The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) figures released late last year revealed that Somalia remains on the brink of famine, as 5.6 million people are in crisis or worse level of food insecurity.
The report projected that the figure is expected to rise to 6.4 million by March and 8.3 million by June, emphasising that the number of people in catastrophic levels of hunger (IPC Phase 5) is expected to double to 727,000.
Though the report focused mainly on the predicament of the east Africa country, but the startling evidence shows that almost all the countries in the continent, including Nigeria, are currently grappling with the issue of food security.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the country’s inflation rate jumped to a 17-year high of 21.09 per cent in October 2022, representing 0.32 per cent increase from 20.77 per cent recorded in September.
Sadly, the situation degenerated last December ahead of the festive period, when prices of basic food items increased at a double-digit percentage.
The Guardian learnt that many households couldn’t perform the yearly yuletide ‘rituals’ due to high cost of food commodities, as many were distraught by the weak household incomes and import pass-through costs.
But despite the reality on ground, the Federal Government claimed the country is food secured. Late last year, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammad Abubakar, said the country has enough food to feed all Nigerians. “We have enough food to take care of Nigerians. We are producing food across the country and we will continue to do so to feed Nigerians in line with our mandate and expedite the transformation of the rural communities of Nigeria.
“The fact that some categories of food are imported by Nigeria is not an indication that we have food shortages. The high cost of food that we experience in the country is as a result of rising inflation, which is not peculiar to Nigeria but due to the COVID-19 pandemic that forced many sectors of economic production to be shut down for many months.”
This statement has drawn varied reactions from stakeholders. The CEO of Fourteen Farms, Ifeware/Ife, Osun State, Julian Akinremi, said the country has never had it so bad in recent past. “We can’t say there is enough food, if the price of food doesn’t fall. The price of food has refused to come down, even in periods when we would normally have surplus and considerable drop on price of food items. We can’t say we experienced that in the recent past.
“I was with one of my mentors, a lecturer yesterday, and we spoke on how his rice farm was overrun by cattle. A large part of the crops were either consumed or destroyed.
“We know quite well that before the issue of farm insecurity came up, we were not producing enough for ourselves and we had to complement with imports. Now, more than ever, the cost of production has gone up, logistic cost is at all time high, processing cost is even higher. The current cost of hiring farm hands would certainly affect the cost of harvested crops later this year.”
Akinremi disclosed that a good number of factors that would ensure that food production is at its peak haven’t been put in their rightful place.
“Farm roads are not existing, people are scared of visiting farms or cultivating in areas where they would normally have had lots of farming activities all-year-round due to fear and losses before they can harvest what they have cultivated.
“We all know the cost of chicken and turkey about two to three weeks ago, it was between N10, 000 to N15, 000 and N25, 000 to N35, 000 per bird, respectively. Frozen chicken, which used to be between N1, 600 and N1, 800 per kg, is now between N2, 400 and N2, 600, egg, which used to be N1, 600 per crate is now N2, 200. I can go on and on for crops too.
“I can’t think of one commodity that is available and affordable to Nigerians, as it ought to be after harvests. The cost of dry plantain used for flour during the raining season when plantain is scarce, is the current cost now when it ought to be cheap. I am certain the price will go up by at least 10 to 15 per cent or more in few months time depending on the demand and economic situation.
“In a nutshell, the availability of food depends largely on security of the farmers, and the cost of food depends on the cost of production/processing. Until this week, we still have poor road networks in farms, cost of transport is at all time high, farmers still have to use old methods to harvest, bag and store foods and our post harvest handling techniques are still not as advanced as they ought to be.”
On his part, the Chief Executive Officer of Green Sahara Farms, Suleiman Dikwa, asked, “If we agree with the Federal Government that there is sufficient food in the system, what about affordability, a key aspect of food security?
While defining food security as the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food, Dikwa said two factors lead to availability of food.
“It has become the business of choice to launder money and the age-old practice of hoarding. The unstructured commodity market has seen factors other than actual or real demand by end users driving the cost of food items, the inflationary trend has been unrelenting and the recent policy by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to change the naira has seen illicit funds pumped into food commodities.”
He noted that if government claims that there is sufficient food in the system, inability of Nigerians to afford it is a serious food security problem.
Another farmer, Mr. Olatokunbo Kuyoro, said, “If there’s availability of food and the food is expensive, what do we call that? That means there’s scarcity because if there’s food everywhere, the price must have come down, but contrary, is the case, as price of commodities have kept going up everyday.
“If you buy something today, in the next 48 hours, the price would have changed. Who is deceiving who? There’s no way they can continue to deceive us.
“Those who suppose to be doing the farming in the North have been driven away by the Boko Harm insurgency; they are now coming to the South as commercial motorcycle riders. Let me use myself as an example, if not for the Boko Haram insurgency, I would have gone back to the North – Yola, where I have my farm.”
Kuyoro regretted that with the challenges facing the sector, the level of crop production has reduced, “except we want to deceive ourselves. Then, the Federal Government is not helping the matter, as regard the availability of some of the things needed on the farm – input and loan.
“Another issue is flooding, I grew rice somewhere in Mowe-Ibafo in Ogun State on 11 acres of farmland, I lost everything to flooding, it also affected the North too and other parts of the country, definitely, it has reduced crop production, and the quantity of food available in the market, hence the food crisis we are witnessing.”