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Nigeria’s Hunger Pandemic: Time to Scale

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has resulted in the collapse of economies worldwide. According to UNDP, human development is on the major decline for the first time in 30 years and poor countries are the most affected. The COVID-19’s global death toll has already exceeded 300,000 people and there is an expected four percent fall in per capita income this year. As countries across the world re-strategize to re-open economic activities and borders, many poor countries like Nigeria which already have a very significant poverty rate per capita are faced with issues further complicated by the outbreak. Nigeria ranked poorly at 159th position out of 162 countries in the 2019 Sustainable Development Report with a score of 46.4% in measuring the achievement of SDG targets, needs to make well-being and equality a top priority in policy making and planning. With a Hunger Index of 27.9 % according to the Global Hunger Index, Nigeria ranks 93rd out of 119 qualifying countries. An index that considers Inadequate food supply (undernourishment), child mortality (under-five mortality) and undernutrition (wasting and stunting) proves Nigeria is having a serious hunger situation.

The Nigerian 2019 Consumption Expenditure data by the National Bureau of Statistics (in collaboration with The World Bank) shows Nigeria spends a large percentage of its income on food (which is 56.6% of total expenditure) more than healthcare (₦2.4 Trillion), transport ((₦2.5 Trillion) and telecoms (₦2.2 Trillion). Spending massively on food reinforces the reality of the hierarchy of needs for millions of Nigerians. These numbers prove hunger is an even greater threat to millions of Nigerians.

Figure 1; Diagram showing the percentage of expenditure (NBS, 2020)

Despite trillions of naira and dollars in donations for COVID-19 intervention, there is still very little impact reflected in the lives of millions of Nigerians. There have been Donations from Jack Ma, Dangote, the European Union (EU), the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the Chinese Government, the N 50 billion Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), COVID-19 intervention fund for SMEs, the Chinese automaker Guangzhou Automobile (GAC Group), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Nigeria and many other donations from private individuals and business conglomerates. There have also been donations of equipment, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health workers and other physical properties to set up intensive care centers across different states in Nigeria amounting to millions of dollars; Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank) Plc built a 100-bed intensive care center for COVID-19 patients which was donated to the Lagos State Government. The Federal Government did a controversial cash-in-hand intervention to selected beneficiaries, but it was quickly halted due to irregularities and poor accountability.

Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has made tremendous efforts to educate the public and keep the numbers accurate but it is presently overwhelmed with limited resources and then it leaves you wondering why there is little to nothing reflected in the lives of millions. From cases of questionable quantities and quality of relief materials donated to citizens and numbers of beneficiaries said to be reached by these interventions, there is a need to embrace a more effective approach that allows for accountability going forward. Nigeria is a country marred by systemic corruption and fraud reflected in every sphere of society; a weakness that became a full-blown embarrassment in managing the pandemic. Enforcement of lockdown proved difficult as millions preferred to risk their lives going out to make ends meet as they really could not depend on the government to look out for them despite promises and donations. Poor accessibility to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) coupled with severe hunger left millions vulnerable both in rural and urban areas. The inability of the government to care for its citizens resulted in individuals and Non-Governmental Organizations stepping up to reach out to assist those who have left out of any form of assistance.

The Lagos Food Bank Example

There have been many non-governmental interventions that sought to assist individuals and communities. Some of these interventions have proved successful and consistent in providing relief materials, particularly food with effective working models which should be replicated in other parts of Nigeria during this pandemic and post-pandemic. One such is the COVID-19 Emergency Food Intervention Plan (CEFIP) launched 25th of March 2020 by Lagos Food Bank Initiative (LFBI) in line with Community Emergency Preparedness and Response (CEPR) for communities in Lagos State. The model has been very successful in creating food packs with essential items to last families for a week or two using door-to-door deliveries to reach beneficiaries. With donations from individuals and corporate bodies, CEFIP by LFBI has been able to reach over 5000 families in different Lagos communities with nutritious food packs in a way that has been transparent and fits within the complexity of the Nigerian environment. Lagos Food Bank Initiative is the first of its kind anywhere in Nigeria. It has consistently upgraded its outreach model; a brainchild of Mr. Michael Sunbola, the organization has made tremendous progress in a short time positively affecting the lives of millions in the slums of Lagos. LFBI has kept its processes transparent with consistent feedback, and annual reports with a well-managed network of volunteers, donors and beneficiaries.

The framework within which LFBI operated before the Pandemic made it easy to reach beneficiaries across communities using data from previous outreaches, leaving no one behind. The massive outbreak of the novel coronavirus and the severity of hunger in Nigeria requires an effective solution, a model that can fit within the Nigerian context; therefore, I would recommend the replication of the Lagos Food Bank model in many parts of Nigeria. To scale it up, out, and deep all over Nigeria to fit within the context of different communities having the same goal as the original idea behind LFBI. One of the challenges in executing plans on paper has been insufficient data. The government planned on making deposits into the bank accounts of Nigerians, but millions were left out despite the availability of Bank Verification Numbers (BVN). Every plan the government has made to reach millions has proved ineffective leading to more insecurity and hunger, making the situation worse. Instead of the Government keeping on spending without any accountability, it would be good to collaborate and replicate already working existing models to scale and progressively improve the delivery of palliative measures.

Collaboration for short-term and long-term goals in managing Nigeria’s hunger pandemic is crucial. Establishments of food banks across Nigeria to provide food, relief materials and nutritional plans for the short-term recovery of households and individuals. Food banks will assist in feeding and empowering families until they can get back on their feet, so they do not remain dependent on others to meet their basic needs in the long term. Lagos Food Bank Initiative has successfully initiated two programs that can also be replicated with its model across Nigeria. These programs are EDUFOOD and NUMEPLAN.EDUFOOD is the Education enhancement intervention for food-insecure students launched in August 2019; adopted 2 schools, enrolled 69 children as of 31 December 2019 and over 500 hours volunteering for this program. The other program NUMEPLAN; Nutritional meal plan Intervention for vulnerable mothers and Children has partnered with 3 Primary Health Care (PHC) centers and enrolled 50 women and children with over 600 hours in volunteering towards this initiative. These interventions are in line with the UN SDGs 1 and 2 (No Poverty and Zero Hunger). For millions of Nigerians to come out of hunger, they must be provided with not just food but nutritious food. The food system must become sustainable from the farm right to the plate, food waste must stop with better agricultural productivity and more affordable food.

Scaling Up, Out and Deep

Imagine the impact of having working food banks across communities in Nigeria.It has become important for progressive collaborative efforts between government and NGOs. Successful initiation must be deliberately empowered to scale and replicate to ensure the transformation of SDGs beyond GDP which has not translated to the well-being of many Nigerians. Understanding how to scale and when to scale will improve efforts of impact, generate new social innovations and deepen the impact with limited resources. Scaling out, scaling up and scaling deep (Moore et al, 2015), an idea by used by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation in the evaluation of funding/grants during its Applied Dissemination Program to accelerate the impacts of different initiatives by previous grantees. (McConnel Foundation, 2017)

Figure 2; Types of scaling (Moore et al, 2015)

Scaling Out

To scale, we must understand why Lagos food bank Initiative should be scaled out of Lagos, and get deep insight into the way it can be scaled within the context of different states but retain the core ideas and principles that have helped LFBI to be successful. Scaling out is beyond expanding on the geographical scale or number of people. The impact must be a deliberate goal to sustain the change aimed at ending hunger all over Nigeria. The challenge here achieving transformation in adaptation within different communities; the same level of success in Lagos as in other places where it will be established. The questions here are; why should the LFBI scale? Can the present model be replicated elsewhere?

Table 1; Types of Scaling and their strategies (Moore et al, 2015)

Scaling Up

To replicate the success of LFBI in other parts of Nigeria, there must be a change in policies and legal framework to allow it to be implemented without unnecessary bureaucracies or bottlenecks. By scaling upwards, government collaboration with Lagos Food Bank creates an opportunity to make higher impacts within policy and legal institutions where it can effectively be involved with ways to stop the hunger pandemic. Based on the experience from the work already done within Lagos state, LFBI can deliver strategies that can lift millions out of poverty and hunger in a way that is people-focused with practical applications. LFBI can also work with communities linking them with the government to achieve a more sustained solution, design targeted programs and manage resources to end the scourge of hunger. Hunger affects people differently, and understanding how to make policies targeted at the root causes of hunger and poverty that can fit within different contexts will ensure successful scaling.

Scaling Deep

For an invention or initiative to be a complete success, it must reach deep within societal structures to redefine cultural ideas, narratives and beliefs that can undermine the progress of establishing other food banks. Dominant social and economic structures with different societies can become a stumbling block if navigation and balancing these initiatives within these structures are not well mapped out. An example is the negative stereotyping of people collecting items from the food banks that can dissuade people from approaching food banks for help, saving face to avoid embarrassment and eventually ending up depressed or dying in silence. In Nigeria, people try not to appear needful even when they are flat broke; there is a condescending attitude towards people who need help and it is difficult for people to be honest about desperate situations. The deep-rooted attitude of corruption and poor accountability can also become a very big challenge in scaling the food bank idea. Lagos Food Bank Initiative presently prides itself on being accountable with dedicated volunteers; to replicate this model, it must consider the challenge of culture and norms prevalent in different communities across Nigeria which can undermine real goals and objectives for having a food bank in the first instance. To scale deep, collaboration must include investment in transformative learning in communities like mentoring, deliberate effort to teach communities and staff of food banks progressive practices that can aid the successful execution of food bank ideas across communities and boost partnerships for other SDG-related projects to be initiated through the food banks.

Figure 3; SDG 2, Zero Hunger


Scaling of initiatives requires deliberate efforts. Other initiatives have other successful models that have thrived in this pandemic; Lagos Food Bank Initiative is just one example. There is a need for partnership in overcoming hunger, poverty, deprivation and inequality in Nigeria. The government must embrace the ideas of others outside the corridors of power and empower them to expand, this does not mean that the government should collaborate with the guise of taking over these initiatives or coerce founders to give in because of limited financial obstacles faced by many NGOs. Such an approach can hinder government and private partnerships in development projects; trying to sideline the founder of an idea and impose someone to take over the organization eventually leads to mismanagement. The problem of hunger and poverty must be re-framed for better understanding in organizing for deep systemic solutions to reach more people through better institutional policies, better resource management and a flexible approach to existing cultural beliefs. Through deliberative collaboration; the why, the how and the what of scaling can be answered.

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