The Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) recently issued a policy brief titled “Status of Food Security: Dimensioning the Crisis, Policy Options, and Strategic Responses.” This brief outline urgent measures to address the current food crisis in Nigeria, aiming to develop a comprehensive approach to alleviate hunger and offer practical solutions.

The policy brief is contained in a statement issued by the Head, Strategic Communications and Advocacy, Ayanyinka Ayanlowo.

In January 2024, Nigeria’s food inflation surged to 35.41 percent from 33.9 percent in December 2023. The number of food-insecure Nigerians increased significantly, from 66.2 million in Q1 2023 to 100 million in Q1 2024 (WFP, 2024), with 18.6 million facing acute hunger and 43.7 million Nigerians showing crisis-level or above crisis-level hunger coping strategies as of March 2024. This unprecedented crisis demands immediate humanitarian, social protection and food systems responses.

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Despite a contraction in the Nigerian agriculture sector in 2023, resulting in reduced productivity, the nation is fortunate to face no climatic risks of famine or drought, as no part of Nigeria is categorised as ‘High Risk’ or ‘Moderate Risk’ and ‘Deteriorating’.

The National Food Systems Profile reveals critical institutional, policy and industrial coordination and governance gaps.

This reflects a fundamental and systemic challenge with National Food Systems vulnerabilities, which is not a new insight.

NESG and other national stakeholders under the then Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning supported the National Food Systems Assessment with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development and the European Union in 2022.

In the final report, “Food Systems Profile” – Nigeria: Catalysing the Sustainable and Inclusive Transformation of Food Systems,” the key findings showed that Nigeria needed to apply urgency, tenacity and a national state of emergency in dealing with persistent structural vulnerabilities

According to NESG, the current socioeconomic structure of Nigeria, characterised by high dependence on oil revenue and food imports to feed its people, high population growth and urbanisation, which had been occurring for several decades, pose formidable challenges to the food system. Food imports have more than quadrupled in recent decades, from $964 million in 1995 to $4.57 billion in 2016, resulting in a substantial trade deficit for the agri-food sector.

The most imported commodities are rice, wheat, milk and fish. While the food import bill eased to $1.908,748 in 2017 and $1.728,571 in 2018, It again scaled back to pre-2016 levels after the COVID-19 hunger response.

NESG also said that continuing socioeconomic vulnerabilities persist, with 133 million people experiencing extreme multidimensional poverty, characterised by significant regional disparities. For instance, in Sokoto State, poverty affects 81 percent of the population, while in Niger State, the poverty rate stands at 34 percent. And ongoing internal conflicts, elevated unemployment rates and the impacts of climate change exacerbate these challenges.

The document further stated that according to the Medium-Term National Development Plan (2021-2025), Thematic Working Group, some critical indices are critical to food systems security response.

According to the document, one of the critical indices is Land Security which, it said that of the 41 percent (34 million ha) of total arable land under cultivation, 30 percent of states experience insecurity of agricultural land, and 80 percent of farmers face climate-related hazards.

“Annual forest cover loss has been 2.5 percent in the last 15 years. The scale of land insecurity is aggravated by broad-based dynamics of armed groups from bandits, terrorists, political militias, community-based militias, and illicit trade syndicates that have made farmlands inaccessible and escalated farming community-related violence during planting and harvesting seasons,” it said

Soil security was also identified as one of the critical indices as the document said that Nigerian arable land has a soil fertility of 14 percent. According to the document, National soil studies showed that for the three selected subsectors (grains, tuber, and tree crops), the average fertiliser usage is 7.32kg/ha, starkly contrasting the recommended usage for countries in the savannah zones.

“The National Institution for Soil Science (NISS) recommended an average of 400kg/ha in Nigeria. This implies that there is currently a 393kg/ha shortfall in fertilizer usage in Nigeria. Consequently, without meeting fertilization rate targets, a vast yield gap persists. This affects farmer profitability per ha and is a crucial determinant of the overall aggregate agriculture sector output.

“With a projected $8 billion investment in scaling fertilizer production and installed capacity in Nigeria in the medium term via Nigerian, Indian and Moroccan investment commitments, supply is projected to scale, primarily if a competitive regime is maintained,” the document noted.

Other indices include Seed security, mechanization gap, harvest security, storage and post-harvest logistics security.

The document further stated that during COVID-19, to cushion the impact of the pandemic, the Federal Government ordered the release of about 70,000 metric tonnes of food, primarily grains, from six silo complexes.

The Federal Government also made food available to humanitarian organisations such as the UN World Food Programme to support vulnerable populations affected by the economic fallout from COVID-19.

According to it, this is not the first time the Federal Government released food in response to a food crisis. In previous years, it released grains to address the needs of internally displaced people, for example.

“President Bola Tinubu’s administration recently ordered a series of releases from the strategic grain reserves. In general, the amount of stock available in the past and present has proven inadequate, leaving the Federal Government with little flexibility to respond to crises,” it said.

It further stated that considering the broad-based actions that underpin the current presidential declaration of a state of emergency on food security, everything within the collective capacity of the federation and Nigerian society should be put in place to immediately respond to the crisis in the availability, affordability, and accessibility of the national food systems.

The document pointed out that the institutional framework for a national food security response needs to be strengthened immediately to include the expansion of the presidential advisory capabilities to properly dimension the presidential initiatives to match the national demand requirements.

It lamented that the current intervention targets do not match the national food demand profile and even if we reach them, it will still result in a deficit.

“Expand the Food Security Council to include governors whose states are the key contributors to the country’s food production output. This imperative is to rally all the available primary production centres in Nigeria and extract immediate and medium-term commitments from states.

“There is an urgent need for the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, and the Coordinating Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, along with key agencies like National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), National Social Safety Net Coordinating Office (NASSCO) and the National Social Investment Agency to define the proper scale, scope and strategy of a National Hunger Response (It is pertinent to note that a national hunger response is not the same as national food systems response – as it is primarily a humanitarian and social protection intervention to get food to Nigerians that will starve right now if we do not reach them).

“The expanded National Food Security Council should have task forces actively overseeing strategic responses for land security, soil security, seed security, water security, harvest security, storage and logistics security, and human security (the hunger response).”

“The National Food Security Council should provide citizens updates on the hunger and food systems response monthly to aid effective information dissemination that reduces fear-mongering, fake news and miscommunication but also provides a mechanism for receiving feedback from citizens, businesses across the value chains and updates from civil society, development and private sector actions that are contributing to the national food crisis response. More essentially, this builds trust between the government and citizens. We recommend that at the beginning.

“The National Emergency Management Agency, in coordination with the country’s national emergency and disaster management architecture, should be calibrated along with every State Emergency Management Agency for an expanded food response before and between 2024 harvests”, NESG said in the document.

NESG however, called for immediate convenings of Hunger Roundtables, bringing together expertise and experience from the COVID-19 food response and CACOVID-19 to jointly frame a comprehensive and robust national response. The public and private sectors convened hunger Roundtables during the COVID-19 pandemic to assess the scale of the food crisis and coordinate a collaborative response.

“We must emphasize the importance of incorporating existing food manufacturing companies in Nigeria to the fullest extent possible in designing any hunger response, including the essential importation of food to bolster strategic reserves for the 2024 hunger response.

“At the same time, seeds and fertiliser must be imported to close gaps in the input requirements for food systems response. One of the lessons of COVID-19 was leveraging our local production lines to deliver processed and manufactured food, which built the resilience of Nigerian businesses”, the document noted.

The document also called for the strengthening of the Strategic Food Reserves (SFR).

“The Strategic Grain Reserve Department (SGRD) of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (FMAFS) and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation are both involved in ensuring food security.

“The SGRD aims to procure and hold 5% of public food reserves in line with its policy objectives. In general, FMAFS orders food releases that are aimed at price stabilization. In contrast, however, releases during emergencies are made to NEMA for distribution to the people in need through its state-level counterparts at the state level (SEMAs).

“In response to the food crisis in 2009, the federal government more than doubled its grain reserves. Currently, there are 33 grain silos spread across the country with a total storage capacity of about 1,136,000 mt, of which approximately 286,000 mt capacity is operational. This means that the storage capacity needs to be optimized mainly”, the document asserted.

Furthermore, NESG through the document called for urgent and comprehensive Review of the Agricultural Financing Value Chains and Institutions

It said “the transformation of agriculture and national food systems is capital intensive, and there currently needs to be a robust financial sector strategy for creating depth and breadth in agriculture financing value chains.

“This accounts for the low commercial lending to agriculture and the relatively low allocation of the federation budget to agriculture. In this regard, we recommend that the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Finance review the Financial Sector Strategy 2020 requirements for agriculture finance value chains, which prescribes three tiers of financial services institutions for the sector”.

While concluding, the document said, “Regarding these recommendations, it’s noteworthy that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu affirmed his commitment at the 29th Nigerian Economic Summit held in 2023, and the federal government has consistently expressed its dedication at various forums to consider and explore policy proposals and recommendations put forth by stakeholders through the Nigerian Economic Summit Group.

“These commitments aim to assist the country in achieving food self-sufficiency, global agricultural competitiveness, and food safety”.

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