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COVIID-19: Nigeria Not At Risk Of Food Shortage, Experts Divided

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Zainab Sanni

Seven million Nigerians will experience food shortage between June and August, this year (2020), according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Already, 135 million people had been facing acute food shortage globally, but now with the pandemic, 130 million more could go hungry in 2020, said Arif Husain, chief economist at the World Food Programme a United Nations agency. Altogether, an estimated 265 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by year’s end.

Like FAO, other international organisations including the World Economic Forum have predicted worsening global food crisis as a result of the disruption caused by the coronavirus disease. There are fears that the food shortage to be experienced will be of biblical proportions, especially in Africa.

Government Official, Agric Expert Divided

In an interview with An24.net, Richard- Mark Mbaram, Technical Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture said that the county is facing a food crisis of epic proportion but criticises the projections about Africa’s inability to handle the food crisis.

“The world is undergoing an unprecedented catastrophic health challenge that has disrupted global supply chain and Nigeria is not an exception. As an agricultural expert with more than 17 years experience, I can tell you that this country is facing a crisis of epic proportion but we have sufficient know-how and resources to meet the challenge.

“The rest of world however expects that Africans will be having problems, battling with COVID-19 while dying from hunger and economic activities would have come to a standstill, No, Africa is actually part of the solution now.” Mark-Mbaram said.

The Chairman, Institute of Agribusiness Management Nigeria, Lagos State Chapter, Seyi Ifelaja, however, disagreed with these projections.

“For Nigeria, the projections made by international bodies are not accurate. The death tolls that they have predicted for one has failed. The kind of deaths predicted by international organisations, we have not recorded them. Their predictions don’t thoroughly hold water

“For us, we have everything that we need to meet our own food requirements in terms of food supply. Climate change is having a toll but even now, people are on the farm,” he said.

“The challenges that the agricultural sector has now were the same pre-COVID. COVID-19 did not bring any new challenges to the agricultural sector except for supply chain disruption. “It is just that business now needs to be done online in a different way. Nigeria has the capacity to produce more than enough food for its population,” he added.

READ ALSO: Food Security Bill Passes Second Reading

Economist Calls On Government To Be Pro-Active

Africa Economy Expert and co-founder of Ominira Initiative, Lanre Elufisan agreed with International Development agencies forecasts. He noted that food insecurity had become a global burden affecting Africa like the rest of the world.

He said, “The impact of COVID-19 is not just felt in Africa or in the food sector although the agricultural sector is quite important to global phenomenon. Just as it is affecting Africa, it is affecting the rest of the world. The major reason why there is likely to be food shortage and global development agencies are concerned about food security today is because many countries are already facing it.

“In China, food prices are increasing and many other countries are restricting food exports so that they can have enough food for their own country. This is a bit difficult for countries like Nigeria that rely a lot on imports to augment insufficient food. It definitely means there is likely to be food shortage in the next couple of months. So yes, I agree with development agencies saying that Africa will deal with food shortage.”

Commenting on the impact of the pandemic for the average Nigerian, Elufisan expressed concerns about increased level of poverty as a result of loss of jobs and most of the world battling with recession.

“COVID-19 has impacted the global economy in a way that the world didn’t see coming. COVID-19 brought the world to its knees, recession really and according to World Bank, Africa will be experiencing its worst recession in 25 years. This simply means that there are less opportunities for the average Nigerian. Increased level of poverty is what we are looking at which simply supports the report of World Bank that 23 million people in Africa would fall into extreme poverty. The impact of COVID-19 for the average Nigerian is poverty,” he said

He also countered the position of Ifelaja noting that even though farmers are still on the field, Nigeria has poor food processing and storage facilities.

Elufisan added, “I understand why farmers will disagree with the projections of International Development agencies. It is because in rural areas, people are still farming but the problem is that some of these farmers are losing their produce. There is also the supply chain that is affected by the pandemic. In Nigeria, we don’t have the best food processing and storage facilities and we don’t have a great distribution system. There are bad roads, good can’t move easily from one end to the other so I agree with development agencies that if Africa isn’t proactive, we may have to deal with food shortage in the next couple of months as it is already happening in Zimbabwe.”

Is The Government Doing Enough?

Mark-Mbaram stated that the Nigerian government had already been pro-active by banning the importation of rice. He said there was already a process to empower five million farmers to provide food for the country.

He said; “The sector would have suffered if the present administration had not taken steps to pro-actively ban food importation and also ramp up the capacity of farmers to produce. All through this lockdown, it is the already produced food that has been deployed for palliatives and also to the market for sales. It is a clear indication of the enhanced production capacity of the average Nigerian farmers.

“The Ministry of Agriculture has a database of 15 million farmers, generated over a period, under the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme and the government will be putting out five million farmers to produce food for the country, to stem the food challenge that people are talking about. They are going to be empowered with necessary inputs

“The only challenge we have faced so far are the security agencies. Despite the Presidential Task Force listing agriculture as an essential service, we daily have to lobby to get our farmers to move their produce across the country. This has contributed immensely to the disruption of supply chain.”

Ifelaja however said he was not aware of any such move being made to empower farmers across the country and expresses distrust of promises made by government

“The only thing we have heard from them for post-COVID is a pledge to mechanise agriculture across 650 local governments but we are not sure what that means because their mechanisation has always meant supply of tractors which many farmers do not need.

“Nigeria has 33 green silos, spread across the country most of which are useless. Only three are functional. Even in states where they don’t have grains, they have a silo, you can tell that it is more of a political project than a need to address the problem of infrastructure in the agricultural sector,” he explained.

Ifelaja further recommended a focus on infrastructure to improve the sector and limit the possibility of food shortage. He emphasised on the need for government to help farmers with cold chain logistics for transportation and storage and value addition processing equipment for entrepreneurs.

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