The novel coronavirus popularly known as Covid-19 has taken the world by storm, with devastating socio-economic impacts. The global loss is so enormous that there is an overwhelming prediction that a global economic recession looms.

Thousands of lives have been lost and one can hope that the end to this pandemic is near even as partial and local lockdowns have been imposed in almost all the countries to contain Covid-19, including Nigeria. But there is something that bothers me.

I understand how imperative it is for the Nigerian government to be proactive in the fight against Covid-19 but it is clear that Nigeria may witness food crisis. Anunusual food crisis without a drought.

This will be a human drought where crop commodities and vegetables will be ripe enough to be harvested but there will be no one to harvest them because the farmers are locked up at home hiding from Coronavirus (COVID-19 ).

Despite official claims by President Buhari that agriculture and food processing companies are permitted to operate even with the lockdown order in the metropolis of Abuja, Lagos, Ogun and Kaduna states, grassroots farmers are one of the hardest hit as they face the difficulty of carrying on with agricultural activities.

HauwaYahaya, a farmer and agro-dealer told me she has not left home to work at her farm since the lockdown restrictions were announced by the Nigerian Government on 28th of March, 2020.

“Historically, we spend most of March and April clearing our land and preparing it for cultivation in the rainy season. We started before the lockdown order was announced. Now, getting to the farm and back has been difficult because there are no motorcyclists or buses to get us all there. Our farm is nearly an hour’s walk from our home”, she said.

According to a recent research compiled by the Food and Agricultural Organisation  of the United Nations,  820 million people around the world are experiencing chronic hunger – not eating enough caloric energy to live normal lives. Of these, 113 million are facing severe food insecurity.

Hunger so severe that it poses an immediate threat to their lives or livelihoods, and renders them reliant on external support to survive.

These communities grow their food and can barely afford any potential further disruptions to their livelihoods or access to food that Coronavirus might bring. If COVID-19, already present in Nigeria with nearly a thousand confirmed cases proliferates in the entire 36 states, some of whom are already experiencing acute severe food insecurity (largely due to climate change impacts), with low crop yields and in need of external food assistance –  the consequences will be drastic.

Groups hit the hardest

For Sub-Saharan countries such as Nigeria that depend on primary exports like oil, the impact could be unmeasurable. The lockdown prevents many Nigerians working in informal sectors from going to work or trading to earn their daily wage.

Local food vendors and traders expressed fears over their ability to feed their families during the lockdown, with their daily earnings being their only source of sustenance. The increase in food prices and lack of stable power supply also means that many cannot stock up on the necessities, coupled with their limited purchasing power.

Informal labourers will be hard hit by job and income losses in harvesting and processing, especially in non-essential industries. Millions of children are already missing out on the school meals they have come to rely upon, many of them with no formal access to social protection.

Future Impacts

We are already seeing challenges in terms of the labourshortage and logistics involving the movement of food (not being able to move food from point A to point B) within Nigeria, and the pandemic’s impact on the livestock sector due to reduced access to animal feed further reduces access, similar to what happened in China. As a result of the above as of April and May, disruptions in the food supply chains is somewhat inevitable.

This is of particular concern as Nigeria and much of sub-Saharan Africa is where most of the countries experiencing food crises are. Nigeria is particularly at risk as COVID-19 is leading to a reduction in labour force, and thereby affecting incomes and livelihoods as well as labour intensive forms of production (agriculture, fisheries/aquaculture).  There is a need to upgrade standards for hygiene in the country, working conditions and living facilities on agricultural activities in light of the pandemic.

Nigeria must create a robust social protection programme

This could entail: Establishing a minimum social protection programme that pays out monthly stipends or a one-off payment to people needing social assistance (prior to the full blown impact of the crisis as an early action to mitigate the impact of staying at home).

Alternatively, the Buhari administration can work with Private entities and third sector organisations to help families meet their basic needs. In other words, providing complementary entitlements to offset loss of income by small-scale farmers for example, before food insecurity becomes extremely severe due to fall in remittances etc.

Existing food banks could also be supported through not only direct provision of food by the government, but also donations from individuals, non-governmental organisations and solidarity networks to ensure that funds are injected in the agriculture sector.

A grant facility, can help grassroots farmers, Small and Medium food processing enterprises and casual labourers that cannot work to stay afloat, temporarily, while all mandatory movement restrictions hold. Many governments (around the world) have already introduced or boosted protective measures to combat the impacts of the pandemic on Agriculture and Nigeria can do the same.

I hope the Nigerian government will have the foresight of the risks ahead of the country and do everything within its capability to mitigate it for the betterment of the lives of Nigerians.

Christiana Iliyais a sustainability consultant with extensive knowledge and experience in environmental planning and governance. She is based in London, United Kingdom.

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