The impact of drought on food security in Nigeria

Drought is a recurrent natural disaster in Nigeria, significantly affecting agriculture and food security. As a predominantly agrarian economy, Nigeria relies heavily on agriculture for livelihoods and sustenance. With climate change intensifying the frequency and severity of droughts, understanding their impact on Nigeria’s agriculture and food security is critical. This analysis examines the causes and consequences of drought in Nigeria, utilising statistics to highlight the urgency of effective mitigation strategies.

Drought in Nigeria results from both natural and anthropogenic factors. Natural causes include variations in rainfall patterns due to climate change, leading to prolonged dry spells. Regions like the Sahel have experienced a decrease in annual rainfall by about 3-4% per decade since the 1960s. Human activities, such as deforestation, overgrazing, and unsustainable water management, exacerbate drought conditions, further depleting soil moisture and water resources.

Drought severely impacts crop yields, threatening Nigeria’s food production. In the northern regions, where droughts are most prevalent, maize and millet yields have decreased by 25-30% during severe drought years. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported that in 2018, cereal production dropped by 20% due to drought, significantly affecting food supply and prices.

Livestock, crucial to the rural economy, also suffers during droughts. Reduced pasture availability leads to malnutrition and increased mortality rates among livestock. The 2019 drought in the northern states resulted in a 15% decrease in cattle populations, impacting meat and dairy production. Consequently, pastoralists experience income losses, exacerbating poverty and food insecurity.

Drought accelerates soil degradation, diminishing agricultural productivity. In Nigeria, approximately 35% of the land is affected by desertification, primarily due to drought and unsustainable agricultural practices. Soil erosion and nutrient depletion reduce the land’s fertility, leading to lower crop yields and increased food insecurity.

Drought-induced reductions in agricultural output directly affect food availability. The 2017 drought led to a 30% decline in staple crops like sorghum and millet, crucial for local diets. This reduction contributed to an overall decrease in national food supply, leaving millions food insecure. According to the Global Hunger Index, Nigeria ranked 103rd out of 119 countries in 2018, reflecting significant food availability challenges.

Economic factors compound the effects of drought on food access. As crop yields decrease, food prices surge, making staples unaffordable for many households. During the 2016 drought, food prices in Nigeria rose by 20-30%, severely affecting low-income families. The World Bank reported that food price inflation reached 22% in 2020, exacerbating food access issues for vulnerable populations.

Drought negatively impacts dietary diversity, leading to nutritional deficiencies. With limited availability of diverse foods, households often rely on less nutritious staples. Malnutrition rates in drought-affected areas have risen significantly, with UNICEF reporting that 37% of children under five were stunted in 2020. This reflects the long-term health consequences of drought-induced food insecurity.

Drought disrupts food stability, leading to fluctuating food supplies. In regions like Borno and Yobe, recurrent droughts have resulted in chronic food insecurity, with 30-40% of households facing food shortages. The instability in food production exacerbates vulnerability, making recovery difficult for affected communities.

Drought has profound socioeconomic effects, particularly on rural livelihoods. In Nigeria, where agriculture employs about 70% of the workforce, drought-induced crop failures and livestock losses severely impact income. Farmers in drought-stricken areas report income reductions of 40-50%, pushing many into poverty. This economic strain leads to increased migration, with rural populations moving to urban areas in search of alternative livelihoods.

On a national scale, drought affects Nigeria’s economy, which relies heavily on agriculture. The sector contributes about 25% to Nigeria’s GDP. Droughts reduce agricultural output, leading to GDP declines. In 2017, Nigeria’s GDP growth rate fell to 0.8% from 2.1% the previous year, partly due to agricultural losses from drought. The economic impact underscores the need for robust mitigation strategies.

Effective water management is crucial for mitigating drought impacts. Techniques such as rainwater harvesting and efficient irrigation systems can improve water use efficiency. Projects in northern Nigeria have demonstrated that drip irrigation can reduce water usage by 30% while increasing crop yields by 20%. Expanding these practices could significantly enhance agricultural resilience.

The development and adoption of drought-resistant crops offer a sustainable solution. Research institutes in Nigeria are promoting varieties of millet, sorghum, and maize that are more tolerant to drought conditions. Farmers adopting these varieties have reported yield increases of up to 30% during drought years, improving food security and livelihoods.

Government policies play a critical role in addressing drought challenges. Initiatives such as the Agricultural Transformation Agenda aim to improve agricultural resilience through technology adoption and infrastructure development. Additionally, the National Drought Plan emphasizes sustainable land management and community-based adaptation strategies. These policies need to be effectively implemented and supported by adequate funding.

Drought poses a significant threat to agriculture and food security in Nigeria, with devastating impacts on crop yields, livestock, and rural livelihoods. The socioeconomic consequences are profound, affecting millions of Nigerians and challenging national food security. Mitigation and adaptation strategies, including improved water management, drought-resistant crops, and effective policy interventions, are essential to address these challenges. As climate change continues to exacerbate drought conditions, a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach is crucial to building resilience and ensuring food security for Nigeria’s future. Addressing these issues proactively will not only safeguard agricultural productivity but also enhance the well-being of millions of Nigerians.

Oladosu Adebola Oluwaseun is an environmental journalist and a post-graduate student of the International Institute of Journalism (IIJ).