The United Nations World Food Programme Executive Director, Mr. David Beasley, recently raised an alarm that hunger had grown from 778m people in 2015 to 815m in 2016, noting that about 60 per cent of the 815m people pushed into hunger lived in conflict-hit areas.
Beasley, who was speaking via a video conference in Switzerland, Geneva, noted that those afflicted by chronic hunger had risen from 80m victims in 2015 to 124m in 2017. He attributed the phenomenal rise to the perennial conflicts ravaging most parts of the world.
He, however, said that global hunger could end by 2030 as long as there is no more conflict.
Also speaking during the conference, the UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcosk, observed: “Despite the wildest predictions, famines have become less frequent and less lethal over the past few decades”. He noted that the remaining risk of famine and hunger was now concentrated in a relatively small number of countries affected by large-scale, severe and protracted conflicts.
Lowcosk also lamented that almost 490m undernourished people and about 155m stunted children lived in conflict-torn countries.
The latest statistics released by Beasley is nothing compared to the figure released by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in its 2009 report which put the number of starving people in the world at one billion. It was the highest in four decades then.
Of course, most of the world’s undernourished people live in developing countries: over 642m in Asia and the Pacific and 265 in the sub-Saharan Africa; only 15m are hungry in developed countries.
Ordinarily, Nigerians should not be included in the world’s hungry people. But there is chronic hunger in the land. Nigeria is a country blessed with abundant fertile land, excellent climate and enormous oil wealth. But poor leadership by avaricious and corrupt elite has ensured that there was little investment in agriculture to reduce the number of starving Nigerians until the present administration came to show some modicum of commitment to the sector when it dawned on everyone that the nation’s economy must be diversified in the face of the dwindling oil revenue.
Latin America and the Caribbean is the only region where hunger has been curtailed, apparently because it has been able to lure its people into farming as the Buhari administration is striving to do through strategic planning. Countries like Argentina, Brazil, Columbia and Cuba have enacted policies that encourage agricultural production. Even Venezuela that has more oil and gas deposits than Nigeria has not abandoned its agricultural sector.
In our several editorials in the past few years, we drew the government’s attention to the grave repercussions of paying lip service to the agricultural sector of the economy. Nigeria cannot realise its aspirations or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) when majority of our people are facing deaths from starvation. For a country that is home to over 180m people who are blessed with abundant arable land, government at all levels will be doing the present and future generations of youths a great disservice by relegating agriculture to the back stage.
Food is a basic necessity of life. Take away hunger, and half of human’s problems is solved. A nation that encourages agriculture is creating a panacea for peace, stability and security. These are the sine qua non for socio-economic and political development.
We urge the current administration to sustain the tempo tailored at not only making agriculture more attractive to our teeming populace especially the youth but also ensuring that they have good returns on their investment. This could be achieved by guaranteeing the implementation of policies such as non-importation of agricultural products that abound in the country.
Government should also sustain the strategic interventions in the sector through availability of high yielding seeds, seedlings, inputs and implements at affordable prices, even though the 1.8 per cent of the N44trn federal and state governments’ budgets committed to agriculture over a period of three years is considered grossly inadequate for a nation that has a vision to revolutionise the critical sector.
There is also the need for the government to quickly put to rest the perennial farmers/herders’ conflicts now posing a serious threat to the nation’s food security. It will amount to working at across purposes if the conflicts continue to persist in the face of the recently inaugurated National Food Security Council (NFSC) by President Muhammadu Buhari.