By Chioma Obinna

It is no longer news that the second Sustainable Development Goal, SDGs, adopted by the United Nations, UN, is “Ending hunger, achieve food  security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030. Although, many countries, including Nigeria, are battling to meet the goal, experts say this goal may remain a mirage following the current challenges of climate change to achieving adequate nutrition.

Studies have shown that climate change directly affects food and nutrition security of millions of people. In a study published in the medical journal, Lancet, climate change could result in the deaths of half a million adults due to malnutrition per year by 2050. It was found that climate change is fuelling an impending malnutrition crisis globally.

Described as significant “hunger-risk multiplier” because it undermines efforts to address undernutrition, climate change impacts are not good for many people who will still be eating food 34 years from now,  even those who are currently food-secure.

Currently, farmers, pastoralists, forest dwellers and fishermen are facing more challenges in producing and gathering food due to changing weather patterns.

Available forecasts show that climate change may contribute to about 24 million additional malnourished children by 2050 in sub-Saharan Africa.  According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, FAO, 852 million persons are unable to obtain enough food to live healthy and productive lives.

It is also common knowledge that, close to 2 billion people are malnourished and another 2 billion are overweight or obese. Unhealthy diets, causing chronic diseases from diabetes, heart disease to cancer have become the most important factor in global health, overtaking smoking or infectious diseases.   Experts say all these challenges are severely exacerbated by the changing climate.

A recent study also showed that poor nutrition could be more hazardous to health than unsafe sex, alcohol dependence, drug abuse and tobacco use put together.

According to experts, the effect of climate change on food security is one that must not be ignored and this may have explained the rationale why last World Food Day celebration was focused on the theme: ‘Climate is changing, Food and Agriculture must too.’ The day was apparently used to raise awareness on global fight against hunger and the new dimension climate change has added to it.

Sadly, countries like Nigeria, where estimated 2.5 million children are suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition, SAM, and depend so much on imported foods, thereby losing about $22 billion annually on importation of food items may be worst hit by the effects of climate change.

In the views of an Assistant Director, Dietetics, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Dr Obinna Ogbonna, climate change impacts people’s livelihoods and lifestyles through different pathways.

According to him, climate change may worsen the crisis of malnutrition and undernutrition already ravaging communities in Nigeria.   He said many families are already facing poor access to sufficient, safe and adequate food, feeding practices and environmental health as well as access to healthcare services.

Ogbonna noted that when there is adverse climatic change, it will obviously affect production.   Depending on the severity, the quality of the crops or fruits will be affected invariably.

“For instance if there is draught, the crops will not be fully developed vis a vis the nutrient density will be low.

Invariably, the quality of such crop or fruit had been compromised. It can affect human health because you need the nutrients in quantitative and qualitative form for optimal nutritional status which translates to good health or healthy living,” he noted.

Ogbonna explained that studies have shown that rising carbon dioxide emissions makes staple food crops less nutritious and worsening the serious ill health already suffered by thousands of malnourished people.

Also acknowledging that climate change is a threat to micronutrients in staple crops, he explained that researchers have found estimated that by the middle of this century the levels of essential micronutrients in cereal and leguminous crops will fall by between 7 and 10 percent caused by the higher carbon dioxide levels anticipated at this time.

Ogbonna noted that in the study by Myers et al, reported in Nature, the researchers showed that protein levels were also reduced which would mean a substitution of dietary protein with carbohydrate with equally damaging consequences.

Reasons to check climate change

Nigeria is no doubt vulnerable to the impact of climate change on many fronts, her geography, climate, vegetation, soils, economic structure, population, energy demands and agricultural activities. The country’s large rural population depends on agriculture, fisheries and natural resources such as water, biodiversity and grassland.

The adaptive capacity of the rural majority to climate change is very low. The operation of the nation’s oil and gas sector makes Nigeria a major emitter of greenhouse gases in Africa.

According to a new report by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition – an independent group of influential experts with a commitment to tackling global challenges in food and nutrition security, the burden of malnutrition is equivalent to that of experiencing a global financial crisis every year.

The report entitled: “Food Systems and Diets: Facing the Challenges of the 21st Century” outlines the toll that malnutrition takes on individuals and nations today, while also forecasting the expanding costs and consequences if these trends continue. The report noted that sale of ultra-processed food and beverages rose from one-third of those in high income countries in 2000 to more than half by 2016, the report remarks that today’s food systems are too focused on quantity and not enough on quality.

It points out that low-quality diets are a driving force in increasing rates of overweight, obesity and chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, while also fuelling non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Already there are concerns that without immediate action, the situation is set to worsen dramatically over the next 20 years as population growth, climate change and urbanization converge on food systems. Without significant changes in policies and investments by 2030, the number of overweight and obese people will have increased from 1.33 billion in 2005 to 3.28 billion, or one-third of the projected global population.

Reacting to the development, President of the African Development Bank and member of the Global Panel, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina argues that nutrition is not just a health and social development issue, but an investment that can spur economic growth.

“We must rethink how we look at nutrition and food systems. Nutrition fuels grey matter infrastructure—the minds of the next generation that will drive progress and innovation.”

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.

Way forward

The FAO had on World Food Day, called on countries to address food and agriculture in their climate action plans and invest more in rural development as part of strategies to achieve zero hunger.

According to a Climatologist, Prof. Emmanuel Oladipo from the University of Lagos, many farmers, fishers and pastoralists are being hit hard by higher temperatures and an increasing frequency in weather-related disasters and the rains.

Oladapo who spoke during a Television programme regretted that Nigeria has lost track of Agricultural extension officers and now depending hugely on imported foods.

He said to be on track again, Nigeria needs to bring back those policies that allow agricultural extension officers who are trained to work with small scale farmers to advice on when to plant, when not to plant, how to plant, what to plant.   We need to have systems properly established and used to advise farmers on critical elements of crop production, live stock creating and fishery among others that can help the whole nation move forward on agriculture and productivity for food security.

Oladapo also stressed the need to make farmers be aware of the impact of climatic conditions and changes of climatic conditions, agricultural production and what they need to do to be able to adapt and cope very well.

In a report, Prof. Ibiyinka Fuwape of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, said: “The negative impacts of climate change such as temperature rise, erratic rainfall, sand storms, desertification, low agricultural yield; drying up of water bodies and flooding are real in the desert prone 11 front states of Nigeria. This leads to increasing population pressure, intensive agricultural land use, overgrazing, bush burning, extraction of fuel wood and other biotic resources.”

According to her, women and children are particularly the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

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