Sub-Saharan Africa will not reach the poverty goals until the year 2147 – 129 years from now, and 117 years after the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ought to have been achieved. 117 – 129 years of tardiness is monumental failure. History also purports that achieving any of the SDGs might be a tall order for African countries. Ticking off any item on the list by, before or long after 2030 will be dependent upon deliberate and sincere efforts by African governments and other stakeholders. If poverty is to be decimated, and development achieved, eliminating hunger is a sine qua non. Achieving zero hunger also means ending hidden hunger: a situation where important micronutrients, like iron and vitamins required by the body for optimal growth and performance, are missing. Hidden hunger can cause mental impairment for children when important micronutrients are not absorbed by their bodies in the first 1000 days of life (i.e. 2.7 years). This is perhaps one of the reasons many children don’t make it beyond their 5th birthdays in a lot of developing countries. Micronutrient deficiencies are responsible for an estimated 1.1 million of the yearly 3.1 million deaths caused by undernutrition in children.
What Does It Mean To Be Hungry In Nigeria?
Not knowing where your next meal will come from; not having enough money to eat a decent meal; eating only one poor meal a day; eating non-nutritious meals, having opportunity for a nutritious meal on rare occasions. That is what it means to be hungry in Nigeria.
Let Us Get Practical
The idea of an income or a living standard of at least $1.25 a day is quite unrealistic. That equates to about N450 (N360 to$1). It already costs more than that to eat two meals in a day. A ‘balanced’ meal of rice, and one boiled egg or a small piece of meat plus stew for a five-year-old costs N200. If you have two kids, 5 and 7, you would spend at least N400 on their breakfast. Reckon that at N400, you are only giving them the bare minimum. That meal doesn’t include vegetables or milk which growing children should have once a day. That’s a typical breakfast for two primary-schoolers in one family. If at the barest minimum too, each parent spends double what each kid spends on breakfast, we get a total breakfast budget of N1200. Thus, a month’s breakfast for that family is equal to N37200 ($103). Only breakfast!Indeed $1.25 is the perpetuation of poverty. No Nigerian can realistically survive on N450 daily, which makes the country’s 7-year-old minimum wage of N18000 ($50) laughable and wicked. An individual cannot survive on that salary, nor can he raise, or maintain a family. There would be no savings, no financial wherewithal to make an extra income, no ability for health insurance or any other incentive to upgrade his (and his family’s standard of living). I wonder how much young peddlers on the streets of Lagos earn as profit for their families. They definitely fare much better than their counterparts in the hinterland where the population is lower and the economy much worse.
We must recognise that food is not as cheap as it is in developed countries. Hence, we must be grounded and localise the standards. As such, $1.25 is not a fair pedestal. No government, should beat its chest in exultation (when that milestone is crossed). We have to set a higher Nigeria-specific standard, something in the region of $3 (N1080 at today’s rates) with an eye on a future where food prices would be low and a more favourable exchange rate in session.
Policy makers and elected officials must reckon that not an inch of progress will be made in an atmosphere of unseriousness. It would be hard to pull anyone out of poverty or solve any hunger problem when many government employees in over 25 states go for months without pay, and state governors go skint every time despite bailouts and other largesse from the federal government. This ongoing phenomenon is so terrible people are taking the suicide route and federal legislators have had to provide relief by donating bags of rice. The legislative bailout underscores the importance and inevitability of food security in the global quest to eliminate poverty. Even though, it is the second goal, it is the only way the first goal [No poverty] can be achieved.
UNICEF estimates 300 million children go to bed hungry each night; and that 8000 children under the age of 5 are estimated to die of malnutrition every day. Are the relevant agencies in Nigeria aware of this fact? How many of the 300 million are Nigerian children? It is a notorious fact that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of households with at least two children go to bed hungry every night in Nigeria. Most of the children in these households are not only hungry, they are malnourished. These factors lead to poor performance in school [when they attend], and generally poor mental health.
Progress is a slow process, thus we must begin now. Nigeria failed to meet the goal of reducing hunger and poverty but it is heartening to note that agriculture is prominent in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan launched in 2017.
Beyond the inevitable platitudes, chest-thumping and number-crunching that we shall witness, the real results of progress and success must be visible to all. It will be on the streets. It will be felt in the pockets of all Nigerians. It will be felt in the sated bellies of millions of under-five-year-olds and all the rest of the children. It will be hard to miss and therefore indisputable.
What We Must Do To Achieve Zero Hunger
This is not an exhaustive list: Eliminate disruptions in food supply; there is a lot of work to be done here; identify all major food production centres in the country across the six geo-political zones; the ministry of agriculture has taken the initiative with its infographic on crop zones; more funding by government and industry, for agro-based research; keeping the focus of Universities of Agriculture on their raison d’etre; and increasing the country’s food reserves. A more robust extension programme to innovative methods and ensure safe agricultural practices by both livestock and crop farmers. Policy consistency: Government policies must be long-term and not remain relevant only as long as the party or administration that instituted them remains relevant. We see this positively playing out in the Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) 2016-2020 or Green Alternative. Eliminate unrest in all parts of the country with special emphasis on the food production centres. Make irreversible progress in rail, road and maritime transportation for efficient transit of farm produce from food production centres to the market.
Eliminate wastage: This is a no-brainer Food is lost in transit from the farm to the market because of bad roads, unnecessary delays by police, extraneous agencies and even touts. Inadequate storage facilities like cold rooms for perishables like tomatoes also have to be made available. Partnerships between government and willing entrepreneurs can be established for this purpose creating more jobs, taxes and wealth in the process. Institute innovative agro-finance mechanism to include single-digit, long term loans for farmers, higher minimum wage, soup kitchens and Food banks(non-profit organisations).
Improve the efficiency in the fertilizer distribution administration; an unqualified commitment to improved power supply is non-negotiable; lower taxes for farmers, this will in turn reflect in lower food prices; animal herding must stop. As controversial as this might be, Nigeria needs to encourage the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) of advanced economies. Mass production is responsible for the massive reduction in prices in any business value chain. This also causes efficiency in production, eliminates frequent herdsmen-farmer clashes and all other retrogressive characteristics of our inefficient agriculture industry.
Development is long term, not a 100-metre dash. The global North did not get where they are today in a decade – it took them years of consistent uninterrupted growth. It is believed that for African countries to have reached the MDGs they ought to have grown at 7 per cent per annum – a very tall order – excepting Botswana and Equatorial Guinea. How long it will take to really end hunger in Nigeria will rest solely on how deliberate and ingenious we are in our approach.
– Adisa is a farmer and agriculture analyst.
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