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Food crisis: Soaring food prices, food insecurity and climate change

Nigeria, a nation blessed with vast fertile lands, is facing a storm. Soaring food prices are pushing millions of people deeper into food insecurity, threatening…

Nigeria, a nation blessed with vast fertile lands, is facing a storm. Soaring food prices are pushing millions of people deeper into food insecurity, threatening their capacity for survival. The figure of climate change spreads also cast a huge shadow over this crisis, affecting the well-being of Nigerians and the stability and development of the nation.

The numbers do paint a grim picture that we don’t want to see. About 26.5 million people are in danger of acute food insecurity in 2024, according to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Millions of those people are from the north. In fact, the international body revealed that states such as Borno, Sokoto and Zamfara including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are at bigger risk.

On July 13, 2023, President Bola Tinubu declared an immediate state of emergency on food insecurity to tackle the increase in food prices. Food prices have been on the rise across Nigeria in recent years. But declaring a state of emergency doesn’t quite erase the ugly issues causing it immediately or in the long run if they aren’t tackled head-on.

The surge in food prices can be traced back to various factors, but the removal of fuel subsidy by the President is a large contributor to our woes. That singular event has impacted the prices of inputs, transportation of food within the nation’s borders, processing and storage of food. So, when we look at the cost of inputs such as fertilisers, water, seeds, pesticides, etc. they will be transported to get to where the farmers are and that cost of transportation is actually put on those inputs themselves. Moreover, those inputs have seen a surge in prices as the dollar-naira exchange rate and higher rate of inflation exacerbate economic distress for many farmers. Since February 2022, the price of fertiliser has more than doubled in Nigeria and 13 other countries, according to a survey by ActionAid.

With regard to food storage in the country, those who sell seafood or cold storage systems face significant challenges due to the unreliable power supply in the country. To operate these storage systems, they often resort to using diesel or fuel, which adds to their operational costs. The transportation of food itself from one part of the country to the other has witnessed an upward surge. Since a huge percentage of farmers are in rural areas, farm-to-market movement proves difficult and incurs more cost.

Nonetheless, insecurity remains a serious impediment to Nigeria’s human, social and economic flourishing. Over the years Benue, Nasarawa, Northeast and Northwest Nigeria, where farmers usually would farm have become havens for bandits and terrorists. There are even cases of bandits taxing farmers before they farm and also taxing them at harvest time. These farmers have no choice but to add these prices to food items when they get to the market. As a result of that, the prices of foodstuffs increased.

Infrastructure development has been a sore subject for Nigeria for decades. Our roads and storage facilities leave a sour taste in the mouth. Food products like fruits and vegetables require cold storage systems. Imagine tomatoes, cabbages etc being on the road for three days before getting to markets. In Nigeria, about 40% of our fresh food and vegetable production is wasted annually because of the lack of suitable cold storage facilities.

The chief among the causes linked to our present dilemma of food insecurity is climate change, an issue the Nigerian government must not handle with levity. Climate change has impacted the ability of smallholder farmers to produce as required. These farmers are mostly impacted by climate change due to their low resilience capacity.  They don’t practice irrigation and mostly depend on rain-fed agriculture and with the changing rainfall patterns.

Despite the government’s assertion on February 16 that Nigeria can achieve food self-sufficiency and even become a net exporter, challenges persist. Many essential agrochemicals, such as fertilisers, herbicides, and pesticides, are not produced domestically, necessitating foreign exchange (Forex) for their procurement. However, the devaluation of the naira and forex shortages contribute to high production costs, ultimately leading to high market prices for food items.

Desertification is affecting food and livestock survival in northern Nigeria and is unfortunately visible in eleven states in northern Nigeria, and its effect is obvious in the agricultural sector.

In February, the Vice President, Kashim Shettima, said the government will restore four million hectares of degraded lands within the nation’s borders by 2030 as its contribution to the AFR100 Initiative. Before you think of lauding this announcement, it is worth noting that similar promises were made during the Presidency of Muhammadu Buhari and nothing significant was done. Shettima made no mention of how much land they’ve restored thus far. 2030 is merely six years away. It seems there is no available blueprint for that. As such, Nigerians can conclude that no land has been restored yet. This is the usual rhetoric by the government on the issue.

A 2022 report from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) revealed that food supply disruptions will become more frequent and food insecurity will rise if land degradation is not immediately reversed in favour of restoration practices such as regenerative agriculture. Hence, the federal government must embody a much more actionable disposition to climate change issues and the restoration of those degraded lands.

In addition to desertification, soil erosion significantly affects Nigeria’s agricultural productivity. Both water and wind erosion contribute to the loss of topsoil, resulting in degraded land and reduced crop yields. Addressing soil erosion is essential for safeguarding Nigeria’s food security and agricultural sustainability.

Moreover, there’s a lot of illegal taxation on trucks moving food produce around the country in some states. Such trucks are taxed at most junctions and even our security agents are involved in this illegality. In the end, this influences the price at the markets in more ways than one. There should be some form of levy system where there’s no haphazard taxation.  In some countries, most goods that have a lot of impact on the economy are left out of the taxation system. Taxing smallholder farmers in such a way is not the right way as this contributes to food price inflation.

In response to the food crisis, the president said he would support farmers with the right inputs. He also tasked state governors to ensure zero tolerance for incompetence, support local farmers and remove import rent-seekers from the system. This was a step in the right direction. Giving the right inputs like fertilizers, knowledge, agrochemicals etc, the real smallholder farmers, not political farmers, would solve the problem a great deal. This entails having a sit down with the farmers and knowing what they need.

The federal government must begin to invest in climate-smart agriculture. By this, I mean agro-ecology, where we practice agriculture in complete harmony with nature. By doing so, we can build resilience. Agroforestry, crop diversification, and water-efficient irrigation techniques are necessary. We need irrigation systems that let us produce crops three times per year, not once per year. The workforce is already there, but because we aren’t utilising it effectively. Many young individuals entering agriculture represent a valuable resource that must be harnessed.

Nigeria should invest in small-scale dams that can be constructed in many parts of the country, especially in the northern part of the country. These dams are water harvesting structures that local farmers can be taught to use so that when there’s a dry spell, they can continue to irrigate. We also need to revive extension services. Climate change is here and many of our farmers don’t understand what that means. Extension services can help them in downscaling information to farmers as at when due.

For example, Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET), was initially in the Ministry of Agriculture, a place where it ought to be. But the agency wasn’t properly utilised there and it was moved to the Ministry of Aviation. Despite the move, we can clearly see that accurate weather information is needed by farmers.

Early warning systems are vital for disaster risk reduction, particularly in vulnerable agricultural areas prone to flooding, such as those along the River Niger and Benue. Farmers equipped with the right information can adjust their farming practices accordingly, minimising crop loss during severe weather conditions.

Moreover, fostering grassroots climate resilience requires collaboration between farmers and stakeholders. This is where climate finance comes in to support adaptation in Nigeria. Climate finance mustn’t just come from the federal level. State levels, where farming takes place, need to ensure they build resilience. Complementing financial support, effective policies backed by implementation and evaluation frameworks are essential. Each state should develop an adaptation plan tailored to its specific challenges, whether addressing rising sea levels in Lagos or desertification in Jigawa.

In addition, infrastructure and storage development are vital in Nigeria’s food security drive. Roads are critical in moving food from farms to markets. These roads must be climate resilient in such a way that flooding cannot easily affect their integrity. Likewise investing in storage facilities will reduce post-harvest losses. Solar-powered cold storage, for instance, is a sustainable and cost-effective option for rural areas lacking reliable grid electricity. Refrigerated trucks are also significant for transporting perishable goods over long distances.

Addressing Nigeria’s growing insecurity is paramount for ensuring a stable environment conducive to agricultural productivity and market activities. The government must put in more effort into making the country safe for economic, social and political activities. Insecurity can be tackled at its roots through conflict resolution, improved governance, and community-based security initiatives.

While real estate development is often overlooked in its impact on agriculture, the conversion of agricultural land for urban expansion poses a significant threat to food production. Balancing the need for housing with the preservation of fertile farmland requires robust policies and urban planning measures to safeguard agricultural resources.

Effectively addressing Nigeria’s food crisis necessitates a comprehensive approach that addresses immediate challenges and underlying systemic issues.

Tackling Nigeria’s food crisis demands a multi-faceted approach that addresses both immediate challenges and underlying systemic issues. By prioritising sustainable agriculture, investing in infrastructure, and fostering security and governance, among others, Nigeria can successfully overcome the menace of food inflation and insecurity and avert future crises, thus ensuring a more resilient and food-secure future for its people.

 

Dr David is the Africa Regional Co-ordinator for Citizens Climate International (CCI)

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