Since the beginning of time, food has been a necessity. It is the great bridge between hunger and satisfaction. The need to feed is second perhaps only to the need to breathe. Food is required for survival.
Food is the fuel that the body needs to function optimally. The human body can be thought of as an engine that releases the energy present in the foods that it digests. This is why the importance of food cannot be overstated.
Sadly, as important as food is, many individuals do not have access to adequate quantities of it. This is food insecurity. Food insecurity is prevalent across the African continent, particularly in Nigeria, and this is a cause of concern.
Food insecurity refers to the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. On the other hand; food security, according to the United Nations World Food Council, is the ability of all people to have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary requirements.
Food security and nutrition are at the core of all nations’ development agenda, as seen in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which contain commitments to ending hunger, achieving food security and eradicating all forms of malnutrition.
However, Africa is nowhere near achieving any of the aforementioned goals.
The most recent estimates of food insecurity reveal that approximately 218 million people are undernourished and food-insecure in sub-Saharan Africa. The implication of this is that one out of four persons in the region do not have adequate dietary energy supply.
Estimates also show that, on average, one out of four individuals above 15 years of age have experienced severe food insecurity based on self-reported individual experiences.
In Nigeria, the statistics are also worsening. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has only made the situation dimmer.
The latest Cadre Harmonisé analysis (November 2019) indicates that there an estimated 2.6 million people facing severe food insecurity in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, excluding other northeastern states in Nigeria.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation has projected that an additional 6.6 million people in the three states are likely to be severely food insecure from June to September 2020 – traditionally the dry season in the North-East.
Other factors that cause this issue to continue to linger include poverty and national insecurity. Take northeastern Nigeria for instance, the Boko Haram insurgency has led to heightened levels of malnutrition and food insecurity.
Insecurity in many of the rural communities has made it practically impossible for many farmers to continue to engage in agricultural production, thus affecting productivity and causing market disruptions, with attendant food price shocks.
This has put already impoverished host communities, putting them under extreme pressure, reducing availability and accessibility to food crops. Lootings and fear of attacks have prevented many farmers from working in their fields, leading to the loss of harvests and productive assets.
To make progress and achieve success in tackling food insecurity, certain things need to be done.
First, the agricultural sector must be transformed and adequately funded to improve the quality of seedlings and agricultural inputs. There also has to be increased research into plant breeding and the development of high yield crops will boost the production of food harvests in the country.
Secondly, governments need to ensure that the right kind of fertilizers are available at the right prices, and at the right times. Irrigation and aquacultural policies must be implemented across all states, especially in the arid regions.
Of course, the improvement of rural infrastructure, such as roads, is crucial to raising agricultural productivity. The provision of better incentives to farmers, including the introduction of food subsidies, will raise overall agricultural outputs. This will go a long way to equally improve the economy of the country in general.
Finally, to achieve food security, the federal government should provide financial loans to farmers and adequate funding to agricultural research institutes. There must also be multi-sectoral planning and co-operation between the agro-allied, health and nutritional sectors.
Of course, the starting point is national security. People need to feel safe to go about their lawful duties, including farming. With diligent implementation of these measures, food insecurity will hopefully become a thing of the past.
Reginald Onabu, Researcher and Public Relations Officer, Writes from Lagos.