From Climate to Conflict: Addressing Nigeria’s Food Crisis

From Climate to Conflict: Addressing Nigeria’s Food Crisis

Nigeria, along with the global community, is grappling with a food crisis intensified by climate change, economic inflation, and international conflicts, including the war in Ukraine. The country has long been familiar with conflict, particularly since 2009 when the Northeast region has been plagued by violent extremism, notably in the Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe States. This has resulted in over 2 million displacements, 8.7 million individuals in need, and approximately 600,000 people facing emergency levels of food insecurity, predominantly affecting women and children who make up over 80% of those in need

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines food security as the condition where all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to adequate, safe, and nutritious food that satisfies their dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy life.

Food security also encompasses the availability of food that provides an average caloric intake of roughly 2,200–2,300 calories per day for adult females and 2,900–3,000 calories per day for adult males, equivalent to about 8-10 kg of maize flour, while children require fewer calories to maintain proper health.

A country’s failure to meet these standards is typically characterized as food insecurity.

According to the 11th edition of the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) released last year, Nigeria ranked 107th with a score of 42.0 points out of 113 countries globally. This ranking indicates that Nigeria harbored 12.9 percent of the global population living in extreme poverty as of 2022.

From 2016 to 2022, the number of Nigerian men living in extreme poverty increased from 35.3 million to 44.7 million, while the number of women rose from 34.7 million to 43.7 million, as reported by Statista.

With projections placing Nigeria as the fourth most populous country by 2050, trailing China, India, and the United States, the nation’s robust agricultural sector holds the potential to satisfy the needs of its growing population. However, the challenge lies in effectively harnessing this potential.

Factors contributing to food insecurity in Nigeria include poverty, climate change, conflict, rising population, suboptimal policy implementation, inefficient agricultural practices, post-harvest losses, and inadequate budgetary allocation to agriculture.

Nigeria’s agricultural sector is particularly vulnerable to climate change, ranking among the countries most susceptible to its impacts and natural disasters. The nation has faced various climate-related challenges, such as increased temperatures, soil erosion, droughts, and flooding.

In 2022, Nigeria suffered catastrophic floods that claimed over 500 lives, displaced upwards of 1.4 million people, and destroyed around 90,000 homes. The World Weather Attribution group’s analysis suggests that climate change likely played a role in the torrential rains that led to the flooding.

These floods devastated vast expanses of farmland, exacerbating the already dire food insecurity situation. The destruction of crops and the resulting agricultural damage are estimated to have cost approximately $2 billion.

The situation is further aggravated by escalating violence from armed groups.

Save the Children reports that persistent attacks on farmers by armed factions are disrupting essential food supplies and risk plunging the country into a severe hunger crisis. Market disruptions, displacement, and livelihood losses have ensued due to these attacks. According to Punch, bandits have killed over 165 farmers in states such as Benue, Plateau, Sokoto, and Niger since the beginning of the year. Benue State alone accounted for the deaths of 130 farmers at the hands of these bandits.

The situation in Nigeria is further complicated by the extortion of farmers through ransom payments to bandits. In Sokoto State, the local chapter of the Association of Farmers in Nigeria (AFAN) reported that its members have paid nearly N3 billion in ransoms. In Benue State, farmers have incurred losses exceeding N1.1 billion due to banditry.

These criminal activities have also deterred farmers from cultivating their lands, with an estimated 10,000 hectares lying fallow in Sokoto over the past three years. In Niger State, farmers are avoiding their fields in certain local governments known for bandit attacks. This avoidance has become a last resort after repeated attacks and abductions by bandits.

Given these challenges, Nigeria stands at a crossroads. Immediate and decisive action is required to prevent the escalation of food insecurity.

Current estimates suggest that approximately 4.4 million children aged 0-59 months are enduring, and will likely continue to endure, acute malnutrition until at least April 2024. This includes over 1 million cases of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). Additionally, around 600,000 pregnant and lactating women are experiencing acute malnutrition and require urgent treatment.

Despite pledges to implement “best modern practices” to resolve conflicts between farmers and herdsmen, substantial progress has yet to be made. Addressing the looming food insecurity crisis in Nigeria is imperative.

The government must embrace a comprehensive strategy to tackle the food insecurity crisis. Such a strategy should encompass climate action, contemporary livestock and farming techniques, and security measures to counteract the effects of climate change and violent conflicts on Nigeria’s food security.

Initiatives to boost food production are essential, including sustainable land management, innovative and efficient agricultural practices, and environmental initiatives to repair damage to Nigeria’s forest ecosystems caused by deforestation, urbanization, and infrastructure development.

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