: affordability (25.0%), availability (39.5%), quality and safety (55.6%), and sustainability and adaptation (53.7%). Nigeria’s overall score of 42.0% underscores the multifaceted challenges confronting its food environment in recent years.
In addition, 17 million (45%) people are currently faced with food insecurity, with this number estimated to increase to 25 million by the end of 2023. Out of this number, 3 million are from states in the North-East region and are estimated to increase to 4.4 million by the lean season. States in the North-West are also having their share of the increasing food insecurity, with 2.9 million people at risk. Notably, children are impacted the most, with the malnutrition rate rising to 2 million in the North-East in 2023, posing a risk of high child mortality triggered by acute malnutrition.
However, the primary drivers of food insecurity in Nigeria encompass persistent conflict, the effects of climate change, inflation, and the escalation of food prices. Particularly in the North-East and North-West regions, factors such as armed banditry, kidnapping, and ongoing violence perpetrated by insurgent groups like Boko Haram and ISWAP significantly contribute to regional food insecurity. Concurrently, the North-Central region grapples with the longstanding farmers-herders crisis, further impacting overall food production. Moreover, widespread flooding poses a substantial threat to food security in Nigeria, as exemplified by the 2022 flood that damaged over 676,000 hectares of farmland, resulting in decreased food production and a heightened state of food insecurity.
According to data from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the trend in the number of people at risk of food insecurity over a seven-year period is consistently rising (see Figure 1). Notably, the figures reveal that the number of food insecure people escalated from 68.3 million individuals in 2016 to a staggering 148.7 million in 2022. This concerning progression underscores the urgent need for targeted interventions and sustainable strategies to address the escalating challenges of food insecurity in Nigeria.
Figure 1: Number of moderately and severely food insecure people, millions, 3-years average, 2014-2022
Role of International Organizations and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Curbing Food Insecurity in Nigeria
Over the years, Nigeria has recorded the presence of both international organizations and NGOs combating hunger and food insecurity, especially in the North-East. Organizations such as the World Food Programme and Action Against Hunger have been significant in the fight against food insecurity and achieving zero hunger (SDG 2).
Action Against Hunger has been present in Nigeria since 2021, executing a series of interventions aligning with their defined goals, which cut across nutrition and health, food security and livelihoods, access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, advocacy, and psychosocial support. Meanwhile, almost 3 million lives were impacted by these interventions in 2022, with nutrition and health being the major focus, affecting 1.8 million people.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has significantly contributed to this fight by supplying either food or cash transfers to support displaced people living in camps or within host communities, as well as vulnerable host populations. Also, they provide specialized nutritious food for children under 5 at risk of malnutrition, as well as pregnant and nursing women. Also, the WFP is scaling up its operations to reach 1.7 million people every month. The activities of these organizations have been significant in the fight against food insecurity and hunger in Nigeria.
Role of Government and Policies
In addition to the involvement of international organizations and NGOs, the Nigerian government has implemented measures to address food insecurity in the country. The most recent is the state of emergency declared on food insecurity by President Bola Tinubu on July 13, 2023. The decision was made following a spike in food prices resulting from fuel subsidy removal. The decision triggered an immediate release of fertilizers and grains to farmers and households to mitigate the effects of the subsidy removal, as well as the development of a plan to create a National Commodity Board that will review and continuously assess food prices and maintain a strategic food reserve that will be used as a price stabilisation mechanism for critical grains and other food items, among other outcomes.
Aside from the state of emergency, the government has put in other measures, of which the National Multi-sectoral Plan of Action for Food and Nutrition (NMPFAN) 2021–2025 is one. The NMPFAN was formulated in accordance with the National Policy on Food and Nutrition through collaboration among government sectors, development partners, academia, civil society organizations, and the organized private sector.
The goal of the plan was to attain optimal nutritional status for all through scaling up high nutrition specific and nutrition sensitive interventions. The specific objectives of the plan include improving food security at national, community, and household levels, reducing undernutrition among children, reducing micronutrient deficiency, and strengthening the system to provide early warning information on food and nutrition situations, among other objectives.
Despite these efforts by the government to curb food insecurity, a lot still needs to be done given the rate at which food insecurity is increasing in Nigeria, as evident in Figure 1 above. Initiatives focusing on agricultural development, economic empowerment, and social support systems are crucial to reversing this concerning trend and ensuring a more secure food future for the population.