How will Nigeria avoid food crisis in coming months?
Apr 6, 2020
“We risk a looming food crisis unless measures are taken fast to protect the most vulnerable, keep global food supply chains alive and mitigate the pandemic’s impacts across the food system”
While everyone is gearing up to battle the spread of Covid-19 in Nigeria, we have busied ourselves with finding solutions to the challenges that may come up in coming weeks if we do not flatten the curve as soon as possible. We really hope for the best but it is expedient to prepare for a different case scenario.
Here’s what the Pan American Health Organization had to say about food security in a pandemic;
The impact of the virus in other areas of the world may result in your community experiencing a food crisis even before the influenza virus causes severe health problems in your municipality. Some of the first things that you will notice that indicate a pandemic could cause a food security problem are:
• Industries that rely on import and export are struggling.
• Food supplies are hard to get locally.
• Economic activities are disrupted.
The government’s lockdown for now has been mild with exceptions to food distributors and sellers, so for now things are looking calm but uncertain. Nigeria’s economy is still tied to the oil and with the Saudi’s show of force in the global oil market, Nigeria has multifaceted problems on her hands. Even if somehow the price of oil jerks back up, and we have money flowing into our coffers once more, how will inter-trades between countries happen with countries shutting their gates tighter to ensure no one brings virus into their domain? Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) show Nigeria’s food imports to be an average of N1. 92 trillion per year and N1 billion every day from 1990 to 2011 (Dailytrust); it’s not just about having this much money to import, it’s about getting willing sellers in coming months, the normal human reaction at this time is to keep what’s at hand and spread it across the period of the lockdown because survival takes priority over business.
What can we do at this time to ensure Nigerians don’t lose access to food?
There’s a lot we can do, from putting aside political differences and getting to the basics of food production, to reducing post-harvest loses, to revamping food storage and ensuring proper distribution and the list goes on. The basic unit of food production comprises of farmers which in this part of the world includes the senior citizens and guess the group with highest risk to suffering from the virus? The senior citizens as we heard. The planting season is upon us and farmers are expected to move around in preparation, which will include procuring inputs and meeting different sources of funds to finance 2020 planting projects. Markets, cooperative houses and farms are places where our dear farmers might likely be exposed.
Farmers will have to do their bit to support the fight against Covid-19. The government task force, members of the NCDC, doctors and every other person directly involved in this fight, should not be saddled with the responsibility of worrying about food; everyone in food production sector will have to double or triple efforts to identify fast growing crops that can be grown and ready for consumption by the time ration starts getting low. Even if we turn the corner in the next two weeks; something china seems to have done, life might not necessarily jump back to normalcy, scars take time and crops also take time. Nobody can predict how inter-nation trade agreements will be affected at the end of the plague, the best way to prepare is to increase our food production capacity. Quarantines and panic during the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in Sierra Leone (2014-2016), for example, led to a spike in hunger and malnutrition (fao.org); while we don’t expect the Covid-19 outbreak to keep on for 2 years, we as Nigerians should prepare for eventualities.
How best to prepare
As individuals we should look to start employing new techniques that allow maximum use of small space around us, hydroponics is one to look at; the system will allow households to grow their own vegetables at least. With the little I have learnt, you can grow veggies without necessarily buying anything; household items come in handy for this sort of planting. Also, groups of farmers need to come together more now than ever and seek to support one another to make this planting season a successful one and circumvent any form of problems that might result in failure this year, we simply cannot afford such.
Everybody in the food production sector should tighten their belts and encourage open dialogue and then timely applications of the solutions that have been documented over time by agricultural research agencies in Nigeria. The distribution networks of food products must be given appropriate support by all the agencies to ensure adequate flow all over Nigeria and no one is left out.
The government should brace up for impact of the crisis, which may require subsidizing food and creating food banks in key locations all over Nigeria. The individuals that will be key to apportioning and rationing of food items that will be available in stores all over the nation have to be impeccably fair, this is no time to hoard or favor one human over the other. We are all in this boat together.