By Sola Ogundipe, Chioma Obinna & Gabriel Olawale
It is no longer news that Nigerians are hungry, what is of interest at this point to every Nigerian is thinking clearly to survive till the next day. Before now, there was the problem of accessibility to essential food items, but now, in addition, there is the challenge of availability and affordability to contend with.
When President Muhammadu Buhari publicly admitted that Nigerians are indeed, truly hungry, the statement did not go down well with most Nigerians. Unfortunately, the Presidency was only attesting to the fact that the whole world had known for years.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, FAO, 852 million persons are unable to obtain enough food to live healthy and productive lives. With a Global Hunger Index (GHI) score of 32.8, the severity of hunger in the country remains serious as the nation failed to fulfil its commitment to the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving hunger by 2015.
Nigerians are rated as “seriously” hungry, by the 2015 GHI because of low scores in the four most crucial indicators of undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting, and child mortality, Worse still, the 2016 Report of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) reveals that 7 per cent of the Nigerian population is undernourished and that the prevalence of wasting and stunting in children under five years of age are 18 per cent and 36.4 per cent respectively.
With this scary statistics, many Nigerians are no doubt among the 852 million hungry persons wordwide.
Hunger, as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, is identified as food deprivation, undernourishment (or consumption of fewer than 2,100 kilocalories a day, which is the minimum that most people require to live a healthy and productive life).
Hunger has many impacts and reflecting in high rates of diseases and mortality, limited neurological development and low productivity among current and future generations.
However, long before the presidential declaration, millions of Nigerians had known that there is hunger in the land because people have been living from hand to mouth.
Once upon a time, Nigerians used to eat from the banquet table like lords and ladies. Every meal was a feast, but the party’s over and now the people are scrambling for scraps and crumbs from around the table.
Nigerians are hungry, and this is no exaggeration or fairy tale. Insecurity, food shortages, non-payment of salaries, loss of jobs and intense recession and other distractions are compromising the food security and nutrition of millions in the country.
Many people are stuck in the poverty trap from which there is no immediate hope for liberation. Nigeria’s classification as a seriously hungry nation by the 2015 Global Hunger Index (GHI) only confirms their plight. Hunger is currently a national emergency. Scattered across the length and breadth of country are men, women and children living or dying of acute hunger or starvation.
Experts say the amount of food needed by the average person varies according to age, sex, body size, physical activity and, to some extent, climate. But millions of Nigerians are subsisting on significantly less than the recommended 2,100 kilocalories that the average person requires to allow a normal, healthy life.
While the hunger situation may not be the same as high profile crises in war-torn areas or those hit by natural disaster, which starve a population of food, the nation’s hunger emergency is nevertheless paramount.
Daily undernourishment, a less visible form of hunger is affecting many more people, from the streets of the large cities to the footpaths of shanty towns and villages in the creeks. In these places, hunger is much more than an empty stomach.
Conflict with Boko Haram in the north eastern part of the country has left a large part of the population without access to enough food, water and health services. Displacement, lack of access to many locations, high inflation and reduced purchasing power of communities are all contributing to the worsening food security situation.
The picture gets worse. Nearly half of women of reproductive age (48.5 per cent) are anaemic, ranking the country 172nd out of 185; one third of children aged under-5 is stunted, equivalent to twice the rate of Thailand and three times that of Tunisia. In the remote north western region, stunting where rates are around 55 percent, a child is four times more likely to be malnourished than in the south.
No thanks to the hunger situation, almost 30 percent of Nigerian children are underweight. Statistics from UNICEF, reveal that Nigeria is facing a crisis of malnutrition and ranks second behind India among all countries with the highest number of stunted children. The figures are daunting. With a population of 180 million, the proportion of the undernourished in total population over the last two years averages 7.0 percent. The number of people undernourished has decreased steadily over the years from 28.0 million in 1990-1992 to 11.2 million in 2000-2002; 2005-2007, 9.3 million; 2010-2012, 10.2 million; 2014-2016, 12.9 million.
However, the reality on ground is that Nigeria is gradually breeding future leaders that may not be able to sustain the economic growth of the country.
GDP year on year growth
In a document recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics for the Nigerian Gross Domestic Product, GDP report for Quarter One 2016, revealed that the nation’s GDP grew by -0.36 percent (year-on-year) in real terms which was lower by 2.47 percent points from growth recorded in the preceding quarter and also lower by 4.32 per cent points from growth recorded in the corresponding quarter of 2015. Quarter on quarter, real GDP slowed by 13.71 percent
According to the World Food Programme, WFP, not only is Nigeria a food deficit country, it is currently the world’s second largest importer of rice after China and Africa’s largest importer of rice, importing over 3000 metric tonnes per annum costing over N517 billion. Data from statista.com identified Nigeria as the second highest importer of rice following China, “In term of metric tons, China with population of 1.3 billion imported 4,700 while Nigeria with 170 million people next China with 3,000.
Due to free fall in Naira and drop in crude price, the cost of food has skyrocketed. A survey carried out by Vanguard showed that a bag of rice (50kg) sells for between N18,000 and N20,000. A basket of tomatoes which sold for between N18,000 and N20,000 in April, now goes for N35,000-N40,000 and a small bag of pepper is now N7,000. Gari (rubber paint) that was N250 now goes for N550.
Also, a live cow that was N150,000 before is now N300,000 and a kilo of meat goes for N1,500, against N700.
One derica of beans now goes for N200 against N130 early this year, while a carton of groundnut oil (3-litre kegs) which usually sold for N6,000, now sells for N10,000.
Further still, a carton of turkey that was formerly N9,500 is now N12,500; one carton of chicken that was N8,000 is now N11,000.
Potential consequences of food insecurity
Although food insecurity is harmful to all individuals, it can be particularly devastating for children due to their increased vulnerability and the potential for long-term consequences.
In an interview, an Assistant Director, Dietetics, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Dr Obinna Ogbonna, said,currently, Nigerians are faced with pronounced hidden hunger, a type of hunger that has to do with lack of taking adequate micronutrients that can assist the body for proper nutritional status.
Ogbonna said now that Nigeria is going through economic recession unless something urgent is done many Nigerian children may suffer serious malnutrition of grave consequences.
“We have been talking about micronutrients like, vitamin A, Iodine and Iron deficiency etc., now that we don’t have the foods available again; it is a very difficult situation. You know that availability, affordability and accessibility to these foods are the most important.
“We have what we call household food security; unfortunately, most houses are not food secured these days. Because of that there is a lot of malnutrition going on these days. We are praying that God will help this economic recession to be over so that the children would not come down with chronic malnutrition for a very long time that can even affect their intelligent Quotient, IQ, and performance in school.”
He explained that food insecurity is an obstacle that threatens critical foundation of children.
“Children growing up in food-insecure families are vulnerable to poor health and stunted development from the earliest stages of life, pregnant women who experience food insecurity are more likely to experience birth complications than women who are food secure.
“Also inadequate access to food during pregnancy has been shown to increase the risk for low birth weight in babies and has been linked with delayed development, poorer attachment, and learning difficulties in the first two years of life,” he added.
According to the Coordinator of the Civil Society Scaling up Nutrition in Nigeria, CS-SUNN, Kwara, Dr Uthman Mubashir, lamented that the mortality rate due to malnutrition is high and running into two digits, adding that micro-nutrient deficiencies, hidden to the naked eyes, are pervasive throughout the country with vitamin A, zinc, iron, folic acid and iodine being the most common.
Mubashir, pointed out that the money the government spent on fighting hunger and malnutrition was not commensurate to what was on ground.
“Much had not been achieved in the fight against child malnutrition; death recorded from malnutrition is still high. Malnutrition could be defeated through well coordinated and multi-sectoral approaches.