Why is Nigeria Food Insecure?

In our new 2022/2023 masters students' blog series, Tendayi Whacha explores food insecurity in Nigeria.

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Food insecurity is particularly prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa, with 63.2% of people facing moderate or severe food insecurity in 2021 (FAO et al., 2022). This blog explores some of the determinants of Nigeria's Food insecurity using the Capability approach coined by Amartya Sen. His approach suggests that the primary concern for policymakers should be expanding people's freedoms to achieve well-being through what he called functioning's and capabilities. It looks like people having access to situationally specific resources needed to make choices that matter to them and will result in their well-being (Alkire, 2005; Fradiani, 2010).

Sen felt that past understandings of food insecurity needed to be improved and that some would fail to explain why 58.5% of people from Africa's largest and fast-growing economy today are facing persistent moderate or severe food insecurity (FAO et al., 2022). His approach views capabilities as the 'end' or primary goal of development rather than the means to an alternate end, which has traditionally been economic growth (Alkire, 2005). Otaha (2013) acknowledges how ethnic and religious conflicts and environmental disasters have contributed significantly to Nigeria's food insecurity; however, he highlights how the countries focus on oil for development and the adoption of macroeconomic neo-liberal policies such as the withdrawal of government from economic activities and export-oriented trade has come at the expense of small-scale farmers and food production.

Otaha (2013) contends that the onus is on international power players such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, who arguably encourage and pressurise many African countries like Nigeria into economic policies like the Structural Adjustment Programs as a requirement or condition for aid. Structural adjustment loans were designed to encourage an economy by eliminating "excess" government controls, diversifying exports, and promoting market competition, as part of the neo-liberal agenda followed by the Bank (World Bank,2015). They were implemented in Nigeria between 1986 and the early 1990s. During this time, Nigeria was encouraged and pressured into dropping government subsidies for fertiliser, improved seed, and other inputs as a requirement to receive aid. This had significant implications for Nigeria's national development and, consequently, food security (Ekanade, 2014). This act of economic sabotage connotes colonial traces due to the lack of respect for a country's capabilities (Otaha,2013). Today, Nigeria is a net importer of food, a state of perpetual dependency which sits far from Government mechanisms that could enhance the development of social and human capital in the Nigerian agricultural sector and distant from the use of indigenous knowledge and skills that may also sit outside the agricultural community (Okpala, 2021).

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Through the arguments presented, it is apparent that undernourishment is not simply influenced by food production; we should take note of the economic and social correlations that govern the incidence of hunger in the contemporary world (Vascimini,2020). So, while one can fault international institutions for arguably imposing neo-liberal policies on Nigeria, the responsibility goes to its leaders for accepting unfavourable policies which do not bring value to their circumstances. Nigeria has an abundance of natural and human resources; if adequately harnessed, it can feed its population and export the surplus internationally. Sen additionally argues that the well-being of humans does not take away from economic growth and development as humans, directly and indirectly, are the primary means of production (Otaha, 2013; Vascimini,2020). While leaders are ultimately responsible for their citizens, how much true agency do Nigerian leaders have to make decisions they value for their citizens?

Reference List

  • Alkire, S. (2005) ‘Why the Capability Approach?’, Journal of human development (Basingstoke, England), 6(1), pp. 115–135. doi: 10.1080/146498805200034275.
  • Ekanade, O.V. (2014) “The Dynamics of Forced Neoliberalism in Nigeria Since the 1980s,” The Journal of Retracing Africa (JORA), 1(1), pp. 1–3. Available at: https://doi.org/https://encompass.eku.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1010&context=jora.
  • FAO (2022) | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Available at: https://www.fao.org/3/cc0639en/cc0639en.pdf (Accessed: April 12, 2023).
  • Frediani, A. A. (2010) ‘Sen's Capability Approach as a framework to the practice of development’, Development in practice, 20(2), pp. 173–187. doi: 10.1080/09614520903564181.
  • Otaha, I. (2013) ‘Food Insecurity in Nigeria: Way Forward’, African research review, 7(4), p. 26. doi: 10.4314/afrrev.v7i4.2.
  • United Nations (2015) Structural Adjustment Programmes, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. Available at: https://archive.unescwa.org/structural-adjustment-programmes#:~:text=Definition%20English%3A,the%20adoption%20of%20such%20policies. (Accessed: April 12, 2023).

Written by Tendayi Whacha

Tendayi is currently a student on the International Development Masters in Public Health.

Tendayi Whacha

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