Annals of African Medicine

: 2012  |  Volume : 11  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 139--145

Prevalence of food insecurity in Egor local government area of Edo State, Nigeria

Vivian O Omuemu, Efosa M Otasowie, Ugochukwu Onyiriuka 
 Department of Community Health, College of Medical Sciences, University of Benin, Edo State, Nigeria

Correspondence Address:
Vivian O Omuemu
Department of Community Health, College of Medical Sciences, University of Benin, PMB 1154, Benin City, Edo State


Background: Food security is access at all times to adequate, safe and nutritious food for healthy and active life. In recent times food insecurity has been a global concern particularly in developing countries. Materials and Methods: A descriptive, cross-sectional study carried out among households selected by multi-stage sampling method in Egor Local Government Area. The Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) for measurement of food access was used to assess the household food security situation. Results: A total of 416 households were studied. The prevalence of food insecurity was 61.8%. Food insecurity was higher among households with younger heads (P = 0.159), female headed households (P = 0.114) and those with larger households (P = 0.228). Lower education status (P = 0.001) and lower household income (P = 0.001) were the significant factors affecting food insecurity. Conclusion: This study has revealed a very high level of food insecurity among these urban households. An urgent call to all stakeholders for strategies to improve this trend is needed.

How to cite this article:
Omuemu VO, Otasowie EM, Onyiriuka U. Prevalence of food insecurity in Egor local government area of Edo State, Nigeria.Ann Afr Med 2012;11:139-145

How to cite this URL:
Omuemu VO, Otasowie EM, Onyiriuka U. Prevalence of food insecurity in Egor local government area of Edo State, Nigeria. Ann Afr Med [serial online] 2012 [cited 2023 Oct 3 ];11:139-145
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Food, one of the basic requirements for the sustenance of life, should be adequate in quantity and quality to ensure a healthy and productive life. Food security exists when "all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life". [1] From this definition, three dimensions of food security have been identified. These are food availability, food accessibility and food utilization. [2]

Physical availability of food addresses the "supply side" of food security and is determined by the level of food production, stock levels and net trade. Food availability is necessary but is not sufficient in itself for food security. [3] Access to food addresses the ability of individuals and households to purchase sufficient quantities and qualities of food. Economic and physical access to food is not in itself sufficient for utilization. Food utilization implies that the nutritionally adequate diet be biologically utilized and should translate to an active and healthy life for every individual. A fourth dimension of food security which is stability of the other three dimensions over time has been described. [4],[5]

Improved food security and nutrition are necessary for the achievement of the first Millennium Development Goal (eradication of extreme poverty and hunger) as well as providing an enabling environment for achieving the other seven Millennium Development Goals while the progressive achievement of those goals also will further enhance food security and improved nutrition. [6] Undernourishment leads to poor health and diminishes productivity. This may perpetuate poverty which in turn reduces people's capability to acquire the food they need.

The problem of food insecurity is global but the frequency and effects are more severe in developing countries. It is estimated that over 900 million people worldwide are chronically hungry and of these, 800 million representing about 18% of the world's population live in developing countries. [7],[8] According to the estimate by the Food and Agriculture Organization, almost 200 million Africans were undernourished at the dawn of the millennium compared to 133 million 20 years earlier. [9] The underlying cause of food insecurity in developing countries particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa is the inability of people to have access to food due to poverty. [10] Other factors include under-developed and under-performing agricultural sector which is greatly dependent on the climate, high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, conflicts, environmental degradation and poor governance. [11]

The deteriorating food security situation has also been blamed on rising food prices globally, increase in fuel price and the emerging bio-fuel market. [12]

In Nigeria, the production of food has not increased at the rate that can meet up with the food demand of the increasing population. [13] The intervention programs initiated by different successive administrations, aimed at increasing and sustaining food production did not yield the much acclaimed goals and objectives of food security for most Nigerian households. [14],[15] It was reported that the proportion of food insecure households assessed by the proportion of people with chronic undernourishment rose from 18% in 1986 to over 40% in 2005. [16] Several national surveys have shown that the nutritional status of the most vulnerable group (the under- five children) continues to fall below expectations. [17],[18]

Recently, the Nigeria Millennium Development Goal Report 2010 reveals that reducing poverty and hunger remains a key developmental challenge in Nigeria.

This may suggest that food insecurity should not be seen simply as the failure to produce sufficient food at national level but also a failure to guarantee access to sufficient food at the household level. At the household level, food security implies that there is adequate food available to the household and at the same time, the household has adequate capacity for effective demand for available food. [19]

Inability to have both physical and economic access to sufficient food by individuals and households has been shown to cause predictable reactions and responses such as feelings of uncertainty or anxiety over food supply, perception that food is of insufficient quantity and quality for members of household, reduction of food intake and hunger. [20] The Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) which measures the access component of household food insecurity represented by the three domains of food insecurity captures these experiences. [21]

There is a paucity of published studies on the food security situation in urban households in Nigeria. Most of the published studies on food security have focused on rural and farming communities and have reported that household characteristics such as age, sex and level of education of household heads as well as household income, household size and family setting are associated with household food security status. This present study will provide baseline data on the level of and identify factors affecting food security in an urban community in Edo State. This information will be used to design intervention programs.

This study was therefore carried out to determine the prevalence and categories of household food insecurity as well as identify the factors affecting household food security in an urban community in Edo state, Nigeria.

 Materials and Methods

This cross-sectional, descriptive study was carried out in Egor Local Government Area (LGA), one of the three LGAs within the Benin metropolis and one of the eighteen LGAs in Edo State in Southern Nigeria. Egor LGA is urban and has a total population of 339,889 with a total land mass of 66,000 square meters.

The study units were households with the informants being either the head of the household or spouse who is in charge of purchase and preparation of meals as well as dispensing the food budget for the household.

A multi-stage sampling method was used in selecting households. In the first stage two out of the ten political wards in Egor LGA were selected by simple random sampling method. In the second stage, 416 out of 850 households were selected by using the systematic random sampling method. This was done as follows: All the households in the selected wards were assigned numbers. A sampling interval (total number of households/sample size which was 850/416) of 2 was obtained. Thereafter, the first household which was to be the starting point was selected by balloting between the first two households on the sampling frame. Subsequently, every second household was selected until the sample size was gotten.

Institutional approval to carry out the study was sought and obtained from the Local Government Authority and verbal informed consent was sought and obtained from the heads of the participating households.

Pre-tested, structured, interviewer-administered questionnaire which also included the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) for measurement of food access was the tool for data collection. Prior to pre-testing the tool, the original English version of the questions were reviewed with a group of key informants (3 male and 3 female community leaders) purposively selected who were familiar with the conditions of household food insecurity in the study area. This was to ensure that the food insecurity questions were phrased in a manner that ensures that the meaning and contents of the questions were unaltered. Pre-testing of the tool was carried out among 25 households in Okhoro, an urban community within Egor LGA which was not part of the final study. Interviewers had a common training program conducted by the principal investigator. The training included standardization of methods of questionnaire administration and this was done to ensure accuracy and comparability of participant's responses. Information was collected on socio-demographic characteristics of heads of households such as age, sex, level of education, occupation and other household characteristics including household monthly income, size of the households, number of children, etc.

The Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) for measurement of food access [21] was used to assess the household food security situation. The HFIAS has been used in several developing countries to differentiate food secure from food insecure households across different cultural context and the measures constructed were strongly associated with common indicators of poverty and food consumption. [22] It consists of nine (9) "occurrence" questions that represent a generally increasing level of severity of food insecurity (access) and nine (9) "frequency of occurrence" questions which were asked as a follow-up to each "occurrence" question to determine how often the condition occurred. These questions represented universal domains of the experience of insecure access to food and were used to assign the households along a continuum of severity.

The HFIAS "occurrence" questions relate to 3 different domains of food insecurity (access) found to be common to different cultures. [20] These domains are anxiety and uncertainty about the household food supply, insufficient food quality and insufficient food intake and its physical consequences.

The most severe response for each household was used to classify them into one of the following food security categories. The HFIAS categories of food insecurity are shown in [Table 1].{Table 1}

A food secure household experiences none of food insecurity (access) conditions, or just experiences worry, but rarely. A mildly food insecure household worries about not having enough food sometimes or often, and/or is unable to eat preferred food, and/or eats a more monotonous diet than desired and/ or some food considered undesirable, but only rarely. They do not cut back on quantity nor experience any of the three most severe conditions (running out of food, going to bed hungry, or going a whole day and night without eating).

A moderately food insecure household sacrifices quality more frequently, by eating a monotonous diet or undesirable foods sometimes or often, and/or has started to cut back on quantity by reducing the size of meals, rarely or sometimes. But it does not experience any of the three most severe conditions. A severely food insecure household has graduated to cutting back on meal size or number of meals often, and/or experiences any of the three most severe conditions (running out of food, going to bed hungry or going a whole day and night without eating), even as infrequently as rarely.

Data analysis was by computer using the SPSS version 15.0. Simple proportion was calculated to determine the prevalence of different categories of household food insecurity. Data were presented on tables and association between categorical variables was assessed using χ2 test and level of significance was set at P-value less than or equal to 0.05. To control for potential confounders, multiple regression analysis was done to examine the association between food insecurity and the household characteristics.


Four hundred and sixteen households were studied. The mean age of the heads of households was 50.4 ± 14.0 years and the highest proportion of them was between 40 and 59 years (46.6%) and was males (87.5%). Fifty-six percent of them had tertiary level of education and the highest proportion of them was skilled artisans (40.9%). Majority of the households were small-sized households (63.9%) with mean number of persons per household being 6.22 ± 3.0. The highest proportion of the households heads (25.7%) earned between ₦21,000 and ₦40,000. The mean household monthly income was ₦53,550 ± 32.2 [Table 2].{Table 2}

Using the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (Cronbach's alpha value = 0.851), the proportion of food secure households was 38.2% while 7.9% of the households were mildly food insecure, 12.8% were moderately food insecure and 41.1% of the households were severely food insecure.

[Table 3] shows the level of food security by demographic characteristics of the households. The proportion of food secure households was highest in households whose heads were 50-59 years while the proportion of severely food insecure households was highest in households whose heads were 20-29 years. χ2 = 20.352, df = 15, P=0.159. The male-headed households (40.1%) were more food secure than the female-headed households (25.0%). The female-headed households (55.8%) had a higher proportion of food insecure households than the male-headed households (39.0%). χ2 = 5.960, df = 3, P=0.114. The highest proportion of food secure households was among those whose heads had attained tertiary level of education (53.2%) while those with no formal education (70.0%) had the highest proportion of severely food insecure households. χ2 = 72.785, df = 9, P=0.001. The proportion of food secure households increased significantly with increasing monthly income from 13.3% among those who earned less than ₦20, 000 to 83.6% in those who earned greater than ₦100,000. The highest proportion of severely food insecure households were among those who earned less than ₦20,000. χ2 = 137.578, df = 15, P=0.001.{Table 3}

Households with a nuclear family setting (38.6%) were more food secure than those with an extended family setting (36.9%). The nuclear setting households (42.5%) also had a higher proportion of severely food insecure households. χ2 = 5.519, df = 3, P=0.138. Thirty-seven percent of the smaller households (1-4 members) were food secure compared with only 10% of the largest households (greater than 12 members). Larger households (50.0%) were found to be more severely food insecure than the smaller households (43.7%). χ2 = 11.742, df = 9, P=0.228.

Multiple regression analysis done showed that higher educational status [adjusted OR = 2.68 (95%CI = 1.26 to 4.38), P=0.004] and higher household income [adjusted OR = 10.89 (95%CI = 3.36 to 81.50), P=0.001] were significantly associated with food security.


The high prevalence of food insecurity of 61.8% among the studied households in this urban community is a cause for concern. More worrisome is that they were mainly severely insecure households. This is similar to what has been reported elsewhere in the north central zone of Nigeria (62.8%) [23] but higher than reports from some studies in western Nigeria. [14],[24] The observed difference may be due to the different methodologies used to measure food security in these studies. The present study utilized the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) which measures whether a household is food secure as well as the severity of the food insecurity. Many of the other previous studies constructed a food security index based on the food security line using the recommended daily calorie requirement approach. The strength of the HFIAS is that it also assesses the cognitive and affective components of uncertainty expressed as anxiety or worry over food. For example, current intake maybe adequate but food insecurity may still be experienced because of concern over future intake. Alternatively, current intake may be inadequate, but only temporary to protect supplies and prevent future food insecurity. [21]

In contrast to what has been reported by other studies, [23],[25] but similar to what was reported by Oluyole et al., in western Nigeria, [19] food insecurity was higher among the households with younger heads though this was not statistically significant in this study. This trend could be as a result of the high rate of unemployment at present in Nigeria, particularly among young graduates which could affect their earning capacity and money available to meet their basic needs such as food and other social amenities. Another explanation could be that the older household heads in the age range of 50-59 years with the highest proportion of food secure households are more likely to be those who have advanced in their career with corresponding high income and hence have the means to access available food.

Female headed households were more food insecure than the male headed households. This has been reported by several studies [19],[25] and the reason could be that the male headed households are more likely to have supplementary income from their spouses unlike the female headed households. It has been noted also that there are gender inequalities in earning capacity and hence males earn more than females of the same age and qualification. [26]

In this study, the factors found to be significantly associated with food insecurity were lower level of education and lower household income. A household with an uneducated head was significantly more likely to be severely food insecure than one with an educated head. This is similar to what has been documented by previous studies [16],[19],[23],[25],[27] and has been attributed to the fact that educational status may determine the occupation and income of an individual. Also high educational status would positively influence the ability of households to take good and well-informed production and nutritional decisions. [23]

Expectedly, [16],[19],[23],[25],[27] lower household income was significantly associated with being severely food insecure. Low income households do not have enough money to pay for the basic necessities of life including adequate food. This means they have less access to available food and have more restricted choices since evidence shows that income levels influence the kinds of food choices available to people. [28] Lower income households are more likely to cut down on food purchases compared with other fixed expenses like rent, water, etc particularly in the face of rising food prices. Also, in many urban settings including the study area, there is poor access to land for subsistence farming. Food is therefore mainly purchased from the markets and this is highly dependent on household income and market prices.

It was observed that households with the nuclear family setting had higher proportion of food secure and severely food insecure households compared with the extended family setting. The reasons for these peculiar findings could be adduced to the fact that a nuclear family setting household is more likely to be small sized and hence, has fewer members to cater for and could be more food secure. In the Nigerian setting, it is common place to find employed relatives living with families and often times contributing to the expenses and running cost of the particular household. This may be the reason why the extended family had lower proportion of severely food insecure households since they appear to have additional source of fund. It is also possible that the nuclear family setting were more likely to be female-headed households which in this study had a higher proportion of severe food insecurity. Larger households were more likely to be severely food insecure than the smaller households and this has been documented by several studies. [19],[23],[25],[27] This is expected as a larger household has many more mouths to feed irrespective of income.

The limitation of this study includes intentional bias by the respondents in reporting their experiences of food security status. The respondents may answer untruthfully or be reluctant to express the deprivation that they experience because of embarrassment. There may also be recall bias since the HFIAS tool used sought to ascertain past experiences of food insecurity. The income status of the households as reported by the respondents may also be a source of bias as this could not be verified.

This study has revealed a very high level of food insecurity among these urban households. This is a major challenge to the attainment of the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) which in turn is a prerequisite for achieving the other six MDGs. Since income level was an important factor affecting food insecurity in this urban community, it is recommended that the government and other stakeholders intensify entrepreneurial training for low income and unemployed persons so as to diversify their sources of income and open up more jobs and income earning opportunities. Proper implementation of agricultural policies that assist small scale farmers as well as large scale farmers will help reduce food prices and improve accessibility of food to urban dwellers. Consistency in government policies is also needed to enable stock levels to rise over the years. Making education available to all will improve food security in the long run by potentially increasing income earning capacity. Public enlightenment campaigns are also vital since this will play a role in reducing household size by improving people's access to family planning information and services.


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