Precarious food security in Nigeria: Can Tinubu change the narrative?

Food security refers to the situation when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy lifestyle. Food security is a state in which food is quantitatively and qualitatively available, accessible, and affordable to meet the nutritional needs of the people over a given period. 

People are food-secured when they have physical and economic access to enough food for active and healthy living. Therefore, food security for people in a community, state, or nation is entrenched in four pillars: quantitative, qualitative, accessibility, and time. The difficulty of attaining food security surges with increased population and economic meltdown, making achieving food security in Nigeria arduous. What has been the food security situation in Nigeria?

Considering the food security situation in the last few years, the picture has been gloomy. Poverty is the twin of food insecurity. On the poverty level, more than 82 million Nigerians, or 40.1% of the country’s population, lived in extreme poverty in 2018 when their daily income was less than $1. In 2020, a startling 92% of Nigerians were living below the poverty line, with less than $5.50 per day being the new threshold of the poverty line established in 2011 after considering the global costs of necessities. 

On food security, Nigeria earned an infamous rank of 27.3 on the 2022 Global Hunger Index, code-named “serious hunger,” placing the country 103rd out of 121 countries. According to a November 2022 World Food Program (WFP) survey, which covered 26 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), 34% of people live in “stressed food security situations.” In June 2023, the inflation rate for food prices increased by 0.38 percent, from 22.41 percent to 22.79 percent in the previous month. NAERLS 2023 Agricultural Performance Survey showed a percentage increase in prices for maize and rice in July 2022 and July 2023 at 77% and 63%, respectively. 

Between January 2022 and June 2023, many Nigerians were forced to bed empty-handed because they could not afford decent meals on their tables due to the soaring prices. In June 2023, the petroleum subsidy was withdrawn, followed by a continuous devaluation of the currency, which caused skyrocketing inflation of food prices and a tumultuous shock on precarious food security. It caused an extraordinary spike in inflation, significantly reducing the purchasing power of Nigerians. What is the current food security situation in Nigeria?

Nigeria’s current food security situation is complex, with various factors contributing to the challenges. While Nigeria is an agricultural country with abundant natural resources and a large population engaged in farming, there are still significant obstacles to achieving food security for all its citizens. One of the main challenges is the low productivity and efficiency of the agricultural sector. Many farmers in Nigeria still rely on outdated farming techniques, limited access to modern technology, and inadequate irrigation systems, which leads to low yields and vulnerability to climate change, resulting in crop failures and food shortages.

On low yields, the national average yield of cereal crops is a mere 1.2 tons/ha against the potential yield of 8 – 12 tons/ha. For example, the national average yields of maize and rice are 1.64 tons/ha and 2.0 tons/ha against the potential yields of 10 tons/ha and 12 tons/ha, respectively. Even cassava, the crop for which Nigeria has a reputation for being the leading country in the world in terms of its production, has an average yield of 13 tons/ha against the potential yield of 60 tons/ha. 

This poor productivity results from inadequate or inaccessibility of improved production technologies, improved seeds, practices, appropriate equipment, deficient infrastructures, and skill. The infrastructure for storing and transporting agricultural products is inadequate and in poor condition. Post-harvest losses are significant due to poor storage facilities and bad transportation networks. It affects food availability and leads to price fluctuations and food wastage. The low productivity has made Nigeria’s food dependent on massive food importation.

In the past three decades, Nigeria has significantly increased its food imports. Records show that Nigeria imported agricultural commodities worth ₦1.923 trillion yearly between 1990 and 2011. That indicates that from 1990 to 2011, the country imported food valued at almost ₦1 billion daily. The amount of food imported into Nigeria has reached an excruciating crescendo in the country’s import expenses today. The value of agricultural items imported increased by 140.47% in 2020–2021. Compared to the final quarter of 2020, it increased by 18.37 percent in the first quarter of 2021.

Nigeria specifically spent more than N630.2 billion on the import of agricultural goods. The nation’s agriculture export earnings were a pitiful N127.2 billion. In the first three months of 2021, Nigeria imported wheat worth N258.3 billion, or 3.8 percent of the entire value of agricultural imports during that time. Wheat flour instantly increased from N13,500 per 50kg in June 2021 to N39,000 in December 2023 due to pressure on the naira to the US dollar exchange rate. Is Nigeria capable of producing adequate food for its over 200 million population?

Nigeria has enormous and unquantifiable potential for agricultural resources to feed the whole African continent and even export to other continents. Nigeria has a vast population of over 220 million people, about 75% of the population being virile and active, whose energy can take the country to Eldorado. There are 91 million hectares of arable land, with merely 50% utilization despite the quantum of water resources, soil fertility, favourable topography, and climates. Thus, the country has 12 million cubic meters of freshwater resources, 960 kilometers of rich coastline, and enormous terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. 

Additionally, Nigeria has seven distinct climate zones, which provide average annual rainfall ranging from 700 mm in the far north (Sahel savannah) to 4,000 mm in riverine and mountainous areas in the south. River Niger passes through some countries and drains an average discharge of 5,589 m3/s into the Atlantic Ocean through Nigeria. River Niger, with a length of 4,180 Km and drainage basin area of 2.1 million Km2, is the third largest river in Africa and has six major perennial rivers as tributaries crisscrossing the length and breadth of Nigeria. It has made Nigeria the most endowed country with unlimited water resources for agricultural development.

The story of Nigeria’s agriculture is a flawed narrative, a baroque paradox, a giant dwarf expected to run but can hardly crawl. Can the government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu change the narrative? His team of ministers in the driving seat of agriculture, senators Abubakar Kyari and Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, are personalities with enormous capacities to break the hard nut. Can they drive Nigeria’s agriculture to the promised land? With a first degree in economics and a masters in business administration, Senator Kyari, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, is a seasoned administrator and politician. 

As a deft administrator, he served in the executive arm of the Borno state government, was an eight-year commissioner of many ministries – water resources, works, education, home affairs and information, as well as the chief of staff to the governor. Kyari was also a member of the House of Representatives and a senator. Senator Abdullahi is another competent and proficient personality, a team player for achieving results. Can they break the jinx of poverty and hunger associated with Nigerians? To be continued next week