For Nigeria to survive, widespread hunger must not be added to its string of woes. To protect and strengthen local food value chains, the emerging and continuing challenges to food security calls for urgent and coordinated action. I must also condemn President Buhari’s undignified silence in the face of mass slaughter, displacement and destruction of farmlands.

Very lean times are here! For many Nigerians, hunger has become a daily reality. Four weeks ago, I bought a 20-kilogramme bowl of gari in Ondo State for N5,000. Today, it goes for N6,500. Rising food prices could not come at a worse time. It feels like a hunger pandemic has commenced. Many farmers are complaining that herders are feeding their cassava to cattle, leading to fewer gari making it to the market.

Others say the fear of death or kidnapping has kept them off their farms. Naturally, the demand for foodstuff is outstripping supply, thus leading to the stratospheric rise in food prices. Food shortages and rising prices are definitely caused by a toxic brew of conflict, economic decline and unreliable rainfall, layered by the devastating effects of the pandemic on urban incomes that farmers depend on for product sales and the support of their dependents.

Millions of Nigerians are being driven to catastrophic levels of food insecurity by a combination of factors they have no control over. For a large population already poor and at risk, disruptions to food value chains, leading to higher food prices, reduced availability of and access to food, is life threatening.

The rural poor whose economy has been decimated now face violence from Fulani herdsmen, who feed their crops to cattle at best or kill them for being on their farms at worst. Agricultural production has stalled because people are afraid to plough the land, leading to escalating food prices and food insecurity.

Lessons from the past from conflict zones indicate that by the time food insecurity becomes famine, it is often too late. Nigeria is at a tipping point, where millions in the North and now the South-West are coping with emergency levels of food insecurity.

Famine is the extreme shortage of food, leading to widespread hunger. The question is: When do we classify extreme hunger, malnutrition and death from starvation as famine? That is the point! Famine is hard to imagine and visualise for many people because of its incipient nature as the last of the five stages of food insecurity. It is made worse by the fact that declaring famine requires data, which Nigeria does not collect.

Lessons from the past from conflict zones indicate that by the time food insecurity becomes famine, it is often too late. Nigeria is at a tipping point, where millions in the North and now the South-West are coping with emergency levels of food insecurity. Many farming communities cannot farm without encountering herders with weapons, who stand between them and their ancestral lands. Kidnapping and the fear of Fulani herders feel like a slow moving war, where the weapon of choice is cutting people off their primary sources of survival.

The statistics are depressing. For most families, shopping for food is a juggling exercise in substitution and opportunity costs. Already in play, long before armed conflict enveloped Nigeria, was chronic hunger due to extreme poverty and declining purchasing power. If this situation continues, it will soon give rise to sustained popular discontent with the government.

We must not forget that 100 million Nigerians live on less than $2 a day, and only 30 million are fully employed. According to Bloomberg, Nigeria’s grain stock have declined to less than 30,000 metric tons, which is a fraction of what a country of 200 million people needs to sustain its population.

Nigeria’s future and stability is undermined by this vicious cycle of conflict and hunger… It is time for the governors to cooperate in their regions to localise their responses and rout terrorists from their forests. The risk of long-simmering discontent and grievances in the current economic and political climate, could escalate into public rage.

These interplay of factors raises the spectre of “stagflation” – the combination of rising unemployment and prices and low growth, which could trigger significant social unrest. Added to this unfortunate turn of events is malnutrition and its associated diseases – a recurring decimal in the North-East. Many, especially children, are dying, and those who survive childhood malnutrition will most likely have lifelong health and mental issues.

Traditionally, the months before the rains starts are hunger months for many rural folks engaged in subsistent agriculture. Before COVID-19, remittances and cash infusion from cities sustained the rural economies. In major Nigerian cities, the pandemic is a hammer blow to millions who are already hanging by a thread. The pandemic was one more shock needed to push them to the brink and it did, as many can only eat if they earn a daily wage. Because the poorer you are, the more likely you are to spend more money on food, as illustrated by what 56.5 per cent of Nigerians spend on food from their incomes.

For Nigeria to survive, widespread hunger must not be added to its string of woes. To protect and strengthen local food value chains, the emerging and continuing challenges to food security calls for urgent and coordinated action. I must also condemn President Buhari’s undignified silence in the face of mass slaughter, displacement and destruction of farmlands. His silence is not only reprehensible, it is criminal.

Nigeria’s future and stability is undermined by this vicious cycle of conflict and hunger. The business as usual attitude is destructive. It is time for the governors to cooperate in their regions to localise their responses and rout terrorists from their forests. The risk of long-simmering discontent and grievances in the current economic and political climate, could escalate into public rage. To prevent a bloody reckoning, the rage must be tempered and the outrage mitigated. A mass civil unrest will prove costly to everyone.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo

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