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Published On: Mon, Sep 8th, 2014

Food self-sufficiency: Myth or reality?

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L-R: Managing Director, UTC Nigeria Plc, Mrs. Foluso Olaniyan; Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi; Minister for Agriculture, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina; and Chairman, Master Bakers, Ekiti State, Mr. Bosun Oshaloni, at the official launch/Demonstration of Cassava Bread Initiative, recently in Ekiti State.

L-R: Managing Director, UTC Nigeria Plc, Mrs. Foluso Olaniyan; Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi; Minister for Agriculture, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina; and Chairman, Master Bakers, Ekiti State, Mr. Bosun Oshaloni, at the official launch/Demonstration of Cassava Bread Initiative, recently in Ekiti State.

Statistics on hunger in the continent recently show that Nigeria has the highest number of hungry people in West Africa, as about 12.1 million people are hungry or under nourished in the country, making people to question the veracity of claims being made by Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina that the nation is gradually eradicating hunger through food sufficiency. Ochiaka Ugwu writes

Early this year, the wife of my friend died at child birth in Kubwa General Hospital, Abuja. Doctors traced the death to hunger related complications. The baby girl also died. Her three surviving male children were malnourished and sick. It was an intervention of intense food supplementing that revived the trio.

Again, when I returned to the same hospital to see another friend who was hospitalised, another doctor told me that over 80 percent of patients in the hospital were just suffering malnutrition with no serious medical case. With this glaring finding one can now see the level of hunger in the land upon claims by the relevant agencies that the nation will soon achieve food self-sufficiency.

However, the latest 2014 Africa Multiple Indicator Scorecard on Hunger and Food Security has revealed clearly  that Nigeria with 12.1 million people in a state of hunger tops list of 11 West African countries which have over one million people each affected by hunger and under-nourishment.

The scorecard released by Africa Health, Human and Social Development Information Service (Afri-Dev.Info) and Africa Coalition on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, also shows that Nigeria, with 33 points out of 100, is placed a distant 86th country globally, and 14th in Africa on the global food security index.

The rating placed neighbouring Ghana as the most food-secure country in West Africa with 45.4 points out of 100 to rank 67 globally and number 6 in Africa.

Although the food security situation is worst in the Horn of Africa/East Africa which has four out of the five African countries with the most number of people affected by hunger/under-nourishment, Nigeria tops list of West Africa countries with at least one million people affected by hunger/under-nourishment.

The report also disclosed that South Africa is the only African country in the global top 40 of most food-secure countries at number 39. This makes the country the most food-secure in Africa with 61 points out of 100 according to the global food security index.

Another report, the Global Hunger Index (GHI) reports that about 40 percent of Nigerian children under age five are stunted in their growth, nine percent are wasted (have low weight given their height) and 25 percent are underweight, all due to hunger. It further shows that two out of every five children in Nigeria are chronically underfed. As a country, Nigeria ranks in the GHI’s top 20 nations most ravaged by hunger, accounting for 5.7 percent of hunger problems in the world. The report also shows that Nigeria is making slow progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goal targets on reducing the incidence of hunger by half by the year 2015. In sum, we know that hunger in Nigeria remains at a level categorized as “serious,” wreaking devastating effects on Nigerians, especially the women and children who are often marginalized in families and societies dominated by men.

The right to food is basic and non-negotiable. This implies that the state has an obligation to provide and protect citizens’ access to adequate food. This obligation has not been met in Nigeria. Statistics available show that about 65 percent Nigerians have insufficient access to the amount of food required to keep them healthy and fit to embrace activities for the nation’s development. This is mainly due to price spikes and excessive food price volatility, two concerns which disproportionately affect poor and hungry people. This is an issue begging for concern and urgent attention from any international development aid agency interested in Nigeria.

We also know that hunger is a critical risk factor contributing to myriad of other social problems, including those the US has sought to address in Nigeria. For instance, medical scientists including Kadiyala S. and others in ‘Rethinking food aid to fight HIV/AIDS,’ presented during the Washington DC Food Consumption and Nutrition Division Discussion, stated that undernourished people infected with HIV/AIDS develop the full symptoms of the disease more quickly than people who are well-fed. Again the Food and Agricultural Organization stated that peoples’ learning ability is always compromised by hunger. This could as well account for the mass failure recorded all the time by Nigerians in various exams. It also supports the argument that intelligent quotients for children and adults who are well-fed are always higher than those who are hungry. Intellectually and physically, people perform better and are more resilient to disease when they feed well.

Also the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and others stated clearly in the 2013 report on food insecurity that growth may raise some incomes, but higher economic growth may not reach everyone, and may not lead to more and better jobs for all, unless policies specifically target the poor, especially those in rural areas.

Nigeria with over 12 million people currently in a state of hunger is projected to grow from its present population to about 259 million people by 2050. Democratic Republic of the Congo, by one estimate the most food-insecure country in the world, will grow to 189 million.

Moreover, most people have condemned the data that it was charitable to Nigeria saying that it did not capture the real figure. They also warned that poor data, planning and forecasting can worsen regional instability in the country, stressing that the proven link and interaction between food insecurity, conflict, refugees, internally-displaced persons (IDPs) and failed or failing states means the country remains on the brink of disaster.

Though the federal government currently claims to have supported many development needs including health, education, HIV/AIDS, economic growth, and environmental protection, hunger eradication should be made its top development investment. Failing to address-and prioritize-hunger is a strategic mistake as the devastating effects of hunger leave Nigerians vulnerable to the point that other federal government’s efforts are rendered less-effective. Hunger is the first problem faced by the very society President Jonathan claims he is transforming.

This government has a distinct opportunity to warm itself to the hearts of the citizens by addressing hunger first. Intense anti-hunger activities are capable of improving Nigerians’ life in many ways and, consequently, positively impact other development goals around health, education, and HIV/AIDS. Indeed, Nigeria cannot sustainably establish reasonable health and education services, good governance, stability, and economic growth while hunger is so badly affecting the people who are supposed to be beneficiaries of such development projects.

Similarly, the World Food Program states that one out of seven people from the developing world go to bed hungry. Nigeria is an emerging democracy with a teeming population of about 140 million, a large proportion of whom face hunger each night. Nigeria the giant of Africa and a great force advocating for positive change in Africa; will improve the efficacy and impact of its development efforts by addressing hunger first. As a witness to the effects of hunger in the land and in my own domain, I urge President Jonathan, Ministers of Agriculture, Water Resources to re-prioritize their efforts to support anti-hunger projects and stop chasing shadow. Consider the learning abilities of hunger-ravaged children. Consider the amount of impact HIV care program will have on individuals’ non-boosted immune system. The reality is that hunger has become next door neighbour to many making families go to bed on empty stomach and most children going to school famished.

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