As the world's attention continues to focus on Nigeria and the plight of the schoolgirls, abducted by Boko Haram, another crisis is emerging that could see up to 4.2 million Nigerians facing food shortages this year and 3.8 million children under five suffering from acute malnutrition, according to ECHO, the European Community's humanitarian office.
Ongoing insecurity is having a devastating effect on the agricultural sector as farmers in the food producing northern and central regions are forced to abandon their land to escape fighting between Boko Haram and the Nigerian army. In the north central state of Benue, there are also violent attacks from groups of Fulani herdsmen who are semi-nomadic pastoralists in conflict with local farming communities.
Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) warned two years ago that 65% of farmers in the fertile north had fled so were no longer growing the staple foods of maize, rice, millet and cowpeas. Since then, the number abandoning the land has grown, jeopardising still further the country's food supply.
The lack of security and limited access to affected populations means it is difficult to ascertain the numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs), but some reports claim that more than 400,000 people have fled the north in the past year.
Added to this, the impact of flash floods in 2012 on agriculture is still being felt, and there are warnings that the rainy season will be unusually short this year (from June to September instead of the normal April to October). Now fears are growing that there will simply not be enough food produced for people to survive.
This will not only have an effect nationally, but across the Sahel as a whole as Nigeria produces a large percentage of crops for the region.
To counter the threat of food shortages, Christian Aid's partner Interfaith Mediation Centre (IMC) has been integrating ways to counteract the effects of climate change such as shorter or erratic rainy seasons or floods into their regular development work.
IMC offers education on methods such as planting trees, reducing bush burning and encouraging subsistence farming. Another partner in the region, Centre for Gospel Health and Development (CeGHaD) has formed women farmer groups, providing training on micro-economics, improved techniques for storage of produce and start-up grants for the purchase of improved seeds and water pumps to increase output during the ever-growing dry season.
In the South-Eastern region of Nigeria, three Christian Aid partners under the umbrella of the Catholic Church are this year working on a "Feed Hunger" campaign being driven by the parishes through three strategies: education, collections to feed the hungry and support for local farmers. The campaign involves fundraising from parish congregations in order to purchase seeds, fertilisers and equipment. Training is also offered on improved farming methods and how best to use the improved seeds provided.
The recent announcement that Nigeria has now overtaken South Africa to become the richest nation in Africa has laid bare the widening gulf between rich and poor in the country.
Although Nigeria is one of the world's largest producers of oil, the World Bank lists it as one of the poorest countries in terms of its revenue per capita with 46% of the population living below the poverty line. Unemployment figures are high among the under 35s who form 70% of the population. Conflict and unpredictable weather patterns only serve to widen the gap, with the poor inevitably likely to suffer most from food shortages.
My fear is that Nigeria will continue to remain an underdeveloped country for a long time to come if we do not address the ongoing security issue and use some of our great wealth to support the agricultural sector. We can proactively address the food crisis issue and put in place measures to reduce its impact, but without addressing the causes of the widening gap between rich and poor any solution will be short term.
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