Hunger looming in Nigeria over COVID-19

 Hunger looming in Nigeria over COVID-19

As the unprecedented horror of COVOD-19 pandemic permeates all contours of the world, it leaves behind not only mass fatalities, but also hunger for those who are lucky to survive it.  According to the World Bank Managing Director for Development, Mari Pangestu, developing countries in the world are facing food insecurity and malnutrition due to the coronavirus pandemic, a drop in foreign exchange earnings, export restrictions and the breakdown of supply chains, among others.

The senior World Bank official in remarks to an online meeting of agriculture ministers from the Group of 20 major economies, said this underscored the need for global cooperation to avert food crises in the most vulnerable countries.

The COVID19 pandemic has already triggered the deepest recession since the 1930s, according to experts. In addition to the pandemic, the worst locust plague in decades is decimating millions of hectares of crops as it spreads across Africa, the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Data from the World Bank revealed that locust swarms have infested 23 countries. They have torn through large swathes of food crops in the Horn of Africa, where more than 24 million people are already  “food insecure” and 12 million people are internally displaced, the Bank said in a recent blog posting. Also, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 821 million people or nearly 11 per cent of the world population, are undernourished, the highest rate since 2011.

According to World Food Programme (WFP), though the pandemic  has not shown  a major direct impact on the supply or price of staple foods in places affected by the virus or globally. This has not always been the case, however, in sub-Saharan Africa. For instance, the Ebola outbreak in 2014 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 behaviour were, in part, responsible for the dramatic increase in global food prices in that period — measures we are not protected against today.

In many developing countries, millions of families already spend upwards of half of their income on food in normal circumstances, according to WFP. Importantly, countries that rely heavily on imported food to meet demand, including sub-Saharan Africa, face disproportionate risk from supply chain failures, especially in the face of border-crossing closures. It is the impacts of farmers leaving their fields fallow (or facing delays in planting and harvesting) because of sickness and breakdowns in non-food supply chains, like fertilizer and other critical inputs, that may ultimately most impact developing country economies.

As a result of the foregoing, it is clear where Nigeria lies and the likely consequences of the actions it had taken and will soon take amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. One doesn’t need a clairvoyant to tell him why Nigeria doesn’t suffer from food shortages in the last two months that the pandemic locked down the country. Previous policies and actions taken by President Muhammadu Buhari are fully responsible for this respite. They are basically the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) launched by the president in 2015, and coordinated and superintended by the Central Bank of Nigeria under the able leadership of Mr. Godwin Emefiele; and the recent closure of land boarders by the president.

It is public knowledge that the Anchor Borrowers programme has empowered farmers, particularly rice farmers and processors in the country and resulted in a significant boost in rice production in the country. Data from the CBN shows that the ABP has added six million metric tons to rice supply in the country annually and created nearly six million direct jobs in a year.  Official statistics from the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) reveals that about two million direct jobs are created every cropping season. And Nigeria has three cropping seasons in a year, all of them fully funded by the CBN. These jobs are restricted to only the production value chain of rice, and not include millions other jobs created in the processing, packaging, transport, marketing sectors of the rice ecosystem. The ABP has so far saved Nigeria a whooping sum of N369 billion per annum, while the country consumes N1.5 billion worth of rice every day. This breakthrough has saved the country the challenge of sourcing forex or devaluing our currency to finance this monstrous import wage bill.

President Muhammadu  Buhari understood the situation properly by identifying adequate financing and access to these financing as a cog in the wheel of progress of the country’s agricultural development.  This is where the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) came in under the efficient and dynamic leadership of Mr Godwin Emefiele. In keeping with his promise to run a central bank that would serve the growth and development needs of the country, Emefiele has ensured the CBN becomes a strategic driver of economic growth of the country. The CBN under him has introduced various initiatives for concessionary funding of agriculture, which is widely recognised as the sector that has the potential to drive economic growth.

CBN Governor Godwin had said in line with President Buhari’s directive, the bank would boost provision of improved seedlings and access to finance for rural farmers in the agricultural sector, across 10 commodities: Rice, maize, cassava, cocoa, tomato, cotton, oil-palm, poultry, fish, and livestock/dairy. In all honesty, Nigeria is still able to feed itself in the midsts of the COVID-19 pandemic, courtesy President Buhari’s agric revolution, which was further strengthened with the closure of Nigerian land borders. Despite all these accomplishments, for Nigeria to consolidate on these achievements and survive the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, certain cogent actions must be taken as the wet season set in.

There is no gainsaying that the 2020 wet farming season is very critical to Nigeria bearing in mind the ongoing pandemic which nobody knows when it will end. It is therefore imperative to state that Nigeria must up its ante in farming more food because it will be entirely difficult to import food from other countries as they will be struggling to feed their citizens.

Finally, the federal government, as a matter of national security, must not leave farming in 2020 wet season in the hands of peasant farmers who obtain loans from the CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme. The situation on ground is beyond them. It is on record that developed economies like the US, UK, among others, give 50 per cent subsidy to their farmers under normal circumstances. It is in view of this that the government must take over farming by ensuring 70-80 per cent subsidy on loans to CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme farmers. With looming uncertainties in the horizon, farmers need abundant subsidies and incentives to weather the storm and feed the nation.

• Dr Kalejaiye wrote from
Abeokuta, Ogun State.

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