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Flooding, Food Security and the Sustainable Development Goals in Nigeria: An Assemblage and Systems Thinking Approach

School of Social Sciences, Western Sydney University, Penrith 2751, Australia
Soc. Sci. 2022, 11(2), 59;
Submission received: 15 December 2021 / Revised: 24 January 2022 / Accepted: 27 January 2022 / Published: 7 February 2022


Food is connected to sustainable development goals in numerous ways, as food security is key to achieving sustainable development. The world is currently not on track to achieve the set sustainable development goals (SDGs). In Nigeria, flooding is a recurrent disaster and constitutes a setback to success with the SDGs and sustainable development. Flooding disasters are a threat to food security due to their impact on the food system. This study is an integrative review that explores the link between Nigeria’s flooding, food security, and the SDGs. It adopts an assemblage and systems thinking approach to analyze the impact of flooding on all components of food security. It finds that, despite the impact of flooding on food security, it is not recognized as a threat by policymakers, as evidenced by the lack of mention of disasters in the current Nigeria Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP). Attention is drawn to this oversight in this work by highlighting the interconnections between flooding, food security, and sustainable development. Recommendations on flood mitigation and adaptive practices that can alleviate the negative impact of flooding on food security to enhance the success rate of the SDGs are proffered. This work contributes to the literature by showcasing the impact of flooding on food security and its connection to sustainable development, which is an area that has not received adequate attention in research. The assemblage and system thinking approach adopted brings novelty and allows for a succinct understanding of how flooding impacts all four aspects of food security. This paper serves as the first time the problem has been explored in this manner.

1. Introduction

Food is a primal need of humans and food security is central to sustainability. Food security is thus recognized as a crucial component of sustainability plans and a key concern of national security. It is key to building and sustaining a healthy economy and achieving social and environmental wellness, which are the three bottom lines of sustainable development (Fanzo 2019; Pérez-Escamilla 2017). Many countries are currently dealing with the hydra-headed problem of flooding and food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic (Workie et al. 2020). In Kenya, for example, flooding, exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic, severely impacted food security and livelihoods (Aura et al. 2020). The number of people facing food insecurity globally was projected to double by the end of 2020 (Rondeau et al. 2020) in a world that was already off-track to achieve the SDGs by 2030 (United Nations 2020). The growing problem of food insecurity thus portends a significant setback. Food insecurity is linked to a mix of factors, one of which is recurrent flooding disasters (Banik 2019; Naylor 2018).
The achievement of the SDGs is directly dependent on food because, if there is no food, working towards achieving the goals is impossible. Of the 17 SDGs, 10 are directly impacted: No poverty; 2: Zero hunger; 3: Good Health and Wellbeing; 4: Quality education; 6: Clean water and Sanitation; 8: Decent work and economic growth; 10: Reducing inequalities; 11: Sustainable cities and communities; 14: Life on water; and 15: Life on land (Echendu 2020a). Just as the SDGs are all interconnected, connections on the impact of flooding can be found in all the goals.
The SDGs recognize the centrality of food security to its success and map out targets for its achievement. While the SDGs are neither authoritarian nor binding, it proffers important guidelines that can be adjustable to local contexts. The SDG indicators are important as monitoring, operational, and evaluative tools. They are applicable across countries for measuring progress and determining where to channel resources to facilitate progress (Gil et al. 2019). The SDGs follow country-led execution even though they are global goals. Working towards achieving them on a country-specific basis is necessary as different countries have different needs and challenges. Paths to attain them will therefore differ among countries because of different physical, social, and economic environments.
In the face of rising flood disasters and the effect on food security, a realignment of response strategies and rapid and concerted mitigation efforts have been called for (The Lancet Public Health 2020; Mukarram 2020).
Climate change impacts are manifesting in Nigeria as increased incidences of dry spells and off-season rains which have caused variations in planting seasons in a country that depends mainly on rain-fed agriculture (Ologeh et al. 2018). Climate projections indicate varying conditions in Nigeria, with the dryer regions experiencing more aridity with longer dry spells (Animashaun et al. 2020; Oguntunde et al. 2017; Orimoloye et al. 2021) while the humid regions will experience much more intense precipitation during the rainy season leading to more flooding events (Olaniyi et al. 2013). The coastal regions will also be exposed to more flooding due to the rising sea-level (Merem et al. 2019).
Nigeria experienced its worst flooding in recent history in 2012 (Nkeki et al. 2013; OCHA 2012; Toure 2014), wherein around 363 people died, more than 2.3 million people were displaced, and 16 million people were impacted (Echendu 2020a; OCHA 2012). This flooding received national and international attention due to its magnitude, as 32 out of Nigeria’s 36 states were affected (OCHA 2012).
Many communities in Nigeria increasingly suffer localized perennial flooding during the rainy season between March and November (Echendu 2022). The local nature of this flooding makes them receive little to no attention. However, the immediate and cumulative effects of such smaller, locally occurring incidents are no less important than major events and necessitate more attention (Echendu 2019). Figure 1 below is a map of Nigeria that showcases areas prone to flooding.
Today, we face a situation whereby disasters are occurring back-to-back. The unpreparedness of the world to adequately respond to concurrent environmental and public health catastrophes highlights an urgent need to improve human resilience to shocks (Béné 2020; Ishiwatari et al. 2020). This necessitates ascertaining the connections among different global problems and seeking synergistic ways to solve them. More capacity building is especially paramount in vulnerable developing countries if global sustainability is to be attained (Adhikari et al. 2020; Bangar et al. 2020; Ouko et al. 2020).
In Nigeria, the impact of flooding on food security and the connection to sustainable development is an area that has not received adequate attention in research (Akukwe et al. 2020). This study, therefore, specifically investigates the impact of flooding on food security in Nigeria. It showcases the link with the sustainable development goals and proffers ways to mitigate and improve resilience to flooding. Despite the threat of disasters such as flooding to food security, it has not been acknowledged in Nigeria’s national food security policy/policies. This work thus serves another purpose of highlighting the need to consider disaster impact in future agriculture and food policies and to seek mitigation strategies. This paper is organized into eight sections. Following this introduction section, which presents a general overview of the research and its significance, is the section on the theoretical approach adopted. This is followed by the research method. The next section discusses food security and the SDGs. This is followed by an analysis of flooding and food security in Nigeria and the causes of flooding in the country. The impact of flooding on all components of food security is analyzed using the assemblage and systems thinking approach. Recommendations on how to address flooding to improve food security are made. The paper concludes by summarizing the key points and calling for the impact of disasters such as flooding to be considered in future food security policies.

2. Assemblage and Systems Thinking Approach

Assemblage thinking (AT) in its various descriptive, ontological, and methodological forms has gained the interest of social scientists in contemporary times, especially within the transdisciplinary critical policy field, where it has been used to gain new insights into the manner in which the governance and the political-economic domain evolve according to context, project, actors, and materials (Baker and McGuirk 2017; Clarke et al. 2015). AT encourages scholars to undertake a deeper analysis of socio-ecological issues, actively seek relationships among seemingly standalone concepts, problems, or terms, and advocates an overall openness to looking at issues with a new lens, remixing interventions and planning in an adaptive style approach. Assemblages are not serendipitous but are intentionally and unintentionally joined together (Briassoulis 2017). Bueger (2014) laments the philosophical and metaphorical overuse of AT, calling for its clearer application in practice in the form of an AT-inspired conscious posture that avoids binaries and looks at those overlooked details. McFarlane (2011) also invites scholars to ‘thickly’ ‘describe the relationalities of compositions’ that support the relationship between various actants and their material and contextual expressions. Assemblage-based approaches are capable of contributing to critical urban theory when they are linked to concepts and research agendas generated from a revitalized geopolitical economy (Brenner et al. 2011). It is the author’s view that its potential extends further into other fields, including disaster management and sustainable development, by its capability to draw together and seek connections between seemingly distinct subjects. For this reason, it was adopted as the analysis tool of choice in this work that brings together three distinct concepts—flooding, food security, and sustainable development. For Valzania (2021), AT needs to focus more on explaining the co-functioning of elements that make up an assemblage and not what assemblages are or mean. Explaining the co-functioning of an assemblage’s element falls within the domain of the system’s approach. The system approach of analysis takes into consideration every part that makes up the whole. It is a general approach that can be applied in various scenarios and fields even though it derives from system science and engineering (Fiksel 2006; Jackson et al. 2010; Virapongse et al. 2016). Adopting an assemblage and systems approach to assess and understand the effects of flooding on the different components of food security enables a holistic and comprehensive overview and understanding of all four different dimensions of food security and their interrelationships. This would then inform the development of integrated solutions that can promote achieving the SDGs.

3. Research Method

This work is an integrative qualitative review that critically assembles, studies, and consolidates the existing literature on the distinct areas of flooding, food security, and the SDGs. The goal is to ascertain and dissect the linkages between flooding, food security, and the SDGs. Drawing from previous studies to generate a new and concrete interpretation of problems fosters scholarship and advances theory (Post et al. 2020). Integrative reviews are broad and do not exclude studies based on design or the type of research to enable a holistic understanding of the phenomena under study (Iida et al. 2020)
This study followed the steps outlined by Paré and Kitsiou (2017) for conducting reviews that aim to stand as an original body of work in contrast to literature reviews conducted to identify gaps in the literature to justify or act as a base to a researcher’s work. Academic databases, specifically Google Scholar and ProQuest, were searched by using keywords including ‘flooding’, ‘food security’, and ‘SDGs’ in Nigeria. The search focused on studies conducted within the past ten years. The abstracts of selected papers were screened to ascertain relevance to the research questions. A supplementary hand search was conducted, during which a few studies outside of the 10-year timeframe were included due to their relevance to the current study. Articles making the final selection were then reviewed, from which the findings of this work were made.

3.1. Food Security and the Sustainable Development Goals

Food security is access to reliable and adequate quantities of nutritious and affordable food. It comprises four elements: availability, access, utilization, and stability (Schmidhuber and Tubiello 2007). Food security is an issue of global importance that nations strive towards achieving (Osabohien et al. 2018). There are and have been several global partnerships and initiatives, most notably by the UN, to achieve food security, which sadly remains elusive today. The countries of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are particularly lagging in achieving food security. Eighteen of the twenty most food-insecure countries are in SSA, with 52% of the population being vulnerable to food insecurity and 20% being undernourished (Gellert 2020; Prosekov and Ivanova 2018).
Food is an important component of the SDGs as a result of its interconnectedness to many of the goals (Pérez-Escamilla 2017). The SDGs are a set of 17 goals and 169 targets that outline a shared pathway for all countries of the world geared towards achieving global prosperity and peace for the current and future generations. It succeeds the Millennium Development Goals which ended in 2015 and in which the need for food security as a development agenda was also a top priority (Matemilola 2017).
Goal 2 specifically aims to achieve food security and end hunger. The targets linked to Goal 2 are presented in Figure 2 below.
The centrality of food to the SDGs makes food security a major determinant of achieving success. While SDG 2 focuses mainly on food security, the connection to the other goals cannot be overemphasized. For example, SDG 1 is focused on poverty eradication. The poorest people globally and in Nigeria are small-scale farmers who are most impacted by flooding (Durodola 2019; Echendu 2020a; Fanzo et al. 2020; Mbah 2019). Ironically, farmers also comprise the majority of the food-insecure population (Ecker and Kennedy 2019). Poverty is generally worsening in Nigeria, as seen in the incidence of disease and hunger, decreased life expectancy, and low per-capita income (Ibikunle et al. 2019). The rising cost and unavailability of food exacerbated by perennial flooding disasters ensure that the poor cannot access this basic need (Echendu 2020a; Tunde 2021; Udegbunam 2020).
Food insecurity impacts SDG 3—good health and well-being. Nutritious food is the most important indicator of good health (Ohia et al. 2020). With a score of 29.2 in the 2020 Global Hunger Index (GHI), the hunger level in Nigeria is considered serious. The number of stunted children under 5 remains high in Nigeria, with over one-third of deaths among this group resulting from malnutrition (Ezeh et al. 2021).
Making the food sector robust and resilient to flooding will contribute to reducing poverty and hunger. However, this goal is still elusive in Nigeria, which has the highest number of global poor, with about 87 million people living below the poverty line (Abiodun et al. 2019; Amare et al. 2020; Dankumo et al. 2019; Okoi and Bwawa 2020). The goal of quality education is also impacted if children cannot go to school when the community is overwhelmed by floods. Access to clean water is affected when water sources become contaminated as a result of flooding. Moreover, food production from agriculture, aquaculture, and fishing contribute to SDG 10 (reducing inequalities) by helping mainly the poor to sustain their food supply and income (Blanchard et al. 2017), but flooding derails this. Life on water and land is also impacted, as flooding is known to cause human deaths, destroy flora and fauna, and impact marine life. Food security is indeed a very important indicator of the success of the SDGs.

3.2. Flooding, Food Security, and the Nigeria Agriculture Promotion Policy

Nigeria is a food-insecure nation. It is one of the 10 countries most vulnerable and at risk of food insecurity due to climate change, economic crises, and conflict (World Food Programme 2020). It experiences annual flooding in many of its states and the impact on its food security is widely acknowledged (Durodola 2019; Metu et al. 2016; Week and Wizor 2020). In July 2021, the country’s president blamed flooding for the rising food insecurity (Ogundele 2021). Although other factors impact food security, ranging from insecurity (which prevents farmers access to their lands) to communal clashes among farmers and herdsmen (Echendu 2021a; Furini 2019; Kralovec 2020; Lawal 2020; Ogundipe et al. 2020), flooding remains a top factor (Chukwu 2014; Madukwe et al. 2019; Week and Wizor 2020). Agriculture, fisheries, and aquaculture, the primary food sources in Nigeria, are all negatively affected by flooding.
Food insecurity is a longstanding and growing problem in Nigeria, with the government struggling to address it as the country is unable to meet its local food needs (Osabohien et al. 2018). The problem has worsened since 2020, when the country faced extreme food shortages and record-breaking flooding disasters (Gellert 2020). In a study on food security by Week and Wizor (2020) in a Nigerian community, 75.6% of the respondents reported experiencing acute food insecurity. Following major floods, a significant surge in malnutrition levels is experienced due to the impacts of flooding (Douglas 2017). The World Food Programme, in their 2020 global report on food crises, reported that, in 2019, flooding affected 32 of the 36 states in Nigeria. There was a major food crisis due to crop damage. In October of the same year, Adamawa, one of Nigeria’s states was hit by its worst flooding event in 17 years, affecting more than 100,000 people (World Food Programme 2020). These recent examples illustrate the severity of the flooding incidents in the country. Nigeria’s food security is highly dependent on its agricultural sector, which underperforms. Therefore, it imports large amounts of food for local consumption despite its huge agricultural potential. Over the years, there have been national policies in place to address food security issues. The latest is the Nigeria Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP).
The APP aims at improving food security and reducing food importation. It acknowledges a food production problem and links it to an ineffective farming model (Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development 2016). Improving productivity thus formed the key focus of the policy. Even though agricultural productivity is impacted by climate change, which has led to increased disasters over the years, the impact of disasters such as flooding was not acknowledged in the policy. Despite food production being the focus of the APP, flooding, a recurrent problem in the country that directly impacts food production, did not earn a mention. This is notwithstanding the devasting impact flooding has had on the Nigerian agricultural sector over the years. The negative impact of flooding on farmers has been widely reported (Chukwu 2014; Madukwe et al. 2019). Climate change impacts such as rising flooding incidences cause decreased food production and are projected to worsen in Nigeria (Blanchard et al. 2017; Durodola 2019; Echendu 2020a). This lack of mention of the role of disasters in food insecurity is a significant oversight that needs to be addressed in future policies, because, no matter the gains in the policy focus area of food production, a single flooding event can reverse them. This necessitates a more comprehensive approach to addressing food insecurity.
The importance of addressing food security issues in Nigeria is even more compelling given the rapid population growth in Nigeria, a country predicted to become the third most populous nation in the world by 2050 (Gil et al. 2019). This necessitates looking into the factors that directly and indirectly impact food security and finding ways to eliminate or reduce these negative factors which comprise environmental, social, and economic factors. Socio-economic factors impacting food security encompass income, sex, gender, marital status, household size, etc. Environmental factors include climate impacts such as flooding and drought. Even though flooding is believed to portend benefits to agriculture and fish production in some aspects and locations due to the deposition of rich nutrients in the aftermath of flooding (Otomofa et al. 2015; Talbot et al. 2018), this does not appear to be the case in Nigeria, as flooding has mainly been credited with serious and negative impacts. The impact of flooding on food security deserves adequate attention in national food security policies.

3.3. Flooding in Nigeria and Causes

Flooding is a complex issue because of its various types, causes, and impact. Nigeria mainly experiences pluvial and fluvial flooding. Pluvial flooding is when heavy rainfall causes flooding despite the absence of a nearby water body. It can occur even in areas situated above coastal or river floodplains. Fluvial or river flooding occurs when a river bursts its banks due to high rainfall over a period. Flooding in Nigeria is mainly caused by:
High Precipitation: Climate change is a global phenomenon, but the developing countries of the world are disproportionately suffering from the impact (Akeh and Mshelia 2016; Azadi et al. 2019). The weather pattern in many parts of the globe has changed and, in Nigeria, climate-related events are manifesting in disasters such as flooding and droughts. Climate change will steadily and continuously increase flood risk in the coming years by inducing changes in sea levels, an increase in river flows, and heavier, prolonged rainfall durations (Akeh and Mshelia 2016). Major flooding incidents in Nigeria have particularly been witnessed after high rainfall events. Climate change effects manifest according to the region; for instance, the dry northern arid areas are becoming drier while the wet southern areas are experiencing increasingly wetter conditions (Olaniyi et al. 2019). The river basins of Niger-Benue, Anambra, and Sokoto-Rima are also exposed to flooding due to the bursting of river banks (Nemine 2015). The impact of climate-induced flooding will be enormous, particularly in the coastal areas, where rising sea levels and precipitation are expected to be higher. Rainfall-induced flooding is considered serious because many parts of Nigeria lack the needed infrastructure to conduct and channel rainwater and surface run-off water, which exacerbates flooding risk;
Poor physical planning and implementation of planning regulations: The state of urban planning in Nigeria leaves a lot to be desired. Poor urban planning practices and implementation are a leading cause of flooding in Nigeria. Lack of adherence to planning regulations has seen the construction of buildings on floodplains and drainage pathways that cause flooding. The urbanization rate is high at over 50% and is set to increase in the coming years (Aliyu and Amadu 2017; Ojo et al. 2017). This is not accompanied by appropriate urban planning and infrastructural development to cater to the growing population (Adekola and Lamond 2018; Echendu and Georgeou 2021). Good planning practices incorporate sustainable drainage management to cater to the needs of the population, which is lacking in the country (Adedeji et al. 2012). On paper, urban planning laws and policies compare to global standards, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired (Echendu 2019). Development control and zoning are not being enforced. Along with this, infrastructural decay, the indiscriminate construction of buildings, and informal settlements that characterize the urban planning sphere, all contribute to flooding in Nigeria;
The importance of spatial planning in mitigating environmental disasters and achieving sustainable development cannot be overemphasized (Adedeji et al. 2012; Meyer and Auriacombe 2019). However, the planning system in Nigeria leaves a lot to be desired and has been criticized for its ineffectiveness (Olalekan 2014; Tasantab 2019). Urban planning presents opportunities for regulating the environment, mitigating global warming, and achieving sustainable development. Human activities tied to urbanization have increased flood risks. However, the detachment of urban planning and implementation from reality worsens the problem (Echendu 2021b). Poor physical planning also manifests in the indiscriminate construction of buildings, including on drain paths and waterways in Nigeria, which contribute to flooding. The urban planning sphere in Nigeria is not lacking in knowledgeable professionals or laws and policies to manage the physical environment, but a gap lies in implementation and control, incurring these laws to be critiqued as only existing on paper (Echendu 2019; Gyau 2018; Ikelegbe and Andrew 2012). The poor planning and regulation of development has majorly contributed to the country’s flooding problem;
Poor Drainage infrastructure and waste management: The lack of adequate stormwater management infrastructure and drainage is one of the leading causes of flooding in Nigeria (Salami et al. 2017). Poorly constructed and managed drains are hallmarks of Nigerian cities, where storm drains in many places are open and small (Echendu and Georgeou 2021). Their small size makes them unable to support large volumes of water during heavy rainfall. The absence of covers makes them easy dumping sites by undisciplined citizens. Most of the drains are also characterized by their poor or absent connectivity to adequate discharge points (Frimpong 2013). It is not uncommon to see drains flood settlements due to poor connectivity and suboptimization whereby drains from a community can discharge into another community and cause flooding. The poor conditions of existing drains make them likely to cause, rather than prevent, flooding. The construction of infrastructure lags urban development. As a result, the existing drainage is not adequate enough to discharge run-off, thereby increasing the risk of flooding (Cirella and Iyalomhe 2018). Poor infrastructure is a problem in this country that contributes enormously to flood risk (Lamond et al. 2012).

3.4. Understanding the Impact of Flooding on the Different Components of Food Security

The concept of food security encompasses the availability, access, utilization, and stability of food. Flooding impacts all these different aspects. However, the majority of food security programs and policies have focused on food availability by seeking to increase production while neglecting other areas (Firdaus et al. 2019). This approach is evident in Nigeria’s current APP, where production alone formed the focus of the policy.
The food system comprises the chain of activities involved in producing, assembling, processing, storing, transporting, consuming, and disposing of food and food products (Firdaus et al. 2019; Nguyen 2018). It includes broader governance and management and how food production affects the natural environment and social and economic life (HLPE 2017). Flood impact studies have mainly focused on the agricultural sector even though Nigeria is also a top aquaculture producer in Africa (Ahmed and Solomon 2016; Ipinjolu et al. 2013; Oluwatobi et al. 2017). Numerous fish farmers have had their productivity negatively impacted by perennial flooding due to their reduced catch, destruction of fishing tools, and environmental pollution (Chukwu 2014; Oyebola et al. 2018). Despite the recognized threats of flooding to food security, there has been no integrated response or approach to mitigate flooding, which would have positive impacts that extend far beyond food security. For example, the millions of children who are denied education due to flooding would be able to attend school. Epidemics linked to flooding would also be averted if adequate flood mitigation strategies are in place.
The interwoven interactions and feedbacks in the food system mean that interventions need to be holistic to avoid intervention in one area creating or exacerbating problems in another. The focus on food production leads to the neglect of other components of food security, with the implication that the root causes of the food system’s underperformance are missed. The various ways flooding impacts all aspects of food security is thus enumerated in this section for a more holistic understanding of the impacts. Here, the different assemblages that encompass food security are looked at individually. By taking the assemblage and systems approach, we are able to not only look at the holistic concept of food security but also take a deeper dive into how flooding affects the different subcomponents.
Flooding and Food availability: Food availability refers to the availability of sufficient amounts of food. Regular availability is dependent on sufficient production levels that only a healthy, disaster-free environment can ensure (Gil et al. 2019). Food production levels in Nigeria are below demand despite agriculture being the second most important economic activity after crude oil. The perennial nature of flooding disasters further impacts production levels on both the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, the two main food production interfaces. Flooding degrades the environment, destroys crops, farm settlements, livestock, and seedling stores (Echendu 2020a). This reduces harvest and impacts the next planting season, culminating in a food shortage crisis. Human production capital is also impacted as, during floods, people are at risk of physical injuries and ill-health. Floods, therefore, have a chain reaction effect and represent a threat to food security by affecting the production of food (Armah et al. 2010). Farming communities are disproportionately impacted not only because they lose income, but also because they lack the cash to purchase the other food and non-food items that they need. Inundated farmlands are unsuitable for cultivation. Livestock is not spared either during floods. Depending on the type of sediments deposited on farmlands during floods, some can be rendered uncultivatable for a period, creating a cycle of food scarcity and hunger (Armah et al. 2010). Nigeria has no social security net and, for most of the affected, there is no other source of income except agriculture. This becomes a direct hit on SDGs 1 and 2, as the people become further impoverished and exposed to starvation and hunger. Moreover, floods impact the natural flora and fauna of an ecosystem. Floodwaters destroy land by striping soils and eroding shorelines taking out the natural vegetative cover in its path (Smith 2017). The hazardous conditions it causes pose a threat to every form of life. The fact that water systems are also contaminated is a hazard to life. Flooding destroys both farms and harvest, contributing to hunger and jeopardizing the nation’s path to sustainable development (Kwari et al. 2015). Aquaculture and fish farming are not spared either, as floods wash away fish stock, leading not only to a loss of income for the farmers, but a loss of valuable protein sources for the general population. Floods negatively impact the aquatic ecosystem, and more frequent flood occurrences worsen the impact by leaving an insufficient recovery time in between flood occurrences which can last from months to years (Talbot et al. 2018). This negatively impacts communities that rely on subsistence fishing and farming for food. Flooding thus negatively affects food availability;
Flooding and Food access: Flooding impacts access to food, which is the ability to secure or obtain food as determined by purchasing power and affordability. It is the capacity to obtain sufficient nutritious food. Shocks on the food system due to flooding directly impacts accessibility. High prices of food due to limited supply in the aftermath of flooding deny access to the majority of the population who live in abject poverty (Hallegatte et al. 2020). Food scarcity ensues and the forces of demand and supply come into play, increasing food prices beyond that which the poor can afford. Smallholder rural farmers who cultivate, process, and eat directly from their farms are the worst impacted by flooding disasters. Their primary source of income is impacted, and they are further plunged into poverty and lack the resources to purchase food in the market. This volatility in food prices caused by flooding puts an additional constraint on households, leading to inaccessibility. Thus, a cycle ensues where high costs also deter farmers from purchasing new seedlings, impacting their productive capacity. Flooding is known to collapse bridges in Nigeria, cutting off physical access between communities (Ede et al. 2019). Access is further limited by the destruction of the already weak transportation infrastructure and road networks required to transport food. The result is that those communities not directly affected by flooding also suffer income loss due to a disruption in the transport services needed to transport food products to the buyers. Rural communities become further isolated and farmers cannot access the needed inputs and markets for their goods (Osabohien et al. 2018). Supply chain disruptions, increased prices, the destruction of farm produce and stored reserves, and scarcity are some of the ways flooding affects food accessibility;
Flooding and Food utilization: Food utilization is the most important but least researched aspect of food security due to its complexity (Zewdie 2014). It is the ability of the body to absorb the needed nutrients from food. It is having the necessary nutritional intake and encompasses food safety and quality issues. According to FAO (2008), it is the nutritional worth of food, makeup and ways of food preparation, the social values attached to food that determine the type of food consumed at different times and events, and the safety and quality of food supply which can result in nutrient loss and food-borne diseases if the standards are poor. Food availability and access are the precursors to food utilization. A varied and healthy diet is necessary to furnish the necessary nutrients (Hwalla et al. 2016). However, availability and access do not guarantee adequate utilization of the necessary nutrition from food (Zewdie 2014). Nutrient and soil loss occurs as a result of flooding (Sánchez-Rodríguez et al. 2017). This subsequently reduces the nutritional composition of food cultivated on nutrient-poor soil, since degraded soil produces low-quality food (Lal 2009). The impact of flooding on the loss of nutritional quality of food is recognized. In a recent study in southern Nigeria, 71.4% of the respondents reportedly believed that flooding causes a loss of nutritional quality of food (Week and Wizor 2020).
Flooding can affect the yield and quality of food crops. Plant tissue damage also occurs due to flooding, which promotes the development of bacterial and fungal diseases impacting crop quality (Lauer 2008). Micronutrient consumption is affected if the nutrient composition of foods is altered. Farmers may decide to grow different types of crops of less nutritional value that are not affected by flooding. This, therefore, impacts the availability of nutrient-rich crops and the food utilization capacity of the general population. The impact of flooding on the general flora and fauna has also reduced the availability of wild food and game, which are rich nutrient sources. Financial access to food also has a significant correlation to food utilization than physical access (Abbade 2017). The economic losses due to flooding also affect access to food.
Flooding and Food stability: Food stability is ensuring that there is food availability, access, and utilization at all times (Hwalla et al. 2016; Matemilola 2017). Vulnerabilities and shocks on the food system due to flooding impact food stability. This is because of the impact on other aspects of the food system, as enumerated in the previous sections. A decline in agricultural productivity because of flooding impacts the availability of food. Subsequent shortfalls in supply increase prices of food, making it inaccessible to a large section of Nigeria’s population. This renders the already vulnerable population in the country more so among the poorer, small-scale farmers. The high prices and unavailability of certain types of food force consumers to limit their consumption and opt for less nutritious but more filling food, which impacts food utilization. Flooding thus presents a severe shock to the entire food system in Nigeria.

3.5. Addressing Flooding to Improve Food Security in Nigeria

Strategies to manage flooding are necessary to cushion its impact on food security and achieve more success with the SDGs. The complexity of the flooding problem necessitates a tailored response specific to locations and types of flooding. The negative impact of flooding on food security, which is the heart of the SDGs, necessitates seeking ways to tackle the flooding menace. As the causes of flooding in Nigeria have been identified as mainly anthropogenic, measures that can help address them and mitigate the impact on food security are highlighted here.
Improved physical planning: Urban planning has a role to play in reducing the impact of flooding on food security. The unregulated or poorly regulated nature of urban development in Nigeria has contributed majorly to flooding incidences due to developments on floodplains and natural drain paths (Echendu 2020b; Idoko 2016). The urban growth pattern, therefore, deserves closer attention, with good regulations and effective implementation put in place. Zoning is important. As much as possible, agricultural lands should be sited further away from flood-prone areas. Riparian zones need to be restored. Restricting the building of impervious surfaces near water bodies will help manage flooding. Planning for, and construction of, flood control infrastructure is the purview of physical planning and needs to be factored in during the planning process. This is important to enable a flood-free environment in which farming can thrive and cater to the food needs of the population. Waste management is a core part of urban governance and citizen waste management sensitization is needed to discourage the indiscriminate dumping of refuse which blocks drainages and causes flooding. Adequate waste collection and treatment facilities need to form a core part of urban management and governance;
Improved farming practices: More support, effort, and investment in research and development to develop flood-resistant, high yield, and a quick-maturing variety of crops will help in improving food security. This is necessary because, despite the best efforts to manage and control flooding, there may still be pockets of flood occurrences. Early maturing varieties, as was introduced in Bayelsa state in the aftermath of the 2012 flooding disaster in Nigeria (Nemine 2015), should be made widely available because many farmers do not readily have access to such varieties (Fakayode et al. 2016). Similar improved varieties offer the chance for the plants to mature before the onset of heavy rains associated flooding. Coping with flooding necessitates responding to changes in agricultural practices. Mixing crops and livestock with cash crops and trees to reduce the impact and losses due to crop failure is another strategy (Reddy et al. 2019). Cultivating in the dry season with improved irrigation, especially in southern Nigeria, where it is not a common practice, is another way of mitigating the impact of flooding. This is because flooding occurs mostly during the rainy season, which doubles as the planting season. In the fisheries and aquaculture sector, technical innovations such as pond embankment modifications, fencing, caging and netting, and riverbank modifications are proven techniques that minimize flood threats to fish farming (Oyebola et al. 2018). Farmers need support and training to apply these improvements. The integration of various extension education methods have proven effective in enhancing Nigerian farmers’ adoption of new and improved practices, but farmers in some areas lack access to extension services (Abubakar et al. 2019; Madukwe et al. 2019). Expanding the availability and reach of agricultural extension services will help in educating and encouraging farmers to adopt new and improved farming practices;
Indigenous practices: Indigenous practices such as the use of mounds commonly practiced in Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Ondo states as a flood mitigation strategy (Nemine 2015) should be introduced in other parts of the country that do not employ similar practices. Undocumented local meteorological knowledge based on traditional beliefs, practices, and observation has been known to help locals predict flooding on a long-term and seasonal basis (Nemine 2015). Curating and documenting such knowledge, which could be transferable, can help in calculating the best farming periods and strategies and help in managing flooding. This knowledge could be applied during research for the development of new crop varieties to factor in the flooding window. Infusion of scientific and indigenous knowledge and practices could further enrich practices;
Grey and green infrastructure: Grey infrastructure consists of structures made of concrete and steel, for example, dams, dykes, and drains, hence the grey connotation. They have traditionally been used in managing flood risks with good performance (Alves et al. 2018). Green infrastructure refers to multipurpose natural solutions that also provide ecosystem services such as recreation while also providing flood protection (Dipeolu and Ibem 2020). A combination of grey and green infrastructure in managing flood risks is advocated as a better way to improve resiliency (Alves et al. 2018; Pamungkas and Purwitaningsih 2019). The construction and improvement of the drainage system, the construction of buffer dams in needed areas, dredging, and the desilting of rivers and other water bodies are measures that can help control flooding. Dams can serve a dual purpose of providing electricity and a source of water for irrigation, boosting agriculture (Durodola 2019). Farmlands in areas particularly prone to flooding where grey infrastructure is insufficient to control the flooding could be converted to wetlands and artificial lakes. Owners could then be adequately compensated and relocated with their active involvement. Pervious/permeable surfaces where possible should be encouraged to promote underground water absorption.

4. Conclusions

Food insecurity remains a serious and growing problem in Nigeria. Currently, the nation cannot provide a sustainable means of nutritious and sufficient food for its large and growing population. Food insecurity is widespread across the country, presenting in both direct and indirect forms. It exists at the individual, household, community, sub-national, and national levels. In the quest to achieve food security, the impact of flooding needs to come to the forefront of discussions and policies. Improving food security demands that those factors that increase vulnerabilities and pose threats or risks such as flooding be better understood, managed, or eliminated. The assemblage and systems thinking approach adopted in this study has helped shed light on the interconnections of flooding, the various components of food security, and sustainable development. It is important to tailor solutions considering the different geographical and topological zones of the country. For instance, indigenous knowledge and improved varieties could be deployed more in the southern lowland areas, while grey and green infrastructure and improved varieties could be employed in the areas surrounding the Niger–Benue and Sokoto–Rima basins. Flooding can be controlled by sustainable land-use management and planning and the provision of environmental infrastructure, the most important being drainage and solid waste management. The international community is encouraged to aid Nigeria by directly investing in flood mitigation and control projects which would positively impact Nigeria’s food system and help achieve global food security, as is hoped for in the SDGs. Better knowledge on flooding and its impact on food security and the SDGs can help get to the heart of the issue, enabling actions to solve the problem. This paper is a call to action to the Nigerian government to consider disasters such as flooding which are set to rise in the coming years due to climate change in future food security policies while taking immediate actions to control flooding. The changing landscape and climate necessitate changing approaches to ensure food security and sustainability. Most importantly, rising global disasters have brought to the fore the need to build resilient and sustainable food systems. Those controllable factors that impact food security such as flooding deserve urgent attention.


This research received no external funding. The APC was funded by Western Sydney University, Australia.

Informed Consent Statement

Not Applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. Parts of Nigeria prone to flooding (source: Cirella and Iyalomhe 2018).
Figure 1. Parts of Nigeria prone to flooding (source: Cirella and Iyalomhe 2018).
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Figure 2. Adapted from the document “Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development.” United Nations 2015.
Figure 2. Adapted from the document “Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development.” United Nations 2015.
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Echendu, A.J. Flooding, Food Security and the Sustainable Development Goals in Nigeria: An Assemblage and Systems Thinking Approach. Soc. Sci. 2022, 11, 59.

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Echendu AJ. Flooding, Food Security and the Sustainable Development Goals in Nigeria: An Assemblage and Systems Thinking Approach. Social Sciences. 2022; 11(2):59.

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Echendu, Adaku Jane. 2022. "Flooding, Food Security and the Sustainable Development Goals in Nigeria: An Assemblage and Systems Thinking Approach" Social Sciences 11, no. 2: 59.

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