“More than 40 per cent of root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20 per cent of oil seeds, and 35 per cent of fish never reach the mouths of hungry people.” – FAO
Lest we forget, there was a nationwide flooding emergency last year. The whole country was submerged in sorrow. From the North to the South, from the West to the East; Nigeria was a massive bleeding field of human anguish. According to Federal Government data, the floods displaced over 1.4 million people, killed over 603 people and injured more than 2,400 persons. About 82,035 houses were damaged, and 332,327 hectares of land had also been affected. The enormity of the calamity meant that the following year, 2023, would be tough.
Expectedly, at the beginning of this year, the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, declared that about 25 million Nigerians are at risk of facing hunger between June and August 2023 (lean season) if urgent action is not taken. This is a projected increase from the estimated 17 million people currently at risk of food insecurity. Continued conflict, climate change, inflation and rising food prices are key drivers of this alarming trend. Yet, the 2022 flooding directly takes the bulk of the blame.
According to the National Emergency Management Agency, the widespread flooding in the 2022 rainy season damaged more than 676,000 hectares of farmlands, which diminished harvests and increased the risk of food insecurity for families across the country. The report states that of the 17 million people who are currently food insecure, three million are in the North-East states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. Without immediate action, this figure is expected to increase to 4.4 million in the lean season. This includes highly vulnerable displaced populations and returnees who are already struggling to survive a large-scale humanitarian crisis in which 8.3 million people need assistance.
I pen this piece because we are now about to enter the lean months which last from June to August – that is, when farmers have finished putting their seeds in the ground. The government should let the nation know the plans it has for deflecting the predicted impacts of the previous year’s flooding incident and also the general effects of climate change on the polity. The lean season is challenging, not only for farmers but everybody who consumes food. When the farmers have finished planting, there is relative scarcity, which spirals into seasonal food inflation. The Nigerian situation is more troubling because we are still faced with worsening insecurity which spawns displaced populations whose sole mission is surviving at all costs.
Nevertheless, putting food insecurity in the global context, it is not only in Nigeria that hungry people reside. On the flip side, it is not only in rich countries that food is wasted – poor nations also waste them. The problem of the world is not having resources, but allowing the resources to go around equitably. Nigeria is just a microcosm of this reality. While there are many rich people in the country who have more than enough to eat; there are even more poor people who cannot afford a day’s meal.
Global food waste is a cross-cutting issue that starts during agricultural production and continues all the way to disposal at the landfill. Over 30 per cent of food is lost or wasted each year. And considering the number of poor people, this is really a social justice problem. It is equally an ecological issue because food waste has an enormous environmental impact. Waste food is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions, as they decay and emit methane, a GHG. Therefore, reducing food waste could help to reduce global GHGs emissions, establish food security and encourage healthy food systems.
The FAO estimates that 1.3 gigatons of edible food is wasted each year, and this releases 3.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This estimate does not include land use change, which would even have put the figure higher. According to Greenly Resources, all the food produced but never eaten would be sufficient to feed two billion people. That is more than twice the number of undernourished people across the globe. If wasted food were a country, it would be the third-largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world, after the USA and China.
When we talk about food waste, we may think of the food we throw away after cooking meals, or the uneaten food from our tables at restaurants. But, the sources of food waste are far more varied than this. Food waste includes lost or discarded food at all stages of the food system: Unsold food from local markets or other retail outlets such as produce food; plate waste from restaurants; prepared, perfectly edible food that has not been eaten; trimmings like food scraps from food preparation in restaurants, cafeterias, or homes; By-products of food and beverage processing; Uneaten agricultural, forestry, and fishery products; Edible food that is intended for human consumption, but instead gets discarded or expires (plate waste, spoiled food, and discarded peels).
Rich countries waste the most, as do industrialised countries – who often have a significant impact on this food loss and waste. For instance, the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates suggest that food waste makes up the largest single category of waste reaching landfills in the US. It accounted for 24 per cent of all landfilled and 22 per cent of incinerated sold waste in 2018. In total, the US wasted 63 millions tons of food in 2018.
Ironically, we have a bigger problem of food waste over here. This is because while rich nations waste mostly at the consumer and retail level; we haemorrhage at the post-harvest stage and at the consumer phase too. A report released by the United Nations in 2021 revealed that food wastage in Nigeria per citizen is the highest in Africa. It said that Nigerian trash at least 189 kilograms of food every year, amounting to a total of 37.9 million tons of food every 12 months. The survey conducted every two years by the United Nations Environment Programme and British partner organisation, Waste and Resources Action Programme, also showed that Nigerians seem not to be ready to change the habit.
Anyway, apart from individual citizens’ wastage, there is wastage that occurs as a result of structural gaps in the agricultural and food production value chain. It is estimated that 37 per cent of Nigerian agricultural production that requires refrigeration is lost due to inefficient or non-existent cold chains. Food spoilage due to a lack of cold storage costs 93 million small farmers in Nigeria 25 per cent of their annual income. This, no doubt, has a direct negative impact on the country’s food security.
According to the World Bank, Nigeria loses and wastes 40 per cent of its total food production each year. This loss accounts for 31 per cent of the country’s total land use and accounts for 5 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions.
It is therefore a no-brainer that the government should concentrate more on delivering support infrastructure for food preservation and storage. Even for nutritional value, fresh farm produce starts losing its nutrient value almost immediately after harvest. Proper handling post-harvest and refrigeration help slow down deterioration, ensuring that it is still fresh and nutritious when it reaches the consumer. Hence, we must use the right weapon to kill the monster called food insecurity. While the rich ones amongst us stop food wastage, our government should support farmers in the preservation and storage of post-harvest produce.