Live Stream
Radio Ndarason Internationale


Food-insecurity crisis in northeastern Nigeria is getting worse – a lot worse

13 November 2023
Reading time: 6 minutes

High cost of living has resulted in most households relying solely on carbohydrates to keep going – but there are many who go to bed with empty bellies.

Despite President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s declaration of a state of emergency on food in mid-July, nothing much has improved for people in northeast Nigeria – in fact, if anything, it’s got a lot worse.

Many people, particularly internally displaced persons (IDPs), living in communities in the northeast do not even have one square meal a day, let alone three – and far too many go to bed with empty bellies.

There are several factors that have led to the exorbitant cost of living – the main one is the removal of the fuel subsidy on July 1, which resulted in petrol prices skyrocketing and led to high transport costs. Even before the subsidy removal, inflation was increasing at an alarming rate.

These factors have resulted in huge increases in the price of all food and commodities. Also, people cannot find jobs and the majority of people in the northeast live in poverty.

Rural banditry, increased attacks mainly by insurgents – but also common criminals – on farmers, rising fertiliser costs and insecticides are also key drivers.

Climate change has played its part too, leading to widespread flooding and droughts in some areas. All these factors have resulted in a devastating food-insecurity crisis in the region.
This has reduced not only the amount of food being consumed but also the quality.

Only the affluent in society can still afford a nutritional and balanced diet.
The poor and desperate are struggling to survive and most people have resorted to eating sweet potatoes and, when they get tired of that, processed cassava grain – or nothing at all when they have no money.

Falmata Abubakar, an IDP living in Muna Camp in Maiduguri, Borno State’s capital, told RNI that previously they could afford to cook rice and beans and had two meals a day.

“But now food has become so expensive that we struggle to eat even one meal a day. Our situation has become drastically worse. Our every-day meal is sweet potatoes and, when we get tired of eating that, we switch to eating soaked cassava grain, popularly known as garri.
“We know that it is preferable that we eat a well-balanced diet with nutritious food. But the cost is out of our range. We already struggle to get what we have. Sometimes time we go to sleep on an empty stomach.”

Mohammed Abba, from the Shehuri community, said: “The amount and quality of food we eat in my household has changed. I used to be able to afford to feed my family three times a day. Now I can afford only enough for two meals a day.

“And what we mostly eat is sweet potatoes and processed cassava grain. We add sugar to it to make it more palatable but sometimes I cannot afford to buy sugar. Then it’s tasteless but at least we can survive on it.

“I know the importance of eating quality food that is nutritional and well balanced. But I cannot afford it. And it is showing in my children. Their bodies are so thin and they look unhealthy. I feel helpless but I just can’t afford to buy the food they need.

“These days even if people earn a salary they complain that they are not able to feed their families three square meals a day. Only highly positioned officers can afford to buy food that is well balanced and nutritional.”

Yagana Bukar, a facility manager at the Kaalmari Health Clinic, a primary healthcare medical centre in the Bulabulin ward of Maiduguri, said many people could not always provide any food for their families, let alone well-balanced and nutritional food.

“The kind of food we eat determines the health of a person. To maintain a healthy body every person needs to eat nutritional food of good quality. That is what our bodies need every day.

“Unfortunately, we are going through an extremely hard and difficult time. Most people simply cannot afford balanced and nutritional food. They depend on eating sweet potatoes, processed cassava grain, or raw cassava, as their day-to-day food. It is cheap and they don’t have to spend money processing it.

“All their food is made up only of carbohydrates. Many people cannot afford to eat even twice a day. Only the wealthy can afford healthy food.”
Yagana said for most people it was impossible to eat three meals a day. Some could manage to eat twice a day, others only once a day. Many went to bed with empty bellies.

“To help make the carbohydrates more nutritional, people should prepare it with vegetables, beans, fish and palm oil. That way they will also get proteins, fats and oil. Eating the carbohydrates raw or plain is unhealthy for the body.”

A Cadre Harmonisé Acute Food and Nutritional Insecurity Analysis report for October 2023, said about 26.5 million Nigerians in 26 states, including 528,000 IDPs in Borno, Sokoto and Zamfara states, were expected to be in a food crisis or worse by August 2024.

The report said the key drivers of the crisis included the removal of the fuel subsidy; the policy that led to the redesign of the naira banknotes, floods, conflict and insecurity.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said by August this year there were already 25 million Nigerians who were at risk of facing serious hunger.
As many as 17 million food-insecure Nigerians today were children under the age of five living in the Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara states.

UNICEF said there was a serious risk of mortality among children attributed to acute malnutrition.

In the Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY) states alone, the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition was expected to increase from 1.74 million in 2022 to two million this year.

A report released by FHI 360, a non-governmental healthcare organisation operating in the northeast, said there was a significant rise in the number of cases of severe wasting among very young children in the crisis-affected region. 
Data showed that a staggering 15,781 malnourished children had been admitted to the organisation’s facilities for treatment of moderate and severe wasting, including complications, between February and September this year.

It said the increase amounted to about 160% compared with last year.

Jennifer Garcia, the media relations manager at FHI 360, said: “The situation in northeastern Nigeria is grave. Increased support is needed to address the critical health and nutritional needs of communities, especially women and children.”


About the author