Understanding Nigeria’s Hunger ‘Pandemic’

The old English reverend Thomas Malthus was wrong when he wrote that, for eternity, food production would grow arithmetically and that populations would grow geometrically, with the needs of the population easily outstripping the ability of humans to produce food.

When Malthus wrote his treatise in 1789, there were about a billion people on the planet. There are now almost eight billion people, and yet scientists tell us that more than enough food is produced to be able to feed everyone. Nonetheless, there is hunger. Why?

On April 21, the head of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley said that the world was experiencing a ‘hunger pandemic’. That day, the Global Network Against Food Crises and the Food Security Information Network released the 2020 Global Report on Food Crises. It suggested that 318 million people in 55 countries experience acute food insecurity and are on the cusp of acute hunger. This number is a gross underestimate: the actual number – before the global pandemic – would have been closer to 2.5 billion, if you measure hunger by caloric intake for intense activity.

The reasons for this hunger, they say, are armed conflict, extreme weather, and economic turbulence. More people could slip into the situation of acute food insecurity, the report says, as a result of a ‘shock or stressor, such as the Covid-19 pandemic’. Half of the world’s population fears going hungry as a result of the pandemic. Nigeria, amongst the reasons highlighted include that fact that we ate our years of fat, and now that they the lean years are virtually in front of us, more than anytime, the hunger looms even larger.

What the International Monetary Fund calls the Great Lockdown has sent 2.7 billion people, according to the International Labour Organization, into either full unemployment or near unemployment, with many people one or two days away from desperate poverty and hunger. Starvation is already evident in many regions of the world. Nigeria is not an exemption, mass sack looms, and in some cases has started, for those that have a form of savings, they are spending and nothing is coming in, and investments are bleak.

Hunger stalks Nigeria because so many people are dispossessed. If you do not have access to land, in the countryside or in the city, you cannot produce your own food. If you have land but no access to seed and fertilizer, your capacities as a farmer are constrained. If you have no land and do not have money to buy food, you starve.

That’s the root problem.

Over the course of the past decades, the production of food has been enveloped into a global supply chain. Farmers cannot simply take their produce to market; they must sell it into a system that processes, transports, and then packages food for sale at a variety of retail outlets. Even this is not so simple, as the world of finance has enmeshed the farmer into speculation.

If there is any shock to the system, the entire chain collapses and farmers are often forced to burn or bury their food rather than allow it to be eaten. So here in Jos, Plateau farmers are destroying their products such as tomatoes, while Lagosians cannot have access to the same tomatoes.

The fact that so many people around Nigeria, including those living in the so-called rich states, were going hungry before this crisis is a profound indictment of the failures of governance, government and leadership. The fact that hunger is exploding exponentially during this crisis is a further indictment of our nation as a whole. Hunger is among the most urgent of human needs, and immediate steps need to be taken to get food to people in this crisis. But it is also vital that the social value of land, rural and urban; the means to produce food, such as seeds and fertilizer; and the food itself is affirmed and defended against the socially ruinous logic of commodification and profit.

For a group of people that would charge her citizens money to bring them back home, for leadership that does not know where the Chinese doctors are, for a community of states that cannot feed her people, for a nation where state governors’ pride themselves in their capacity to lock out other states, and distribute almajiri kids, a people that are bent on the great lockdown when the world is desperately trying to open, our full moon may soon become burnt bread, unless we act fast, because hunger may be the uprising that will bring out the beast in us. Only time will tell.

Prince Charles Dickson PhD wrote from Jos, Plateau State.

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