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Looming hunger: IRC’s report sparks fresh concerns

The recent report by the International Rescue Committee, IRC, that an estimated 16 percent of Nigerians will face severe food insecurity and extreme hunger between June and August 2024 is a big source of concern to many Nigerians.

According to the report, the 2024 figure is higher than that of 2023- a clear indication of the increasing spate of hunger and the worsening living conditions, not only in Nigeria, but also across the West and Central Africa regions.

The report further revealed that the total number of people across West and Central Africa, who are likely to face food insecurity during the period, popularly referred to as the lean season, stands at a staggering 52 million, which is about 12 percent of the analysed population.

However, in Nigeria, the report said about 32 million people, representing about 16 percent of the country’s population, would face severe hunger, a development that is considered to be at a crisis level or emergency food insecurity.

The report said: “Looking ahead, the projected outlook for the period June-August 2024 appears even more severe.

“Nearly 52 million people across the 17 analysed countries are anticipated to face phases three to five during the lean season of June-August. This translates to 12 percent of the analysed population struggling to meet their basic food and nutrition requirements.

“These countries include Mauritania (656 652, 14 percent), Burkina Faso (2 734 196, 12 percent), Niger (3 436,892, 13 percent), Chad (3,364,453, 20 percent), Sierra Leone (1,569,895, 20 percent), and Nigeria (31,758,164, 16 percent).”

The report went further to state that the situation would be more severe in the northern states of Sokoto and Zamfara, where the IRC analysis described the situation as critical, with over 15 percent of the children in the states experiencing acute malnutrition.

According to the report, the major contributory factors to the severe food insecurity across the Sahel region include insecurity, climate change, and worsening macroeconomic conditions, especially on the inflationary front.

DAILY POST recalls that in January 2024, the average inflation rate in the region stood at 21 percent, which is an increase from the 18 percent that was recorded in the same period in 2023.

Earlier in the year, the World Bank, in its food security report for Nigeria, projected that seven states in the North would face severe food security problems with the spate of food inflation and insecurity across the food-producing states.

While the Boko Haram insurgency greatly affected food production in the North East, leading to the destruction of farmlands, the farmer-herder crisis and banditry have significantly affected food production across the North West and North Central regions of Nigeria.

Reports show that insecurity, coupled with disruptions in global food supply chains has pushed food inflation in Nigeria to about 40.01 percent in March.

Nigeria has an estimated population of over 200 million people, making it the most populous country in Africa, and the sixth in the world. It is also believed to be the 10th largest producer of oil in the world, but ironically, about 84 million Nigerians, representing about 37 percent of the population live below poverty line, according to the World Food Programme, WFP, report.

The WFP also agreed with the IRC report that insurgent activities in the north, have added to a fragile resource environment, deepened insecurity, hampered development and heightened the food and nutrition insecurity of vulnerable women and children

However, with the recent report, Nigerians have expressed fear that the prediction might come to pass.

Some observers, however, agreed that Sokoto and Zamfara states may not be the worst hit states when the time comes, looking at the level of havoc that kidnappers and militant herdsmen are wreaking in the North central states of Nigeria.

They, however, called on the government to sit up and ensure that Nigerians were not thrown into such a precarious situation.

One of those urging the government to take decisive action against banditry, kidnapping and all forms of criminalities is the president of the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, Dr. Pogu Bitrus.

He believes that only the government has the powers to prevent the IRC’s projection from manifesting, by tackling insecurity headlong.

He emphasised that Nigeria does not need any international body to give her the report of an impending hunger between June and August because the reality is staring everybody in the face.

“We know it is a reality because banditry has reached a stage where farmers can’t go to farm, and if farmers can’t go to farm, naturally, there won’t be food to eat.

“Besides, that time is a period when crops like maize are expected to mature, and if there is no maize to complement or supplement whatever that is out there, then there will be trouble, and hunger will definitely set in, unless the government rises up and does something to address the insecurity situation.

“So, their report is in order because it is in line with what is on ground. Unfortunately, it will not be worse in only Sokoto and Zamfara as the report stated, because there are so many other areas where bandits do not allow farmers to go to farm.

“And in such situations, you will agree with me that there will be a devastating hunger unless the government takes a proactive action to address the issue of banditry, so that farmers can return to farm in peace,” he told DAILY POST.

Also aligning with the IRC’s report is a former lawmaker in the Katsina State House of Assembly, Hon Yusuf Shehu.

He believes that traditionally, the people in Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina axis experience shortage of food between June and August every year but lamented that the insecurity in those areas would worsen the situation this year.

The ex-lawmaker told DAILY POST that, “Ordinarily, Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and other states on that axis receive their first rains around May/June; so it is the beginning of the harvesting season.

“And every year, we, in the north, normally experience food shortage around June/July because most people would have brought out the remaining food in stock at that period to plant for the next season. And there is nothing more for the peasant farmers to do than to go to farm during the period.

“Now, considering the insecurity situation in the country today, where bandits and kidnappers are riding roughshod on the people, coupled with the high cost of living, obviously, there will be acute food shortage.

“The period is the beginning of the harvesting season and the bandits and kidnappers don’t allow people to go to farm; so what do you expect? Added to that is the removal of fuel subsidy which has heightened the cost of living.

“So, for me, I think the report is a wake-up call to the government to take steps in advance so that unavoidable deaths that could result from known calamity could be avoided.

“It is for the government to take the war to the bandits and kidnappers, clear them from our forests and bushes, and allow the farmers to go back to the farm.

“That is the only way to avert the IRC’s prediction, otherwise the percentage of Nigerians that would face severe hunger during the period could even be far more than the predicted 16 percent,” he stated.

A lawyer and public affairs commentator, Nnamani C.I, said there was no hard and fast rule to making food available, apart from creating an enabling environment for farmers to do their farm work without fear of being attacked, kidnapped or even killed.

He stressed that it would be a surprise and one of the greatest miracles of the century if, between June and July, Nigerians don’t experience a biting food crisis.

The lawyer said bandits and kidnappers had taken over the farms and forests, forcing the farmers to stay permanently at home.

“It is when farmers go to farm that they can produce. A situation where bandits, kidnappers, herdsmen and Boko Haram Islamist insurgents have driven farmers away from the farm, without any reaction from any quarter, what do you expect? Do you expect manna to fall from heaven in this 21 century? No, that won’t happen.

“The report by the IRC is just stating the obvious. We know that we are in big trouble. And unless the government takes the report seriously and rises to its responsibility, Nigeria may experience civil unrest of unprecedented proportions, and it will start from the north.

“There is a saying that a hungry man is an angry man; and an angry man is violent, while a violent man is an unreasonable man that is capable of doing anything, should not be disputed by any reasonable human.

“The report has just warned the government of a danger lurking around the corner. And I believe the government will not just fold its arms and allow the prediction to come to reality.

“I expect the government to declare a total war against those enemies of the state, rout them out once and for all and allow the farmers to return to farm in peace.

“That way, what the IRC said in its report may not be as adverse as it would have been, but if the government fails to act, the prediction might just be a child’s play to the kind of hunger that will envelope the country, particularly those on the fringes of Sahel during the period,” he told DAILY POST.

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