The broad objective of the study was to investigate the socio-economic and cultural dimensions of food security among selected ethnic groups in North Central Nigeria. Specifically, the study was designed to: determine food culture and practices of the respondents; determine the household food security status (energy availability) across ethnic groups; determine dietary diversity of the households across cultures; identify perceived constraints militating against household food security; and describe the coping strategies utilized by the households during food shortages. Seven hypotheses and a conceptual framework were developed for the study. The population of the study consists of all ethnic groups in North Central Nigeria. The zone comprises about 60 ethnic groups. Specifically, the study was carried out among Tiv, Igala and Eggon ethnic groups of Benue, Kogi and Nasarawa States. A multi-stage sampling technique was adopted for the study. Three ethnic groups (Tiv, Igala and Eggon) and one village per ethnic group were purposively selected based on differences in language and culture. The total sample size for this study was 340 respondents, made up of 120 Tiv households, 108 Igala households and 112 Eggon households. Data for the study were collected through the use of interview schedule. The data were analyzed using frequency, percentage, mean score, food security index, factor analysis; the comparative (reduced) coping strategy index (CSI), logit regression, Kruskal-Wallis (H) statistic and correlation. The study revealed that majority (91.2%) of the respondents were males. The mean age of the respondents was 43.36 years while their mean household size was 5 members. The mean farm size of the respondents was 3.3 hectares while their average fertilizer use was 4.73kg/ha per annum. Majority (53.2%) had no formal education; majority (89.4%) had no access to credit and about 53.2% did not participate in non-farm activities. The average output from own production was 6211.79kg and majority (60%) of the respondents possessed goats. The mean farm income; mean non-farm income and average annual household income for the respondents were 69,539.00 naira; 22,486.00 naira and 91,752.00 naira, respectively. Majority (93.2%) of husbands took decisions on household agricultural activities; all respondents practiced subsistence farming; and 94.7% practiced mixed cropping. Majority (88.6%) of the respondents preferred major crops; about 92.5% acquired farmland through inheritance; and the family (67. %) constituted the main source of labour. Majority of the respondents used traditional processing (97.4%) and storage (96.2%) methods. Majority (95.4%) of husbands controlled household income and majority (77.9%) of husbands as well had preference in household food sharing. About 67.5%, 41.7% and 44.6% in Anter, Ikem and Randa, respectively were food secure. In all, slightly above half (51.8%) of the households were food secure. Root and tuber crops (86.2%) constituted the food group most consumed by households. Consequently, the population had a low quality diet. The major constraints to food security in the study area included economic constraints, institutional constraints, poor governance and lack of access to appropriate technologies. The most popular strategies utilized during food stress were relying on less preferred food (93.8%) and limiting portion size at meal times (83.5%). The regression analysis showed that some household socio-economic factors [household size (AE) (t= -7.64; p ≤ 0.05), output from own production (t=2.89; p ≤ 0.05), farm income (t=2.78; p ≤ 0.05) and annual income (t= 2.21; p ≤ 0.05)] significantly influenced household food security status. Regression analysis also showed that some food culture and practices [control over household income (-1.056; p ≤ 0.05) and preference over household food sharing (0.834; p ≤ 0.05)] significantly influenced household food security status. Kruskal-Wallis (H) analysis indicated that there was no significant (x2 statistic=5.9915; p ≤ 0.05) difference in household food security status among the ethnic groups studied. Correlation analysis showed that there was a significant (r = - 0.71; p ≤ 0.05) relationship between food security and coping strategy index. Also, some household socio-economic factors such as household size (AE) (r=0.611; p ≤ 0.05); age (r=0.222; p ≤ 0.05) and annual household income (r= -0.197; p ≤ 0.05) had significant relationship with coping strategy index. The study recommended that to improve the food security situation in North Central Nigeria, multiple cropping found to be dominant in the region should be encouraged. Research and extension should focus on developing and promoting appropriate technologies, including use of inputs that can raise productivity in mixed cropping system. Also, governments should support appropriate food storage, processing and preservation techniques at the household and village levels to ensure food availability throughout the year. In addition, households should be assisted to diversify their income sources and enhance their purchasing power so as to meet their minimum food requirement. Furthermore, extension institutions in the region should organize nutrition education programmes aimed at encouraging farmers to produce and consume varieties of foods for improved nutrition and food security.

1.1      Background information
Food security is the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (FAO, 2002). It is also defined as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active and healthy life (World Bank, 1986). Food security depends on availability of food, access to food, utilization of food or nutritional factors and stability of food supply (Gross, Schultink and Kliemmann, 1999; FAO, 2008a). These dimensions are in turn dependent on agricultural production, food imports and donations, employment opportunities and income earnings, intra-household decision-making and resource allocation, health care utilization and caring practices (Maxwell and Frankenberger, 1992) combined with the broader factors of physical, policy and social environment (Hoddinott, 2001). Food insecurity on the other hand connotes a situation in which people lack basic food intake to provide them with the energy and nutrients for fully productive lives.

Concerns over the food security situation in the world are reflected in the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, including reducing by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger between 1990 and 2015. In 2010, an estimated 925 million people in the world were hungry, of which 907 million or 98 percent were in developing countries. This situation has been attributed to neglect of agriculture relevant to very poor people by governments and international agencies; the current worldwide economic crisis and the significant increase of food prices (FAO, 2010); World Hunger Education Service (WHES), 2011). Hunger is exacerbated by poverty as about 1.4 billion people in developing countries live on $1.25 a day or less (International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), 2011).

The prevalence of undernutrition in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) declined slightly from 31 percent between 1990 and 1992 to 29 percent in 2000/2002 and decreased again to 27 percent between 2006 and 2008 (FAO, 2011a). Even with the decline, about 239 million people in SSA continue to face chronic hunger (WHES, 2011) largely because of high level of poverty resulting from overdependence on subsistence agriculture, limited access to off-farm employment, sluggish development in urban areas and skewed income distribution (FAO, 2006). As a result, more than one in every four Africans is undernourished, and the inability to consistently acquire enough calories and nutrients for a healthy and productive life is pervasive (United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), (2012). This is in spite of ample agricultural land, plenty of water and a generally favourable climate for growing food.

The food security situation in Nigeria has slightly improved, though the progress is slow. The monitoring report on progress towards hunger reduction targets of the World Food Summit (WFS) and the Nigeria Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) indicated that there was slight increase in per capita daily calorie intake of Nigerians from 2310 kcal between 1990 and1992 to 2560 kcal in 2000/2002 and it increased again to 2710 kcal between 2006 and 2008. Similarly, the number of undernourished people decreased from 16.3 million people between 1990 and 1992 to 11.9 million in 2000/2002 and further declined to 9.4 million people between 2006 and 2008 (FAO, 2011a). Furthermore, the report on Nigeria MDGs by the Federal Government of Nigeria (2010) indicated that the proportion of underweight children reduced from 35.7 percent in 1990 to 23.1 percent in 2008, which is less than the regional average of 28 percent for SSA countries (UNCTAD, 2010).....

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