Sunday 6 September 2020

National security and food security in Sub-Saharan Africa

National and food security are indeed two intertwined and sacrosanct concepts; neither is exclusive of the other in that they complement one another. Although food security is an aspect of national security, the role the latter plays in the achievement of the former makes it almost as important and weighty.

National security is an all-encompassing concept that entrenches variables such as power (military strength and economic capacity) and national defence (protection of the sovereignty of a nation by its armed forces). In contemporary times, its scope has widened, involving concepts such as economic and political security, natural resource security, food and cybersecurity and so much more. National security has been defined as the security and defence of a nation-state, including its citizens, economies and institutions, which is regarded as the duty of government1Since food security plays a role in achieving economic security which is a non-military dimension of national security, this definition emphasizes that national and food security are closely linked.

Food security, on the other hand, is said to exist when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life2. This implies that hunger and starvation would be the order-of-the-day in a nation or part of any nation torn by the pangs of conflicts and unrest arising from insecurity in whatever form. The aforementioned definition of food security as promulgated by the 1996 World Food Summit ensures that food security is only achieved when there is sufficient supply of food and citizens are able to demand it based on their economic ability to access these foods. 

While national security ensures that the workforce required by the food production system is safe and have an enabling environment to produce and/or supply food to a population with ready access, it is important to note that the inability to access food also puts a given population on a path to conflict and unrest which invariably poses a threat to national security. This is clearly a cycle that continues to affect millions of lives around the world particularly persons living in developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Helon Habila’s political fictional novel - Travelers - gives an insight into the plight of African migrants in Europe; able-bodied men and women, and children with potentials from nationally insecure war-torn countries, seeking better lives millions of miles away from home. Many die in the process; others turn to vices for survival. Sometimes, these persons, running from rural communities leave behind farmlands and other economic sustaining agricultural activities. Have we stopped to ask ourselves what percentage of the food production workforce may be part of these migrants across the world and how this impacts on the goal to achieve food security by the year 2030?

According to the International Organization of Migrants (IOM), there are about 272 Million migrants globally, persons forced to leave their homes as a result of conflict and extreme violence amongst other factors that threaten national security. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in a joint briefing recount “protracted conflict” as one of the main causes of hunger around the world. This is not far-fetched as the livelihoods of rural populations - who account for a greater proportion of the farming families around the world - are mostly affected in situations of unrest.

The Boko Haram crisis which has affected parts of Nigeria and Cameroon since 2009, led to a destruction of food crops and livestock and forced farmers to flee from their communities leaving a large expanse of arable lands uncultivated for several years. Asides the Boko Haram Crises in North-East Nigeria, farmers in the North-West have been gravely affected by activities of bandits, while their counterparts in the North-Central suffer from clashes between crop and livestock farmers (farmer-herder clashes). This in times past spread to parts of the South-West, South-East and South-South, while kidnapping, rape and ethnic conflicts remain other security concerns for farmers in different parts of the country. Contextualizing the aforementioned, it is clear that the achievement of food and nutrition security in Nigeria remains threatened for as long as these security challenges remain unresolved. 

In Congo, an estimate of 4.5million persons in 2011 experienced a food crisis aggravated by population displacement and a decline in agricultural productivity arising from the protracted conflict. Ranked as one of the countries with the highest levels of hunger in the world, conflict in addition to the effect of climate change has caused more persons to suffer from hunger and malnutrition in Chad where most of the country’s population depends largely on farming and livestock for survival. This is the case of many other Sub-Sahara African countries.

With the rising rate of economic, religious, cultural and politically motivated security challenges in the region, with Mali as the most recent cause for concern,  how close or far away are we from ensuring that variables tied to national security are properly structured and managed to achieve food and nutrition security by 2030?

Kindly lookout for my next article, where I would be sharing some recommendations for synergizing national and food security for sustainable livelihood.

The Author

Ogbole Esther.

''As an agriculture enthusiast, I have long had a passion for contributing my quota to the growth and development of the Nigeria agricultural sector and this birthed an interest in research to see what and how precisely agricultural strategies are implemented in developed economies of the world and how they can be adapted to suit the Nigerian scenario''.