Story 9: Hunger and Malnutrition Loom Large in New Nigerian Poverty Map

Story 9: Hunger and Malnutrition Loom Large in New Nigerian Poverty Map

Nigeria, 30 January 2023 - 

Read our ninth story in the series on The Food Crisis: What's Happening, a collection of work on the current events and the impact communities are seeing on a global scale. The Food Crisis is affecting everyone socially, economically, and nutritionally. Michael Ojo and Joyce Akpata discuss newly published dire statistics on Nigeria's poverty index, and how urgent action is needed. 

Nigeria appears to be clinging to the unflattering moniker of being "the world's poverty capital" as seen from the recent National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) Nigeria Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which shows that 63% that is, 133 million, of Nigeria’s 218 million people are multidimensionally poor. The Survey’s multifaceted approach focuses on health, education, living standards, work, and shocks. The inclusion of a Child MPI, which considers children under 5 years of age contributes to the uniqueness of the report. 

The MPI is significantly higher than the incidence of monetary poverty, which estimates that 40.1% of the population is living below the monetary poverty line (as measured by the  NBS’s National Living Standard Survey conducted between 2018/2019)  and offers a useful evaluation of the progress made towards a range of SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).  The report is insightful in informing evidence-based policy decisions and can provide a good foundation for the design and implementation of programs to improve people's lives, particularly at the grassroots level.

At the regional level, the findings of the MPI survey revealed that 65% of poor people, or 86 million, live in the North, while 35%, or nearly 47 million, live in the South. In the case of children, the child MPI indicates that poverty is higher in the North-East and North-West with 90% of the children there being poor, and lower in the South-East and South-West where 74% and 65.1% of children are considered poor.  Child Multidimensional Poverty affects more than half of all states, with rates exceeding 95% in Bayelsa, Sokoto, Gombe, and Kebbi. This indicates that of Nigeria's over 100 million children, 67 million are multidimensionally poor, with the child engagement indicator revealing that more than half of all children lack the intellectual stimulation that is critical to early childhood development.

A closer look at the health dimension, particularly the Nutrition and Food insecurity indicators with a deprivation cut-off that measures nutrition in the light of a household being deprived if any child under the age of 5 is undernourished or if there is any adult household member with a body mass index lower than 18.5, and food insecurity as a household being severely food insecure if they answered yes to at least seven of the eight questions in the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) within a 30-day period, presents cause for concern. Out of all indicators across all dimensions, nutrition is the primary driver of multidimensional poverty in all regions, while food insecurity is prevalent in all regions, with urban areas having a relatively higher rate.

As a result of several contemporary factors that continue to affect food and nutrition security, such as the war in Ukraine which has impacted imported commodity prices, inflation, and the recent flooding across several states, which have led to a spike in food prices, affecting food availability and affordability, especially among the vulnerable population, there is a very high likelihood that the statistics presented in the MPI, which is based on surveys conducted between November 2021 and February 2022, have deteriorated. Hence, the 38.6% of Nigerians reflected as being food insecure might understate current realities. 

To enhance food and nutrition security, it is crucial that the National Multi-Sectoral Plan of Action for Food and Nutrition 2021–25, launched at the tail end of  2021, be implemented in a manner that takes cognisance of the MPI statistics with necessary modifications and adjustments to address the most pressing challenges thrown up by the MPI taking account of the dynamic nature of states and demography as disaggregated in the Survey. Furthermore, because food systems contribute a significant portion of the national economy and have an impact on many developmental issues including hunger, malnutrition, disease, poverty, livelihoods, unemployment levels, conflict, violence, and climate change, we believe the effective implementation of the National Food Systems Transformation Pathways, which present the outcomes of the UN Food Systems Summit dialogues, would catalyse positive change and tackle a good number of the challenges implicit in the high MPI. 

The NBS’ MPI report recommends practical steps that the different levels of government could take to address these challenges. Among these is a call to incorporate the Nigeria MPI as an official monitoring indicator to complement the monetary indicators, with the goal of pulling 100 million people out of poverty by 2030. Considering the number of children affected by poverty and the potential long-term impact on their cognitive development and its resultant effect on national development, efforts to reduce child poverty and malnutrition should be a key national priority. Policies for early childhood development must be bolstered and expedited while also prioritizing measures to enhance school enrolment and attendance, as well as those to stop child marriage. Furthermore, coordinated efforts at the national and state levels are required to effectively implement policies and improve the efficiency of relevant government departments in carrying out their mandates.

While addressing the urgent and interconnected deprivations, it is crucial to make sure that interventions are targeted to address deprivations identified across the states, and rural and urban centres. By assisting farming households to grow and consume biofortified crops, GAIN is aiming to improve the nutritional status, resilience, and livelihoods of this vulnerable population. If this multifaceted strategy is adopted nationwide, particularly in the states with the highest percentage of the poor, it will aid in addressing some of the problems that have been identified.

The National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme is an excellent example of a cross-cutting intervention that is capable of reaching a large number of underprivileged children by tackling malnutrition at scale if it is effectively implanted across several states. Some of GAIN’s interventions are geared towards strengthening the institutional capacity of the organizations involved in delivering the programme and leveraging it to improve children's nutrition, primary school students' educational outcomes, local agricultural production, and women's empowerment, thereby enhancing nutrition outcomes and tackling poverty through improved livelihoods. 
The dire statistics on poverty constitute an urgent call to action for federal and state policy formulators, implementers, development change agents and economic actors at all tiers. The results of the MPI must be aligned with national developmental priorities to enhance the efficacy of interventions to reduce poverty especially because of its considerable subnational disaggregation and multidimensional nature. This MPI has provided markers that must be used to develop targeted initiatives to enhance poverty reduction and effective coordination of multisectoral policies that positively impact vulnerable groups and the poorest households and lead us closer to the attainment of the SDGs.

Read more about our ongoing series on The Food Crisis: What's Happening