Through 2014 and 2015, as the Head of the United Nations Humanitarian Advisory Team, I facilitated consultations between a United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) consultant and Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to strengthen food distribution to population affected by insurgency in the northeast states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. While Nigeria had enough food to meet the needs of the affected population, I saw the role of the United Nations World Food Programme at this level necessary because Nigeria’s emergency management authorities had not managed food distribution at the scale brought on by the insurgency.
Nigeria had successfully managed food assistance to the 2.1 million people affected by flood in 2012, but the duration of the displacement caused by the 2012 flood was short-lived while the displacement from the northeast insurgency was longer-term. I also supported WFP to establish the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service which was a valuable service in improving access to the northeast states affected by the insurgency.
I was very hopeful about the collaboration between WFP and Nigeria in 2014 and 2015, as I saw it as an opportunity to strengthen the technical/logistical capacity of Nigeria to lead its humanitarian assistance nationally and regionally. Nigeria provided the food, while the UN WFP consultant provided technical advice.
Today that collaboration and presence have expanded with the World Food Programme upscaling from providing food aid and assistance to northeast Nigeria to the rest of the country. WFP is set to expand its presence in Nigeria – based on a new Country Strategic Plan (CSP) for the next four years (2019-2022). According to WFP Representative and Country Director in Nigeria, “While we remain committed to the crisis response in the north east, this plan provides new and wider entry points for our assistance in Nigeria in the future.”
It Does Not Make Sense
With an estimated 200 million people, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and seventh in the world. The country is the 10th world largest producer of crude oil and achieved middle-income status half a decade ago. With the 9th largest arable land in the world, most of that is still largely untouched, Nigeria should be a global food basket, most certainly a breadbasket for the continent.
Notions and perceptions of food security in Nigeria are rife with contradictions. According to Martin Nwalie in the paradox of food insecurity in Nigeria (2011-2017) `In March 2017 the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) declared that about 7.1 million people in Nigeria are facing acute food insecurity and in need of urgent life-saving and livelihood protection (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2017).’ The research report noted correctly that this position `runs counter to general expectations as the same FAO has initially indicated that food availability is generally satisfactory in Nigeria.’
In farm outputs, Nigeria ranks 6th in the world and first in Africa but presently, Nigeria is `reliant’ on food aid in the Northeast of the country in response to the humanitarian impact of insurgency and is planning to expand to the rest of country.
Given that Nigeria’s current administration has prioritized increasing local food production through discouraging food imports, what would WFP’s countrywide expansion of food aid and assistance mean for increasing food production in Nigeria in the long term? According to researchers James Levinsohn and Margaret McMillan with the National Bureau of Economic Research group, while `Food aid can take several forms, but some portion of all types of food aid (including emergency relief aid) is eventually sold in local markets and thus competes with domestic producers.’
For Yale assistant economics professor Nancy Qian `The delivery of food aid to developing countries seems like an uncontroversial policy -- a straightforward effort that helps the poor and underscores the generosity of donor nations. Yet, economists have long debated the merits of food aid. By increasing the local supply of food, such aid may depress prices and thus undercut the income of rural farmers in the recipient nations, for example; it also may discourage local production. And, since the poor often are concentrated in rural areas, food aid in fact may disproportionately hurt the poor.’
From Bad to Worse
According to the United Nations World Food Programme, (WFP) 2.9 million people are food insecure in the northeast of Nigeria, with 1.9 million displaced in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. 943,000 children under 5 years old are malnourished. In 2017 and 2018, the World Food Programme supported an estimated 1.2 million Nigerians in internally displaced camps in the northeast with food or cash transfer monthly.
To support enhanced food security, nutrition and income generation for families affected by the insurgency the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization provided seed and fertilizer to about 112 500 households (790 000 people) in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. But faced a major funding shortfall of USD 13.9 million requiring the organization to appeal for international funding to support agricultural production for the September 2018 for the three states affected by the insurgency.
Yes, the insurgency in the northeast states of Born, Yobe and Adamawa has displaced at least 1.2 million people. In a region that is potentially a food-basket for the Lake Chad region, this decade long crisis has left an estimated 7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, but the northeast insurgency has not affected the whole country. Yet, rather than Nigeria pushing for a national food security plan, the World Food programme will be scaling up to implement food assistance and aid across Nigeria.
WFP came into Nigeria in 2015 to provide support for logistic of food distribution to Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), then it opened a full-fledged office for the response to the northeast and now has plans to implement its assistance to the whole of the country. The Country Representative for WFP in Nigeria is proud of this expansion noting that WFP is “looking forward to broadening engagement with the Nigerian authorities, the donors and the cooperating partners to restore livelihoods and boost resilience and together reduce the number of people depending on food assistance.” WFP’s country strategy for Nigeria states further: `WFP will maintain its vital lifesaving assistance in Nigeria under the new strategic blueprint, however, it will also focus on self-reliance, resilience and peace building initiatives to enable access to food by all that will help achieve zero hunger.’
The contradiction here is that Nigeria is opening itself up and expanding its reception of food assistance and aid to countrywide level to reduce its citizen’s dependency on food aid and assistance. In other words, WFP will expand its food assistance across Nigeria to reduce Nigeria’s dependency on food assistance?
Do Not Do this Nigeria – Do Not Do this to Nigeria
The United States is the largest donor to food assistance in the world, and it does this through food grown in the United States, and increasingly through cash for flexible programming in recipient countries. Most of what is donated as food aid from the United States happens through the US government purchasing food from America’s farmers and donating this in close consultation with recipient countries, through WFP. Specifically, the United States Department of Agriculture and USAID purchase surplus grain to stabilize prices in domestic (United States) markets, the extra is donated to developing countries as food aid. In times of major sudden onset humanitarian crises this aid is lifesaving for the shortterm, but in any other contexts, food aid takes a major toll on the local recipient agro-sector and economy.
Since 1996, sub-Saharan Africa has been the largest recipient of food aid and the amount of food aid received by sub-Saharan countries have almost doubled since then. Today, the World Food Programme is present in about 83 countries around the world and countries from Africa make up more than half of this amount 43 countries in Africa receive food aid and assistance from the World Food Programme.
Food assistance and aid is not provided unless it is requested by the host government. We note that WFP is operative in Nigeria’s northeast due to the insurgency, so why is the government of Nigeria requesting for food aid and assistance across Nigeria?
Given the predominant notion that food aid is driven by the domestic context – agro-industrial sector - of its top funder, the United States, the expansion of WFP across Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country is deeply disturbing. The fact that Nigeria is opening itself to this is very deeply tragic.
Nigeria prides itself as the giant of Africa and has the highest farm output in the continent. So why would Nigeria want to join the already high number of African countries depending on world food aid and assistance?
Nigeria should Lead Food Security in Africa, Not Entrench the Continent Further into Dependency
The optics regarding Nigeria’s dependency on food aid fundamentally contradicts the image of a `giant of Africa’, and is truly a disempowering message for the rest of the continent. Nigeria should foster and lead the establishment of an African food programme and not be reliant on a world food programme.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari recent directive to the Central Bank of Nigeria to block food importers' requests for foreign currency for food importation in a bid to boost local agriculture in Africa's most populous country, and I think it is the right approach. This move by the President is a continuation of a policy he launched when he came into office in 2015 and banned the use of foreign exchange for import of staple foods like rice. While some have criticized this move as not taking the low capacity of local farmers into consideration, it is interesting to note that the President’s ban on rice importation has increased the domestic production of rice in the country.
What this tells us is that self-reliance, even when enforced, propels growth, while looking at external resources and aids as the main sources of development and economic kick-starters deter economic growth. We need this understanding in our commitment to improving food security in Africa. Food insecurity in Nigeria is a result of de-prioritization of the agro-industrial sector. Relying on food importation or aid fosters the continued undermining of the sector. The expansion of the world food programme across Nigeria undermines Nigeria’s food security aspirations.