HOW COVID-19 COULD AFFECT FOOD SECURITY IN AFRICA – Opinion
The world have been battling with the novel coronavirus since early this year and despite the government efforts in different countries, the scourge has been going viral with no particular day it would come to an end. The pandemic is generating multiple waves of unprecedented global impacts. Epidemics in Europe and the United States are currently in their exponential growth phase, following declines in infection rates in China, South Korea, and Japan.
We have not yet seen major epidemics take off in South Asia, Latin America and Africa south of the Sahara—where governments, health and food systems, communities, and households have limited capacity to respond. But we do know they will take off very soon?
Recall that in the first decade of this century, we realized a lot about how the AIDS pandemic interacts with food and nutrition security—including how food insecurity could heighten the risk of exposure to HIV in several ways. AIDS epidemics are long-wave phenomena. In fact, there have been several waves: The first wave of HIV infection in the 1980s was followed by increased incidence of opportunistic infections and, several years later, by the third wave of AIDS disease and death. Beyond this, depending on a host of variables, there was a fourth wave encompassing a stream of economic and social impacts at the household, community, and national levels.
This could also establish direct resemblance between what happened then and now because with regard to COVID-19, the timeline is compressed significantly, with three waves—of infection, illness, impact—the first two separated by just a week or two probably as a result of different immunity systems. Africa grows much of its own supplies. Some 60% of Africa population is engaged in agriculture, including many small-scale farmers. If food security does become a concern, governments and donors may suspend their drive to integrate small-scale farmers into global supply chains and prioritise the provision of local markets instead. In some cities and peri-urban areas, urban agriculture remains a vital source of food, dietary diversity and income.
During the crisis, small-scale gardening in towns could be an important source of food, especially if incomes fall as a result of declining employment but how many young people in Africa engage in agriculture because there is no motivation to stay in the rural areas as a result of absence social amenities. It is also the case that farmers tend to be older than average. Africa has a youthful population, but young people tend to be less interested in agriculture and more likely to migrate to urban areas. This leaves a slightly older farming population that could be more vulnerable to the coronavirus and as they continue dying gradually with no active youth population to replace them on farms, food production would reduce.
According to some estimates, 70% of Africa’s food is produced by women. In several southern African countries, for example, rural women are the primary food crop producers while men are more involved in animal husbandry or labour off the farm. Women are also often responsible for the care of children, the sick and elderly. This means they could have increased exposure to COVID-19 with knock-on implications for food production, food preparation and child nutrition.
Many people in urban areas already face poverty and struggle to get food. Under COVID-19, these difficulties will increase. The very poorest often depend on casual labour in the informal COVID-19 is disrupting some activities in agriculture and supply chains. Preliminary reports show that the non-availability of migrant labor is interrupting some harvesting activities. There are disruptions in supply chains because of transportation problems and other issues.
What about some part of Nigeria especially the South West where many farmers relied on the services of manual labourers from Togo, Benin Republique and some part of middle belt where the Egedes emanated from? These people have been barred from coming to Nigeria for now because of community transmission of coronavirus. Our people can hardly practice farming themselves without the effort of these foreigners.
The Ebola outbreak in 2014, for example, led to dramatic increases in the prices of staple foods in countries impacted in West Africa. Furthermore, the food price-spikes of 2007/8 demonstrate that export restrictions, market speculation and panic behavior were, in part, responsible for the dramatic increase in global food prices in that period—measures we are not protected against today.
Prices have declined for wheat, soybeans, vegetables, yams even eggs and other crops, yet consumers are often paying more. Media reports show that the closure of hotels, restaurants, sweet shops, and tea shops during the lockdown is already depressing milk sales. Meanwhile, poultry farmers have been badly hit due to misinformation, particularly on social media, that chicken are the carriers of COVID-19.
Given the links between COVID-19 epidemics and the livelihoods, food and nutrition security of the poor in lower-income countries with relatively weak healthcare systems, I projected that the disease would have serious impacts. As with the AIDS pandemic, the conditions exist for vicious cycles of upstream risk and downstream effects, particularly for the ultra-poor.
Most immediately, COVID-19 has already generated a massive global economic shock. In general, economic downturns and recessions (whatever the cause) hit the poorest households hardest via numerous pathways (higher food prices, less purchasing power, reduced ability to stockpile, higher risk of losing jobs, lack of safety nets, ability to access and afford treatment and care, etc.). Workers from poorer households cannot afford to take time off work if they are feeling unwell.
COVID-19 is already having a major impact on supply chains and logistics, both for producers and consumers—as evidenced by closed borders, national lockdowns, and the reduction in air traffic. Many African countries are net importers of food, with the continent spending about $65 billion on food imports in 2017. The global trade on which this relies is not expected to be disrupted by the pandemic. Unlike in 2007-2008, high energy costs are not pushing up food prices.
When it comes to maintaining food systems during the pandemic, Africa may have some advantages over other parts of the world such as its relatively younger workforce and more robust urban and small-scale agriculture. Nonetheless, it will certainly face significant challenges in the coming months that will require thoughtful attention from policymakers.
A big part of efforts must be focused on stemming the spread of COVID-19 itself. Crucial preventative measures – from promoting hand-washing and social distancing to imposing restrictions on gatherings and movement – will be essential to slowing the impacts of the virus including on food systems and producers. Although we seems to face an herculean task now than ever with the community transmission in some part of Nigeria because many people were yet to believe coronavirus is real.
The invasion of south-west Nigeria by the Almajiris from the north is frustrating the efforts of the COVID-19 task force in Oyo, Ogun, Lagos and other places because these outcast set of people are burden to their origin. They were seeking solace elsewhere after migrating from the north not minding the rules of no interstate traveling.
On national debt, some government capacity could be enhanced if debt service is suspended and COVID-19 related multilateral assistance come without unnecessary strings attached. Renewed calls for structural reforms in a period of crisis are not helpful. More broadly, the global community must realise we are all in this together. While it will be tempting for some countries in the Global North to look inwards as they deal with their own crises, disease and associated food insecurity rarely respect international boundaries.
Thank God for Madagascar COVID Organic but sadly rejected by the WHO and the west because it is African! They claimed it wasn’t proved scientifically. I expected our government to learn from this because until Africans devise solutions to solve their problems in African ways, we cannot be liberated from the western hegemonic neocolonialism. Must we wait till the vaccines pass clinical trials before we make decisions in Africa?
The existing problems will persist during the COVID-19 crisis and still have to be addressed. Many African governments will have to continue dealing with ongoing challenges such as the desert locust infestation in East Africa. These crises must continue to receive the attention they deserve if domestic food production is to be maintained.
Millions of Nigerians may be caught between a rock and a hard place, should federal and state authorities shut down the nation in a desperate bid to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).To adequately rein in the pandemic, health officials urge people to stay indoors. It is a move that has witnessed deserted streets in several parts of the world, as governments enforce curfews. Unlike developed countries, however, the Nigerian society is wired differently.
A prolonged stay-at-home, for more than half the population, could mean an invitation to starvation. “Nigeria is not prepared at all for food security during a lockdown,” warned Prof. Kolawole Adebayo. Should there be a total lockdown, food would become the new problem added to COVID-19, he said.
A farm extension specialist at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) and former African Coordinator of the Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (CAVA) projects, Adebayo noted: “Variables are many and have all been neglected for too long. When last did we update our strategic food reserves and what was the basis of acquiring the foods stored? Is there a match between population distribution and strategic location of food reserves? Did we consider the security of the food reserves and the road, rail air and water transport necessary to move food around when locating the food reserves? The state of our infrastructure is terrible. Did we take heed and fix them? No!”
Just one month of lockdown will pose a huge challenge to the population, said Dr Richardson Okechukwu, a cassava breeding and production expert at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). He explained that while salary earners might be able to stock up on food (if they get paid), daily earners would face a raw deal.
Prof. Damian Chikwendu is a former coordinator of the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP) Nigeria and Team Lead of Cultivating New Frontier in Agriculture (CNFA) told The Guardian: “If there is a lockdown, how would farmers get seeds? Breeder seeds and certified seeds come from research institutes and seed companies. Getting all the inputs at the right time would be a problem.”
The regional coordinator of Africa Rice Centre, IITA, Ibadan, Dr Francis Nwilene, faulted the leasing of strategic grain reserve facilities and urged government to build infrastructure for agriculture such as dams, more storage facilities for emergencies like COVID-19 and boost rice production for export, especially now that oil price is crashing.
A former chairman of the Poultry Association of Nigeria in Oyo State, Mr. John Olateru, said the closure of schools was already affecting egg producers because sales had plummeted. He said a lockdown would impact negatively on transportation and distribution of farm produce. He added: “Can Nigeria afford salary bonuses for every salary earner like the United States of America? Can we afford other packages being done by some of the locked-down countries?”
What I am saying is that COVID-19 will double the number of people suffering from a food crisis, pushing it to 265 million, estimates the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). Announced alongside the release of the Global Report on Food Crises, by various partners including WFP, figures show that taking swift action is vital. Pre-existing food crises will worsen dramatically due to the pandemic, as people in some of the poorest countries will have to face the economic consequences of lockdown if not the virus itself.
The 55 countries and territories that are home to 135 million acutely food-insecure people in need of urgent humanitarian food and nutrition assistance are the most vulnerable to the consequences of this pandemic as they have very limited or no capacity to cope with either the health or socioeconomic aspects of the shock,” the report reads.
Last year, food-insecure people were in countries affected by conflict (77 million people), climate change (34 million) and economic crises (24 million), with the 10 worst food crises in Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, Sudan, Nigeria and Haiti. South Sudan had 61% of its population in a state of food crisis or worse, followed by Sudan, Yemen, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Syrian Arab Republic and Haiti (at least 35%).
With this, I expect the civil society can play a role by checking the impact of governments’ decisions on the citizens. It is essential to monitor food prices and markets and to transparently disseminate information. Governments at all levels should recognize agricultural food system operations and research as essential and provide everyone involved with the protection and support that they need to continue to work, following safety and health protocols.
For instance, the government of Rwanda, for example, has put in place a COVID-19 Food Assistance Program. It is supported by local companies, private individuals and local banks, through the Rwandan Private Sector Federation supporting Government initiatives. I hope this type of idea can be replicated in Nigeria. This crisis represents a dramatic opportunity to reimagine what our society and economy could be if organized on different terms regardless of either one is advanced clime or low income.
African government must act fast because people are dying of hunger virus than coronavirus on daily basis. This is a great challenge on African Development Bank (ADB), African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). All policymakers in these forums must come up with realistic approach in African ways not by receiving all orders from the World super powers or international community or else many lives will be lost here than anywhere in the world.
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