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''.



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