Agricultural Production, Food and Nutrition Security in Rural Benin, Nigeria
Although agriculture is the major economic activity in Nigerian rural areas, its inhabitants are among the most vulnerable to food and nutrition insecurity. Therefore, any effort aimed at minimizing food and nutrition insecurity must start from rural areas. This study examines agricultural production, food and nutrition security in rural areas of the Benin region in Nigeria, highlighting the major constraints. A measure of household food and nutrition security used in this study is based on dietary intake, real wage rates, employment, and incidence of illness and adequacy norms. This study is based on a food frequency questionnaire survey administered using systematic random sampling technique, participatory assessment technique, interviews with stakeholders and published materials. Some indices employed in measuring food and nutrition security in this paper are physical access, which is measured in relation to availability of agricultural infrastructure such as roads, while economic access is measured in terms of income, expenditure and estimated profit margins. Two pretested questionnaires were administered in 20 rural communities in the Benin region to elicit information from respondents were analysed using simple descriptive techniques like charts, tables and percentages. Subsistence agriculture is the mainstay of the studied rural economies and is dependent mainly on rain-fed, low-technologydriven cultivation with no access to modern farm inputs. Farming alone is the main source of income for 57% of the respondents, while fishing and trading account for the other 43%. The study reveals that although 60% of respondents are engaged in agriculture, their access to food and nutrition is insecure due in part to unstable incomes, seasonality of harvest and inadequate health and sanitary conditions. Also, lack of storage facilities in these rural communities has increased post-harvest losses and has reduced farmers’/household incomes, thereby worsening their food insecurity situation. The study also found that rural-urban migration results in shortage of manpower for agricultural activities. Lack of access to fertilizer and poor infrastructure are major factors for the decline in agricultural production in the last five years in the sampled communities. The study recommends the need for a considerable and sustained government investment in agriculture and the provision of basic facilities to support education, health care, sanitation and safe drinking water supply. This will help to ensure food and nutrition security and help to curtail rural-urban migration.
Key words : Agriculture, Nutrition Security, Rural households