Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Nigeria and the threat of famine

 Before colonisation, hunger and famine were almost alien to most African countries as there was widely-acknowledged food sustenance. 

Each household practiced one form of farming or the other and consequently, there was enough to feed the family while the excess was exchanged by barter through some other forms of payment. This boom in food production had the effect of boosting the economy and therefore, the concept of begging for alms was nearly unheard of. There was no poverty, famine, or the incidence of begging in Africa. Such is the importance attached to food sustenance that the Yorubas have a saying that, “once feeding ceases to be a challenge to a man, he has conquered poverty”.

Lord Macaulay, in his address to the British Parliament on February 2, 1835, aptly remarked thus:

"I have travelled across the length and breadth of Africa and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient educational system, her culture. For if the African thinks that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."

However, it seems that this is no longer the state of affairs as regards poverty and hunger. Nigeria is currently experiencing its most severe food crisis which is manifested in the country’s inability to produce enough food to feed its population. Food shortage and hunger have resulted in the incidence of malnutrition and forced some Nigerians to engage in armed robbery, prostitution, child trafficking, corruption, among others, to sustain themselves. Since time immemorial, food shortages has been linked to lawlessness as the hungry are easy targets for recruitment by ill-meaning politicians to foment trouble. 

As a result of this insecurity, food scarcity is imminent, and if left unbridled, famine is inevitable, particularly in the coming year. The killing of farmers in northeastern Nigeria by armed Jihadists and disputes with the pastoral Fulani herdsmen, food production has grossly reduced from this region. Farmers now have to submit to the payment of harvest fees from the farmers. Farmers who failed to comply would either be killed or maimed, with the whole harvest getting destroyed. As a result of this insecurity, food scarcity is imminent,

As the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which occasioned a lockdown of business activities in several states in Nigeria, many farmers were for months, at the time they were supposed to be planting, unable to access their farms and suppliers. By the time the government relaxed the lockdown to allow farmers the opportunity to farm, the damage had been done. While the lockdown was laudable and was the Nigerian government’s immediate response to the pandemic just as in other foreign nations, the Nigerian government, however, failed to put in place the measures taken by those foreign governments to alleviate the sufferings of the masses. Several foreign governments gave out financial assistance to individuals and businesses. Therefore, the paralysis of business activities and the failure of the Nigerian government to effectively put adequate mitigating measures in place, no doubt, contributed to unemployment and the incidence of begging particularly among Nigerians who depend on the daily income for sustenance.

Then, of course, there is the effects of climate change as a contributory factor to the incidence of food scarcity in Nigeria. The planting season usually commences in March, particularly in Southwest Nigeria. From time immemorial, much rainfall use to occur in the months of March, April and May to late August, September, October, November. However, in 2020 farmers’ expectation of rain failed. Between May and July, the farms were flooded. The crops which were planted in late August and early September dried up due to unexpected drought in the month of November. The immediate effect of this, therefore, is that farmers that planted maize, rice, beans, etc., in early September lost most of if not all the crops. This has resulted in an increase in the production cost of poultry farming, frozen chicken and egg production.

Maize will be scarce in 2021; Maize farmers raise alarm, farmers in Oke-Ogun area of Oyo State reportedly decried the failure of the Nigerian government to support agricultural production and unstable rainfall.

The head of the maize farmers’ union reported:

"...They lost millions in bank loans and borrowing from family and friends to plant maize, many cannot even pass by their farms to see the withered maize farms, we are so hurt by this occurrence… Our fear, for now, is what will be the fate of poor Nigerians that depend largely on basic food items that are sourced from maize. It is easy to predict that there will be a scarcity of maize next year..."

 2021 presents a gloomy near-future for food production and sustenance in Nigeria which possibly be plunged into full-fledged famine.

2021 may be year of famine (vanguardngr.com)

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