Mojisola Karigidi, Founder and Product Developer, Moepelorse Bio Resources

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Subjects of Interest

  • Food Security
  • Governance
  • Health
  • Sustainable Development

Education will help Africa overcome its development challenges 09 Dec 2020

The 2020 edition of the Global Report on Food Crisis (GRFC) released in April by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) estimates that 135 million people in 55 countries and territories around the world experienced severe hunger in 2019. The majority (about 73 million) of the acutely food-insecure people live in Africa. Per the report, 43 million people experienced food crisis in the Middle East and Asia last year, compared with 18.3 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean and 500,000 people in Europe.

The latest GRFC report iterates the ten countries with the worst level of food crisis –  Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, Sudan, Nigeria (northern region), and Haiti. While the report identifies conflict/insecurity, climate change and economic shocks among the drivers of food crises across the globe, rapid population growth is a common denominator for sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries on the list of the acutely food-insecure countries.

For instance, DRC's annual population growth rate in 2019 was 3.2 per cent while Ethiopia and Nigeria had annual population growth rate of 2.6 per cent, according to the World Bank. The figures are above the global average of 1.1 per cent. The 2019 population growth rate of Europe and Central Asia was 0.4 per cent, while that of the United States was 0.5 per cent.

According to the World Bank's Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2020 report, more than half of the world's extreme poor live in SSA, with over 70 per cent of the region's poor people living in just 10 countries, including Nigeria, DRC, and Ethiopia. Hypothetically, one would expect that in Africa where several countries are suffering from many tough challenges, including conflicts, terrorism, adverse effects of climate change among other crises, which have significantly worsened food insecurity over the years, people would opt for fewer children per household. Unfortunately, the reverse is the case.

World Bank's data shows fertility rate for Nigeria was 5.4 births per woman in 2018, while the fertility rates for DRC and Ethiopia were 5.9 and 4.2 children per woman, respectively.

Despite the high rate of hunger and poverty in Nigeria, for instance, the country's population, according to forecasts, will double to 402 million people by 2050. Nigeria is expected to make a giant leap from its current position as the seventh most populous country in the world to becoming the country with the third largest population in the world, only behind China and India.

Religious and cultural beliefs have enormously contributed to people's tendency to give birth to many children – commonly even more than the number of children they have the means to adequately cater for. Many people hold on to the belief that because children are free gifts from God, they should have as many as possible. Some people believe newborns will bring with them all they will need to survive.

Some poor people have the perverse opinion that the more children they have, the higher the chances of one or two of their numerous children doing well and lifting them out of poverty in the future.

In some parts of Nigeria, a large population is considered a bargaining chip for sharing national resources. As a result of these diverse mindsets, family planning and birth control measures to alter the biological process of childbearing are rejected by many intending parents as well as religious and political leaders, thereby perpetuating the high birth rate.

The main instrument that has been proven in different parts of the world to temper the influence of religion and culture with regard to birth control is education. In the developed world where literacy levels are generally higher and women are more likely to pursue higher educational attainment, early marriages are not common and there is a greater utilisation of family planning. Same can be said of elites and the middle class in developing countries. For such people both in the developed and developing worlds, the accumulation of financial equity and social capital is more paramount than raising large families.

These people have higher personal goals and life expectations. Before taking on the responsibility of raising a family, their financial status is usually an important factor to consider. But in communities with little or no education, several requirements for childcare, including nutritious meals, and the education of children are overlooked.

The importance of education to avert the looming population explosion in Africa cannot be overemphasized. Prioritising the education of young people, both male and female, on the continent will reduce the high population growth rate and significantly reduce the high levels of hunger and extreme poverty. Improvements in the livelihoods of individuals in a given community translate into overall progress for that community.

Knowledge is the cure for ignorance. Education is the necessary condition for addressing the serious challenge of the high and unplanned population growth rate in Africa. Proper education (formal and informal) of the populace will give rise to more responsible adults who can plan their lives based on their income and maintain a family size they can care for. It will also reduce the high level of dependency.

As people become more educated, increase their financial equity and social capital, and poverty levels significantly decline, the religious and cultural factors that contribute to driving high birth rates will become less pertinent. The supposed political advantage of having a large population would also diminish as more individuals embrace family planning strategies.

If a higher percentage of the population of SSA is educated and empowered, the region's ability to produce more nutritious foods to feed people and maximise technology at every stage of the food chain to increase productivity will greatly improve. There will be more experts and skilled people who are open to new and progressive interventions in every sector of the economy. The impact of higher levels of education is not limited to agriculture.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. As of 2018, more than 13 million children were not registered in any school. Government can encourage more children to be in school by making basic education compulsory throughout the country and supporting preschool establishments. Early exposure to classroom or school environment can stimulate children's interest in schooling even beyond the basic education level.

Ensuring inclusive education in Nigeria and other SSA countries can minimize the likelihood of children with special needs dropping out of school or not enrolling at all. Inclusive education can reduce poverty and dependency among physically-challenged people. Children, regardless of their disabilities, should be supported with quality interventions and instructions tailored to meet their needs.

To achieve this, governments must enforce the right of every child to quality education and learning. Every child, with or without disability, must be supported early in life to nurture their future ambitions and dreams.

As much as possible, governments should put in more efforts to make higher education affordable for all Nigerians and citizens of other SSA countries. University education in Nigeria has suffered huge setbacks over the years as federal and state government-owned educational institutions are often shut down for several months, thereby disrupting the educational calendar and hindering better learning outcomes. When education begins to guarantee better livelihoods for people in the country, it would become a lot easier to attract more people to formal education in every region of the nation.

As Africa's most populous country, Nigeria needs to set an example in controlling unplanned population explosion by overcoming most of its challenges, attaining food security, reducing poverty, overcoming terrorism, effectively managing its resources and addressing the challenges of climate change. To achieve these goals, the country must increase investment in education. Improving educational access for all citizens will contribute to social stability and drive long-term economic growth.

Financial Nigeria Columnist, Mojisola Karigidi, is a Nigerian biochemist and the founder and product developer at Moepelorse Bio Resources. She is also a Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST) awardee, and an Aspen New Voices fellow.