By Lawi Auwal Yusuf
An upsurge in food loss this year in some states, specifically those devastated by disastrous series of flooding that destroyed farmlands and carried away the produce, has raised some concerns about food insecurity in Nigeria. Several media reports actually talked about the widespread flooding damaging dwellings, large swathes of farmland, and infrastructure and displacing millions of people, only leaving them struggling to salvage the remains of their harvest. To this end, over 20 million Nigerians were projected to be facing food scarcity. Crops lost to the pandemic flooding coupled with lower yields, exorbitant prices of fertilizer and security challenges are likely to precipitate shortages and make prices costlier.
Indeed, Nigeria cannot afford to battle famine currently as it is facing a myriad of other extreme challenges. We recall that a 2021 UN report revealed that almost half of all food produced would never be consumed. Nigeria loses and wastes roughly 40% of its total food produced annually. Being the highest in Africa, with a total of 37.9 million tons of food that is thrown into the trashcans of households, restaurants, retailers and other food services. It further disclosed that each Nigerian discards almost 189kg of food every 12 months. No doubt, this trend, augmented by this year’s nosedive in the food supply, will famish more Nigerians.
But the big question remains, are Nigerian authorities conscious of this awful threat? Unfortunately, the government’s continued abysmal attention to the problem is evidenced by its lackadaisical disposition in dealing with the issue. The relatively paltry budgetary allocation to agriculture has made us more assured that they don’t give a damn about food security.
To add insult to injury, Nigerians are not yet willing to back away from food squandering, which they see as normal. The problem’s exacerbation implies that this behaviour is deeply entrenched as a lifestyle without visualising its social, economic and environmental repercussions. Wealthy individuals continue to store excess food while impoverished Nigerians remain at the mercy of starvation. However, cutting food loss and waste is essential as more people continue to die of hunger every day, whereas millions of tonnes of edible food that can save their lives are extravagantly trashed into landfills.
Generally, food loss or waste is the food that is discarded and lost uneaten and occurs at either the production, processing, retailing or consumption stage of the food supply chain. Unlike in the Western metropolis where most food is wasted at the consumption level, contrarily, most food in the third world is lost at the production stage. Though food waste is a component of food loss, the two terms differ, considering the point at which the loss occurs.
Food loss is the decrease in quantity or the quality of food in the production and distribution process. While food waste is the removal of healthy food at the consumption level from the supply chain and usually occurs in shops or at home. Both are mostly caused by poor stock management, expiration, negligence or the indifferent act of throwing away half-eaten food.
Consequently, food loss and waste undermine the sustainability of our food systems; hence, they cannot be resilient if they are not sustainable. When food is disposed of, all those resources used to produce it are wasted equally. This includes water, land, labour, energy, capital and precious time. Similarly, they have negative impacts on national food security as well as its availability. Nonetheless, they also help in pushing prices up while depleting farmers’ and retailers’ incomes.
It is gratifying to note that the disposal of food in junkyards leads to greenhouse gas emissions that exacerbate climate change. Studies have shown that more than 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are a result of uneaten food. In addition, food disposal also produces methane, which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Bacteria produce methane as they decompose sludge in waste treatment facilities and other decaying matter in garbage lots.
Actions are necessary to check this exponential growth in food loss and waste that threaten national security in order to ensure self-sufficiency, maximize the use of the food we produce, increase profits and be thrifty with our natural resources. This will go a long way towards enhancing the efficient use of these scarce resources, mitigating climate change, increasing exports and reducing imports, and above all, supporting food security and nutrition.
In view of the foregoing, it is necessary to combat the underlying causes like poor transport and storage facilities, unstable power supply, lack of preservation knowledge and techniques, and unplanned buying and excess cooking. Moreover, behavioural change will undoubtedly make a difference too.
Instructively, Nigeria must do all its best, come what may, to steady this monumental failure in food production as the demand for more food increases year on year due to its acutely growing population. Equally important is the need for the government to fill up the broader supply gap created by this year’s immense loss so as to meet up the national demand to forestall dearth in this already ailing country.
Lawi Auwal Yusuf wrote from Kano, Nigeria