Food Insecurity in Africa in Terms of Causes, Effects and Solutions: A Case Study of Nigeria – Wasiu Olayinka Fawole, Eda Ilbasmis and Burhan Ozkan

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Our Take: Food is one of human’s primal needs for sustenance and survival; unfortunately, not everyone gets access to an adequate food supply. Considering the United Nations’ estimation of about 805 million people across the globe being undernourished, with the majority of this number living in developing countries, countries, specifically the most impacted, must begin to realize the impacts food insecurity has on the economy and seek sustainable solutions. Like other developing countries, Nigeria must tackle food security from the root causes, among which are poverty, communal conflicts/crises, rapid population growth, among others.


The aim of this paper is to examine the increasing food insecurity in Nigeria and the implications on the stability of the country in particular and Africa in general. This study tries to x-ray the food insecurity in Nigeria and Africa in general. This is important in order to alert the stakeholders in the agricultural sector on the implications of the rising food insecurity in the country in recent years. In the course of the study, secondary data sourced from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations was used by examining the trend of food insecurity from 1990 to 2014.

The findings of this study indicate that key food security indicators used for the study such as prevalence of undernourishment, food inadequacy and numbers of undernourished people are on the increase in Nigeria from the year 2009 to 2014 according to the latest survey. The implication of this is that if the trend is not halted as quickly as possible it is a time bomb that may pose grave security risks and danger to the country and African sub-region as a whole being the most populous black nation. In order to prevent this, the immediate causes of the rising food insecurity as pointed out in the study must be identified while appropriate measures such as consistent policy framework for agriculture, provision of infrastructures, population control through birth control, provision of storage facilities and abolition of trade barriers among others are suggested to solve the food security challenges in Nigeria and by extension other African countries.


Food is one of the most important items in the world as it is critical to human survival together with clothing and shelter. These three items are usually classified as the man’s basic needs. Food security in Africa has come under extreme threats due to some factors of which are natural while some are artificial depending on the circumstances and the countries involved. A food-secure world is one where all people have access to safe, nutritious and affordable food that provides the foundation for active and healthy lives.

Food Security

The FAO defines food security as: “When all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Nearly one billion people are undernourished, hungry and living without adequate daily calories (PAI, 2015). Food security affects more than human health and welfare – it also contributes to economic and political stability as it is often noticed that most countries of the world where there is political instability are always associated with food insecure territories, the food insecurity in such countries might have been as a result of political instability or the political instability was as a result of food insecurity. One often led to the other but they go hand in hand in the affected areas. Food security has three aspects; food availability, food access and food adequacy.

Food Insecurity

Food insecurity exists when people lack sustainable physical or economic access to enough safe, nutritious, and socially acceptable food for a healthy and productive life. Food insecurity may be chronic, seasonal, or temporary. Food insecurity and malnutrition result in catastrophic amounts of human suffering. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 60 percent of all childhood deaths in the developing world are associated with chronic hunger and malnutrition. In developing countries, persistent malnutrition leaves children weak, vulnerable, and less able to fight such common childhood illnesses as diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, malaria, and measles.

The United Nations estimates that about 805 million people – approximately one in eight – are undernourished as of 2014. The majority of these people live in developing countries, where more than 14 percent of the people are unable to meet their dietary energy requirements. Progress has been made in southern Asia, northern Africa and most countries of eastern and southeastern Asia, as well as in Latin America. Feeding this growing global population in the years to come will require producing more food and distributing it in a manner that reaches more people (Cargill, 2014).

The root cause of food insecurity in developing countries is the inability of people to gain access to food due to poverty. While the rest of the world has made significant progress towards poverty alleviation, Africa, in particular Sub-Saharan Africa continues to lag behind. Projections show that there will be an increase in this tendency unless preventive measures are taken. Food security on the continent has worsened since 1970 and the proportion of the malnourished population has remained within the 33 to 35 percent range in Sub-Saharan Africa. The prevalence of malnutrition within the continent varies by region. It is lowest in Northern Africa with 4 percent and highest in Central Africa with 40 percent. (Angela, 2006).

Categories of Food Insecurity

There are three main categories of food insecurity as classified by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
Acute: Sever hunger and malnutrition to the point that lives are threatened immediately (e.g. famine),
Occasional: When food insecurity occurs due to a specific temporary circumstance,
Chronic: Ability to meet food needs is consistently or permanently under threat.

2.0 Material and Method

This study was carried out using Nigeria as a case study being the most populous country in the African continent with estimated 178 million people as of 2014 (Worldometers, 2014) and as such the country is more vulnerable to food insecurity considering the pressure on the available resources needed to ensure adequate and sustainable food supply to the populace. The study made use of mostly secondary data sourced from Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and other past survey works that have been carried out on similar topics. The key food security indicators such as prevalence of undernourishment, food inadequacy and numbers of undernourished people in Nigeria from the year 2009 to 2014 according to the latest FAO survey were used for the study and their respective trend were observed to give the appropriate judgment as to the food security status of Nigeria which is of great concern to the stakeholders in recent time

Results and Discussions

State of Food Insecurity in Nigeria, Sub-Saharan Africa and the World At Large
Table 1 reveals that the latest estimates indicate that 805 million people – about one in nine of the world’s population – were chronically undernourished in 2012–14, with insufficient food for an active and healthy life. This number represents a decline of more than 100 million people over the last decade and of 209 million since 1990–92. The vast majority of hungry people live in developing regions, which saw 42 percent reduction in the prevalence of undernourished people between 1990–92 and 2012–14, despite this progress, about one in eight people, or 13.5 percent of the overall population, remain chronically undernourished in these regions, down from 23.4 percent in 1990–92. The MDG 1c hunger target – of halving, by 2015, the proportion of undernourished people in the developing world – is within reach, but considerable efforts are immediately needed, particularly in countries where progress has stalled. Despite overall progress, large differences remain across developing regions. Eastern and South-Eastern Asia have already achieved the MDG hunger target. The same is true of Latin America and the Caribbean, while the Caucasus and Central Asia are on track to reach MDG 1c by 2015. Latin America and the Caribbean are also on track to reach the more ambitious WFS goal. By contrast, sub- Saharan Africa and Southern and Western Asia have registered insufficient progress to reach the MDG target. Sub-Saharan Africa has become home to more than a quarter of the world’s undernourished people, owing to an increase of 38 million in the number of hungry people since 1990–92 (SOFI, 2014).

In the same vein, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) as depicted in Table 2, the prevalence of undernourishment, food security and the number of undernourished people have been on increase in Nigeria since 2009 due to the enumerated causes as itemized below in Nigeria though with the current trend as depicted in this paper, Nigeria still remains one of the few countries with lowest value in terms of prevalence of undernourishment, food insecurity and the number of undernourished people in the sub-Saharan Africa thus one of the most food secured countries in the region. However, the current trend whereby these indicators of food insecurity keep on rising is worrisome and requires the immediate attention of the concerned authorities through the suggested solutions as listed subsequently in this paper.

Causes of Food Insecurity

There are many causes of food insecurity in Africa. This presentation will limit the scope to that of Nigeria as presented in the above where it has been discovered that the food insecurity in on the rise since 2009 in the country which will give a template to the other African countries due to the fact that countries in Africa face similar challenges but only differ in magnitude. Some of the popular and common causes are itemized below

War and Political Instability: Of recent, the greatest threat to food security in Nigeria comes from the insurgency. As it is generally known that like other countries of the world, Nigeria is passing through one of her greatest challenges since independence from Britain in 1960. Of the six geo-political zones in Nigeria, the North East which is one of the critical zones that do not only provide the staple foods like grains, wheat and others but that is equally responsible for the provision of greater percentage of dairy products and animal protein in form of meat is currently under siege by insurgents. This has disrupted the agricultural activities in the areas while businesses worth millions of US Dollars have equally being halted. With this, the food security of the area is not only affected but almost every part of the country thus resulting to upward rising in the prices of food commodities in Nigeria. More than one million people have been displaced both internally and externally with more than ten thousand deaths. The remaining people in the affected areas are unable to continue their farming activities in the areas which had resulted in the alteration in the agricultural value chain in the country thereby resulting in reduction of food production. The problems started in 2009 and got escalated in the year 2014.

Urbanization: Like other countries of the world, increasing rural-urban migration due to urbanization play key roles in the emerging food insecurity in Nigeria. According to Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), by year 2050, 70 percent of the world population is expected to be living in cities. By this, the agricultural production will be disrupted thereby increasing the food insecurity.

Population Growth: This is another factor responsible for food insecurity in Nigeria. Currently, Nigeria is the 6th populous country in the world with the estimated population of about 178 million people with annual growth rate of 3 percent. This has increased the demand for food products just like other countries of the world. With this glaring increase in the population, there is no commensurable increase in the agricultural production. According to the United Nations, Nigeria is expected to become third most populous country in the world by 2050 overtaking America (The Guardian, June 13, 2013).

Poor Agricultural Sector Development: This is another problem that poses great threat to food security in Nigeria and Africa as whole. Most African countries including Nigeria do not have sustainable Agricultural policy that will enhance food security in the long run. This is so because in Nigeria and majority of African countries as a whole until recently do not have stable leadership thereby resulting to policy somersault. Nigeria for example has not been on stable political leadership until 1999 when the country returned to full democracy devoid of military intervention. This has led to inconsistencies in policies that could have placed the country on a stable track that could have ensured that there is uninterrupted food supply. However, the opposite is the case as successive governments have engaged in different agricultural policies that have led to cancellation of the existing ones even when the extant ones proved prosperous and sustainable. Some government policies interfere with markets, create standards that inhibit trade and remove price signals to farmers. Export restrictions and trading bans isolate local markets and give farmers little incentive to expand production for the next season, limiting the potential supply response to soaring prices.

Climate Change: Climate Change is another reason why there is food shortage in Africa. It has changed the productivity pattern. The rain and water is less predictable now than before. The rain comes either too late or too early or for a shorter period. Farmers are confused and do not know when to cultivate their grains and other vegetables. Some years, the rain comes too early and when they plant the grains, the rain stops and the grains rot under the ground.

Effects of Food Insecurity

In developing countries, persistent malnutrition leaves children weak, vulnerable, and less able to fight such common childhood illnesses as diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, malaria, and measles. Adolescents and adults also suffer adverse consequences of food insecurity and malnutrition. Malnutrition can lead to decreased energy levels, delayed maturation, growth failure, impaired cognitive ability, diminished capacity to learn, decreased ability to resist infections and illnesses, shortened life expectancy, increased maternal mortality, and low birth weight.

Food insecurity may also result to political instability just as food-insecure individuals may manifest feelings of alienation, powerlessness, stress, and anxiety, and they may experience reduced productivity, reduced work and school performance, and reduced income earnings. Household dynamics may become disrupted because of a preoccupation with obtaining food, which may lead to anger, pessimism, and irritation among other vices.

Suggested Solutions to the Problems of Food Insecurity

Researchers and other stakeholders have consistently worked on the way forward for the lingering food crisis in Africa sub-region including Nigeria. In order to mitigate the effects of food insecurity on the people there should be proactive actions on the side of the leaders with a view to protecting their people from starving to death as we are currently witnessing in some African countries including Nigeria. To achieve this among other things, this paper will like to suggest these few things among other numerous ways of reducing the incidence food insecurity in Nigeria and other African countries;

Consistent Policy Framework: First and foremost, the leaders must adhere strictly to unique agricultural policy that will be subjected to periodic review by experts concerned instead of the current policy somersault as we are currently witnessing. Once this is achieved, the successive governments will be able to pursue the food security with the desired vigour.

Provision of Infrastructures: Provision of social amenities such as roads, portable water, electricity, etc. should be provided to the rural dwellers to prevent or reduce rural-urban migration as this will ensure there is adequate labour for agricultural activities in the rural areas thereby increasing food productivities that will not only guarantee food security but will equally provide employment opportunities to the growing population in a way that it will reduce the pressure in the urban centers. Under this, the government should also encourage mechanized farming as a way of reducing the incidence of food insecurity as all over the world now agriculture is a serious business enterprise and the world has moved beyond the era of subsistence farming whereby agriculture is seen as feeding the immediate family with little or nothing for income drive. Modern agriculture is not only feeding the family but the world and is generating millions of employment and veritable source of income to both the farmers and source of foreign exchange to many countries of the world.

Population Control: Just like other African countries where poverty is rampant, population is majorly uncontrolled as the methods of achieving this menace such as contraceptives is still unpopular especially in the rural areas thereby resulting to population surge among the people thus encouraging undue competition for insufficient food. Government and other development partners such as world bank, UNICEF, FAO, WFP and others should rise up to assist the government in educating people on birth control so that there can be food security guaranty.

Provision of Storage Facilities: To avoid waste that usually accompany harvest season in Nigeria, government should do everything possible to ensure there is adequate provision of processing and storage facilities for Agricultural products so that there will be all year round food security and in turn boost the income level of farmers thereby reducing poverty which is the ultimate goal of the Nigerian government just like any other African government. The current situation in Nigerian has become so worrisome to the extent that vast majority of the harvested crops waste away during the farm season while huge amount of money is being used by the government to offset the import bills of the same commodities during the off season.

Abolition of Trade Barriers: There should be free trade across the African borders to guarantee free flow of food commodities across borders. Though, there are various extant trade agreements with other African countries especially the western Africa but the enforcement across nations has been very weak. If these trade agreements are fully operational the food insecurity will not only be minimized in Nigeria but in other African countries.


The problem of food insecurity must be seen as a security threats to not only to the country but also to the continent as a whole thereby prompting each country to device means aimed at reducing the menace headlong so as to prevent possible negative consequences that usually accompany food insecurity in countries that have suffered unrest before. If the problem is attacked with all seriousness by implementing the recommendations of various policy makers then the continent will be self-sufficient in terms of food security.


To address food insecurity, Nigeria must as a matter of urgency, put in place the following:

Revive infrastructure development: providing basic social facilities for the underserved would be an important tool for food security, this would douse the rural dwellers’ attraction to the urban centers, consequently resulting in an even distribution of food and decreased competition for limited available resources.

Make agricultural policies and programs that address specific issues affecting food supply while also adopting periodic policy reviews and adjustments to address real-time problems such as climate change.

Encourage free trade across neighboring African countries and establish standard storage facilities to avoid food wastage.

About the Author(s):

Wasiu Olayinka Fawole ( PhD) – World Bank · Project Implementation

– Burhan Ozkan – Akdeniz University, Department of Agricultural Economics

Eda Ilbasmis( PhD) – Akdeniz University, Department of Agricultural Economics

Source: ResearchGate

Keywords: Food Insecurity, Prevalence of undernourishment, Africa, Nigeria.

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