COVID-19 pandemic has not only brought about health challenges to Nigeria and the rest of the world, but has in its wake visited untold economic and social problems. Prominent among the challenges is the risk of hunger pandemic, which is set to almost double acute hunger in Nigeria and some countries in the world by the end of the year.
The COVID-19 pandemic, according to the recent United Nations World Food Programme[WFP] report could almost double the number of people suffering from acute hunger, pushing the figure to more than a quarter of a billion by the end of the year.According to the WFP report, the number of people facing acute food insecurity , stands to rise to 265 million in 2020, an increase of 130 million from the 135 million in 2019, as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19. The estimate was announced alongside the release of the Global Report on Food Crises, produced by WFP and 15 other humanitarian and development partners. The report stressed that some 265 million people in low and middle-income countries , in Nigeria and other nations in Africa , will face acute food insecurity by the end of 2020 unless swift action was taken to avert the situation.
It is noteworthy that before the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, majority of people that suffered acute food insecurity in 2019 were mainly in countries affected by conflict, which was put at 77 million; while those that suffered as a result of climate change was 34 million, and economic crises victims was put at 24 million according to Global Report on Food Crises. Nigeria incidentally was last year listed among the 10 countries worst affected by food crises. The rest were Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela , Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, the Sudan, and Haiti.
WFP further disclosed that on the whole, more than 40 million West Africans face food shortages in the coming months, as the pandemic is worsening , resulting in volatility in the price of food staples and complicating food system triggering food insecurity and malnutrition.
The WFP noted with concern that: “COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread. It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock, like COVID-19 , to push them over the edge. We must collectively act now to mitigate the impact of this global catastrophe.” The need therefore, to act collectively to avert the impeding food insecurity cannot be overstressed.
The African Development Bank (AFDB), initiative in providing about $10billion to implement strategic roadmap of projects and programmes of immediate and longer term measures to tackle nutrition and food crisis situation in Nigeria and other countries in the continent is coming at the right time. This is part of the measures by the Bank to assist Nigeria and other African countries mitigate impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on the agriculture sector.
The AfDB Feed Africa Response to COVID-19 (FAREC), is part of the bank’s comprehensive intervention to build resilience, sustainability and regional self-sufficiency in Africa’s food systems and help farmers cope with coronavirus-related disruptions to the agricultural value chain.The Bank’s Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, Dr. Jennifer Blanke, said the Bank’s response was in effort to address the challenges faced by African countries across agriculture value chain, as Africa cannot afford a food crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A report released alongside the roadmap recommends immediate, short-and medium-term solutions for the agriculture sector including; support of food delivery for the most vulnerable; stabilization of food prices; optimization of food processing; extension support services, and provision of key agricultural inputs through smart subsidies.
According to the report, the Bank will prioritize policy support to enhance movement of inputs and food, to establish food security task forces in countries, and to strengthen the capacity of regional organisations to monitor multi-country initiatives.
“Ensuring food security for Africans in all situations is at the core of the Bank’s Feed Africa Strategy. Our institution will coordinate its efforts with different stakeholders across the continent to effectively answer the needs of regional member countries,” said Dr. Martin Fregene, Director of the Bank’s Agriculture and Agro-industry Department.
Speaking in a similar vein, President Muhammadu Buhari in his Democracy Day broadcast to the nation promised to work towards maintaining his policy on agriculture to ensure food sufficiency for the nation.
According to the Nigerian leader, “we are promoting “Grow What We Eat” and “Eat What We Grow”, adding that the government will continue to support the Agriculture sector through the CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme and similar schemes.”
To protect our farming investments, he said the Federal Government has deployed 5,000 Agro-Rangers and employed 30,289 in our para-military agencies.
This and other initiatives of government are encouraging. Laudable as these appear, the President has great roles to play in ensuring that the Ministry of Agriculture, the Anchor Borrowers’ programme of the Central Bank do the needful to ensure that with the rainy season here, they will work collectively to ensure a bountiful harvest that will guarantee food security for the nation.
They should address the problems of fertilizer and seedlings availability for farmers, especially those in rural areas. Above all, the government has more tasks before it to ensure a greater security, especially in the northern states where farmers and their family members have been victims of kidnapping banditry and other forms of criminality.