Thursday 30 April 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic - impact on Food Security in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ensuring access to safe and nutritious food during the COVID-19 pandemic is pivotal to saving lives among the most vulnerable as food prices increase drastically in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. As the regulations are tightened to prevent further spread of the virus, food supply chains are strained due to bottle-necks in transporting food products from point A to B. Before now, rural communities have had to deal with challenges facing the agricultural sector such as the limited  market for their produce, which now exposes vulnerable communities to hunger and starvation during this time. The Covid-19 pandemic not only affects significant elements of both food supply and demand but also exposes the lapses in our food systems with insight on areas we should look to strengthen in the future.

As countries are on either partial or full lockdown, people who depend on wages have lost their income-earning opportunities which have greatly impacted purchase/consumption and access to safe nutritious food. There have also been few changes in consumer behaviour, such as fewer visits to site markets (slaughterhouses), hoarding and dietary changes due to fewer food choices brought about by unavailability and increased cost of food. Unless we keep global food supply chains alive, food crises are likely to affect the most vulnerable during the global pandemic. The lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic will inform our food policies for years to come.

Border closures, lockdown regulations and market and supply chain disruptions could restrict people’s access to safe, sufficient, nutritious food especially in communities hit hard by the coronavirus or previously at risk of food insecurity. Prices of food have seen an unprecedented rise in the past few weeks in different parts of Africa and may continue to rise as food vendors report that restrictions on travel and high transportation costs make it harder and more expensive to move food products to places where they are needed. Food imports are one of the ways countries in the region supplement local production to meet the growing demand for food and food products, with international food export on halt, countries who depend largely on importation are facing great challenges in accessing enough food especially staples such as rice.

Local food production has been suspended by companies in lieu of government regulations to protect staff and the public, locally sourced staples have seen a great price jump threatening food and nutrition security in vulnerable communities. Food and nutrition security in sub-Saharan Africa before now have struggled to receive the attention it deserves from government and policymakers which has increased the vulnerability of our food systems and our ability to manage our food supply amidst the global pandemic.


To avoid disruptions to the food supply chain and food production, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is urging all countries to:

  • Keep international trade open and take measures that protect their food supply chain (from obtaining inputs such as seeds to assuring smallholder farmers have access to markets to sell their produce).
  • Focus on the needs of the most vulnerable and scale-up social protection programmes including cash transfers.
  • Keep their domestic food supply value chains alive and functioning.
  • Taking all necessary precautions, seeds and planting materials must continue to flow to smallholders; animal feed to livestock breeders; and aquaculture inputs to fish farmers. Agricultural supply chains should be kept alive in-line with health safety concerns.
  • Maintain agricultural activities.

The Author.

Lilian Umeakunne

Lilian Umeakunne is a Food security and livelihoods specialist devoted to making a change in African Agriculture. 
Follow her on social media to share your thoughts and contribute your ideas to solving Africa's greatest problem - hunger and poverty.

LinkedIn: Lilian Umeakunne
Twitter: @Lily_Umeh
Facebook: Lilian Umeakunne.

Monday 20 April 2020

Global lock-down threatens food and nutrition security

The COVID-19 pandemic has indeed brought about major economic, social and political changes across the globe and life as we know has greatly changed. Markets, offices, schools and religious houses have been closed; major streets are now deserted while busy cities have been locked down in different countries. Amidst the imposition of curfews and restrictions of movement by various countries, one of the major concerns is how the pandemic impacts the food system. This is considering the frequent calls on citizens to stock up for a long haul thus increasing demand for food as well as affected food businesses that have had to close in the wake of the pandemic. It is now obvious that we require more than just technology to survive.

A post on the Bloomberg Opinion Instagram handle aptly read, the Corona Virus reminds us that were in our essence… creatures that cannot bite into bytes, eat algorithms or disinfect with bandwidth, as someone has to grow, harvest and deliver our food…” This emphasizes that the entire agricultural value chain is dependent on humans who must move from one place to another, thus, begging the question, how do we survive when availability due to inactivity becomes a problem?

An interaction with role-players in the agricultural sector across different countries revealed that current issues and fears in agriculture at this time include scarcity of agricultural commodities; inefficient supply chains; food-price volatility arising from the aforementioned as well as rising demands amidst a shortage of supplies; wastage/loss of agricultural commodities; shortage of agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and other agro-chemicals, considering individuals have since closed down businesses and are remaining at home; rejected exports due to border closure; slow imports for countries that depend mainly on imported food items; halted extension services; poor coordination of agricultural activities; fears of delayed/lost 2020 farming season; paused research efforts and so much more.

In Nigeria, as soon as the government announced its intention to lock down the three main States affected by the pandemic viz-a-viz Lagos – the commercial hub of the country, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) – the country’s administrative capital and Ogun State due to its proximity to Lagos State to stem the spread of the virus, food prices doubled as many traders took advantage of the opportunity to exploit desperate consumers. Rural farmers on the other hand have gone ahead with activities in preparation for the 2020 farming season with an uninformed notion that the Corona Virus is an infection that affects only the rich. In addition, certain projects like the PIATA funded Fertilizer Systems Strengthening Project that seeks to promote the use of crop/site-specific fertilizers across four commodity value chains in the country has since been brought to an abrupt halt.

In a joint press briefing by the Presidential Task Force (PTF), the Federal Ministry of Health and the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), a journalist posed a question at the Federal Government’s representative as to what its plan was to deal with the Food and Agriculture Organizations predictions on looming food crises; while various responses were given, there was none that addressed this particular question. The FG does have plans beyond opening up grain reserves to meet the current food demands of the country’s population.

Reports from other parts of Africa show that the virus has not been spread to rural areas where a bulk of the continents farming population reside and operate from. In Ethiopia, similar to the case of Nigerian farmers, plans for the forthcoming farming season is ongoing as the government makes frantic efforts to get agricultural inputs across to farmers at subsidized rates, while in Zimbabwe reports of fatality arising from the virus has forced farmers to shun farming activities. In Kenya, there were reports of destroyed fresh roses as the pandemic had crashed the commodity’s demand in Europe although the government has made efforts to provide grains to its population amidst the lock-down.  It is reported that in Sierra Leone, on the other hand, farmers continue to encounter difficulties in accessing agricultural inputs.

While it is comprehensible that at the top of our minds is the urgent need to flatten the COVID-19 curve, also of great importance is the need to strengthen our food distribution systems. It is therefore imperative for stakeholders as a matter of urgency, to strategize on ways to ensure steady food production and supply within and after this period. This we must achieve bearing in mind the strong words of the Ghanaian President – Nana Akufo-Addo – that “although we know how to recover our economies after the pandemic, what we do not know how to do is bring the dead back to life” thus emphasizing the need to stay at home and strategize on ways to co-exist even as we physically stay apart in the interim.

Thank you for reading. Please remember to avoid being emotionally isolated from family and friends. Let’s focus on strengthening bonds even with the physical distance to maintain sound mental health amid anxiety, fear, confusion and uncertainty.

The Author

''As an agricultural enthusiast, I have long had a passion for contributing my quota to the growth and development of the Nigeria agricultural sector and this birthed an interest in research to see what and how precisely agricultural strategies are implemented in developed economies of the world and how they can be adapted to suit the Nigerian scenario''.

Monday 13 April 2020


Soil resources are at the center of spurring economic growth across the globe, because in addition to other benefits, soils anchor the well being of natural and human resources that foster strengthened global economies. The soil is so important that it contributes meaningfully to at least six (6) of the seventeen (17) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the achievement of the United Nation’s agenda for sustainable development by the year 2030.

Story Beneath Out Feet: The Soil Is Alive! - Door County Pulse
Source: doorcountypulse
I bet a lot of us have never thought so highly of the soils we trample upon daily and pay little attention to? Well, this article seeks to enlighten readers on the relationship or the place of soils in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

SDG 1 – No Poverty: the first on the United Nations SDG’s is the achievement of a world with no poverty by ending all forms of poverty everywhere including in developing nations of the world. Agriculture owing to its numerous benefits plays a major role in eradicating poverty especially amongst the rural population who depend mainly on agricultural activities for survival and improved livelihoods. Beyond increasing farmer’s income, in eradicating poverty, agriculture lowers food price volatility, increases food supply, creates more job opportunities and contributes to nation building. However, it is also pertinent to note that in agreement with Parikh and James (2012), soils have an underlying role as the foundation for agriculture and agricultural production, which makes soil resources a major role player in eradicating poverty globally.

SDG 2 – Zero Hunger: According to Kopittke, Menzies, Wang, McKenna and Lombi (2019), soils account for 98.8% of the food produced globally.  The Sustainable Development Goal 2 seeks to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. This invariably implies that if soils are the largest medium for sustainable food production across the globe, then they have a direct impact on the achievement of food and nutrition security, considering that soil-less agriculture by itself may not be sufficient to meet up with the increase in global food demands as a result of industrialization and rapidly increasing human population. It is based on this that Soil Scientists make a common chant – “No soil, No food production”.

SDG 3 – Good Health and Well Being: how can we “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” if there is not enough nutritious food to cater to human nutrient needs, or if our degrading environmental resources put us at risk of water pollution, flooding, soil erosion, desertification and so on? Beyond contributing to economic growth through increased agricultural production, healthy soils have a major role to play in the preservation of environmental resources, as they contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation, ensure the availability of clean air by providing a medium for tree growth, storage of carbon, regulate temperature and basically serves as foundation for ecosystem functionalities, thus ensuring that humans across the globe maintain good health and well being.

SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitization: soil is an integral part of the water cycle. According to Sindelar (2015) for Soil Science Society of America, the aforementioned is seen in the soils functionality of capturing water, serving as a natural water reservoir, as well as a natural filter in ensuring that clean water is available for all, at all times, thus contributing to the achievement of SDG 6 which seeks to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. Target 6.3 identifies the need to improve water quality by reducing pollution and this can be achieved through healthy soils, as soils that are polluted invariably lead to polluted water bodies through surface runoffs thus endangering humans and the environment.

SDG 13  - Climate Action: the European Environment Agency in a publication released in 2019, stated that soils and climate change have a conjunct relationship because soils are the second largest Carbon sink, giving soils the opportunity to naturally trap carbon stocks. In addition, soils provide a platform for plant growth in the form of trees and generally, crop covers that ensure that carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and stored. This enables soils to contribute meaningfully to “taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”. In climate change adaptation, healthy soils with high organic matter content have the potentials to hold water in terms of excessive rainfall, thus hindering floods and soil erosion and emphasizing the role of soils in both climate change adaptation and mitigation.

SDG 15 – Life on Land: this goal seeks to “protect, store and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, more sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”. Globally, nutrient imbalance; acidification; organic carbon loss; soil leaching; soil erosion and so on are major threats and causal factors of land degradation (FAO, 2015). This puts land/soil resources at risk in meeting environmental and economic needs (through progressive and sustainable agriculture). This invariably implies that to ensure that there is life on land, soil resources need to be protected and put to efficient use and this can be achieved through the promotion of sustainable soil management practices such as precision nutrient management in the form of soil analysis; application of site specific fertilizer products; ensuring soils are protected through cover cropping and so on. On the other aspects of the goal, soils are required to sustainably manage forests because it is the medium upon which forests are formed. Combating desertification also requires soils for afforestation and reforestation and other methods of cover cropping to serve as wind breaks.

The role of soils in the achievement of these SDGs further emphasizes the important role soils have to play in human existence. This calls for collective actions to ensure that soil resources are effectively managed as earlier stated to ensure that by 2030, we have a world void of poverty, food and nutrition secured that will ensure healthy living with reversed effects of climate change.


European Environment Agency (2019): Soil, Land and Climate Change. An article published on the European Environment Agency website.
Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO (2015): Status of the World’s Soil Resources: Main Report
Kopittke, P. M., Menzies, N. W., Wang, P., McKenna, B. A.&Lombi, E. (2019): Soil and the Intensification of Agriculture for Global Food Security. Environmental International, Vol. 132.
Parikh, S. J. & James, B. R. (2012) Soil: The Foundation of Agriculture. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):2
Sindelar, M. (2015): Soils Overview: Soils Clean and Capture Water. Soil Science Society of America, April, 2015.
Soil Science Society of America (2013): Why is Soil Important?
Sustainable Development Goals Knowledge Platform: Sustainable Development Goals.


Ogbole Esther

'As an agricultural enthusiast, I have long had a passion for contributing my quota to the growth and development of the Nigeria agricultural sector and this birthed an interest in research to see what and how precisely agricultural strategies are implemented in developed economies of the world and how they can be adapted to suit the Nigerian scenario''.