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The way forward for food security in Nigeria

Nigeria is a nation with immense agricultural potential on every side and fertile lands that promise bountiful harvests. Yet, within this paradox of plenty, a grave issue persists—food waste. As you’re reading this, millions of people have nothing to eat or are underfed today – a problem that has now been aggravated by our stunted economy. The challenge of food waste and food insecurity calls for urgent action.

However, food insecurity is not just a Nigerian problem, it’s global. There are hungry people everywhere in the world. Many people even believe that food wastage only happens in rich nations because they have more than can be wasted. But that’s not true and Nigeria is a convincing example. Both poor and rich nations waste food. The world’s problem has never been about the availability of resources, but the equal distribution of it. So, while the rich in Nigeria have more than enough to eat and waste, the poor cannot even afford a day’s meal.

Global food waste is a pervasive issue that begins with agricultural production and extends all the way to landfill disposal. Each year, over 30% of food is lost or wasted. Given the number of impoverished individuals, this is fundamentally a social justice problem. Additionally, it poses a significant ecological challenge due to its enormous environmental impact. As food waste decomposes, it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Thus, reducing food waste is crucial for lowering global greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring food security, and promoting sustainable food systems.

The FAO estimates that 1.3Gt of edible food is wasted each year, releasing 3.3Gt of carbon dioxide equivalent. This estimate excludes land use changes, which would make the figure even higher. According to Greenly Resources, the food produced but never eaten could feed two billion people, more than twice the number of undernourished people globally. If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world, after the USA and China.

Let’s come back to Nigeria – what really is the scope of food waste and food insecurity in Nigeria? Like I mentioned earlier, food insecurity is a global problem, but in Nigeria, it is a bigger problem. The reason is not plain. While rich nations waste mostly at the consumer and retail level, Nigeria waste at the post-harvest and consumer phase. It is estimated that 37% of Nigerian agricultural production that requires refrigeration is lost due to inefficient or non-existent cold chains.

These post-harvest losses include those lost during production, handling, storage, and transportation. More unfortunate is that the wastage is not only a loss of valuable food but also a waste of resources such as water, labour, and energy that go into producing it. Food spoilage from the lack of cold storage costs 93,000,000 small farmers in Nigeria 25% of their annual income. This undoubtedly has a direct negative impact on our food security.

According to the World Bank, Nigeria loses and wastes 40% of its total food production each year before it reaches the consumer. This loss accounts for 31% of the country’s total land use and 5% of its greenhouse gas emissions. A report by Business Insider placed Nigeria on top of the list of top ten African countries that waste the most food in 2024 with over 24,000 tonnes/year of household food waste. Another report released by the United Nations in 2021 buttresses that report that food wastage in Nigeria per citizen is the highest in Africa. It reported that Nigerians waste at least 189kg of food each year, totalling 37,900,000 tons annually. The biennial survey by the United Nations Environment Programme and the British organisation Waste and Resources Action Programme also indicated that Nigerians appear reluctant to change this habit.

Apart from post-harvest loss, inadequate infrastructure and consumer behaviour, another cause of food waste in Nigeria is inefficient supply chains. Nigeria’s agricultural supply chains are fragmented and inefficient. Multiple intermediaries between the farm and the consumer can result in delays and mishandling, leading to food loss. Poor market coordination also means that surplus produce in one region does not efficiently reach areas of deficit. Every Nigerian knows this – there may be surplus agricultural products in Kano but scarce in Lagos.

Let me clarify a few points in this paragraph. Food waste is what leads to food insecurity; and the opposite of food insecurity is food security. Also, when we say a place has food security, it means that food is available, stable in supply, accessible, and utilised. It is indeed an interaction between these factors that determines whether a person, family, or nation has food security. Hence, food security at the individual or family level does not necessarily align with food security at the state or national level. In Nigeria, food production and distribution trails the rate of population growth, making food security a significant challenge for both the government and citizens. Poverty adds more fuel to the fire by hindering food availability, accessibility, stability, and utilisation, thereby worsening food insecurity across the nation.

Food waste is at the heart of food insecurity and its impact in Nigeria is not just profound but manifold in nature. Firstly, nutritional deficiencies are a significant consequence of food waste. Food waste directly affects the availability of nutritious food. Fruits, vegetables, and other perishable items that are most prone to wastage are also vital sources of essential nutrients. Their loss exacerbates nutritional deficiencies, particularly among vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly. Before tomatoes and vegetables travel from the North to the Southern part of Nigeria, most of its nutrients have already been lost.

Economic losses are also another impact to consider. The economic cost of food waste is staggering. Farmers lose income due to the inability to sell spoiled produce, and consumers face higher prices due to reduced supply. This economic inefficiency hinders agricultural productivity and the overall economy. In addition, the environmental impact of food waste is significant. Decomposing food waste generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Additionally, wasted food means wasted water and energy used in production, further straining Nigeria’s already scarce resources.

Furthermore, social inequity is exacerbated by food waste. Food waste highlights and exacerbates social inequities. While a portion of the population faces food insecurity and hunger, another segment wastes valuable food resources. Addressing food waste can help bridge this gap and promote more equitable food distribution. It is crucial to address this issue comprehensively to improve the overall well-being of the population and ensure a more secure food future for Nigeria.

Tackling food waste in Nigeria is not just about reducing losses; it’s essential for ensuring food security and promoting sustainable development. By improving infrastructure for food storage, adopting new technologies, educating the public, reforming policies, and creating redistribution programs, Nigeria can reduce food waste significantly. Looking ahead, it’s vital that everyone—government, private sector, civil societies, and individuals—work together to address this issue. Only through joint efforts can we achieve the goals of reducing food waste and ensuring food security for our people.

Finally, Nigeria must solve the paradox of having both abundant agricultural potential and significant food waste. By addressing the causes of food waste and implementing effective solutions, Nigeria can use its agricultural resources to feed its growing population, boost economic growth, and promote a sustainable and fair food system.


Olamide is a communications professional currently based in London, United Kingdom. He can be reached across social media platforms @olamidefrancis and via


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