In terms of having crises in the last decade, the world has never experienced the kind of impacts Coronavirus is bringing to every sector and industry. Businesses and individuals are shivering because of the inability to perform normal business and personal activities towards quality living. Businesses are being shutdown. People are being restricted to avert emergence of geometrical cases of the virus. One thing that is sacrosanct is eating. People need to eat. Animal need to eat. But the shutdown and restriction are devastating the processes for the production of the needed food items.
‘Instead of Coronavirus, the Hunger Will Kill Us.’ A Global Food Crisis Looms, according to The New York Times, in its article on the impact of the virus in the global agriculture sector. In this interview, Ayobami Olaiya, a seasoned agriculturist, with over 12 years experience in Agriculture and Livelihood, Water and Sanitation, Environment, HIV/AIDS, Conflict Mitigation and Reconciliation, Youth and Women Development, speaks with our analyst on how Nigerian government should handle containment measures to avert food crises.
Tekedia: Coronavirus has come and it seems it will stay for long. How would you describe its impact since the first case in Nigeria?
Coronavirus has become one of the largest humanitarian and economic crises the world has ever seen. In summary I will say, coronavirus pandemic has affected everything. It has affected all sectors and parts of the society. It has caused both health and economic crises. Speaking from my own constituency (the farming community), the farmers who produce the food we eat are among the most vulnerable and have been affected badly which may make them more vulnerable to poverty and food crises.
Tekedia: It has forced governments to make a number of decisions to avert severe consequences. What is your take on some of the measures and approaches taken so far?
The measures taken by the government such as the initial lockdown order in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun including use of face masks, social distancing, ban on large gatherings and other precautions that must be taken was good. Borders are closed and interstate travelling restricted. The citizen pressurized the government for palliatives during the lockdown, which President Buhari ordered the release of 700,000MT of grain from the reserve and 150 trucks of rice for distribution. The lockdown has been relaxed since 4th of May 2020 but several states have come up with curfew arrangements for their state to reduce new infection.
My concern and that of stakeholders in agriculture is that one way or the other farming activities are affected. Thanks to the Minister of Agriculture Sambo Nanono who in his support provided I.D for free movement of Agric input and produce across the country but, this is also without its own challenge in this of what is obtainable in various states.
Tekedia: Let us examine the impact within the agriculture and food production. What have we lost? What have we gained as a country?
Lives have been lost, jobs have been lost, the economy is down.
Tekedia: If the strict measures being adopted in some states continue, what would be consequences in the next three months?
For example, if the transportation infrastructure remains locked down for a long time, supplies of food from rural to urban and or from state to state will be hampered.
Tekedia: If we continue to adopt total lockdown, what would be the impact on imported foods that support local consumption?
With total lockdown there will be limited or no supply of input for food production. It means the health crises may lead to food crises. AFEX reported that Nigeria’s fertilizer stocks are currently 20% below normal levels. There are only enough seeds and other inputs to farm 1 million hectares out of the roughly 30 million typically farmed. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have projected about seven (7) million Nigerians to experience food and nutritional crises between June and August, this year (2020) in 16 northern states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). With lockdown and lack of commitment to support farmers to increase production will definitely lead to food crises soon. Government at all levels cannot sustain distribution of food as palliatives as Covid-19 has exposed. Presently, the balance of strategic grain reserves as reported by the minister is around 38,000MT of grains. If the disease continues to spread and its attendant lockdown lingers on, other problems, such as restricted access to farm inputs, quality seeds, chemicals and machinery, will arise, impacting long-term food security. If there is no importation to support the food need of the country, there will be food crises.
Tekedia: How do you believe the government can control the spread of the virus without necessarily restricting farming activities?
So far, the response of government is focused on mitigating the impact of Covid-19 in densely populated cities. However, the majority of the population lives in rural areas. It is now time to consider the most vulnerable and pivotal groups: rural households who play an important role in maintaining national food security. Farmers are to be sensitized on Covid-19, protected against harassment by law enforcement officers, and supported with personal protective equipment (PPE). Government should support farmer with inputs such as fertilizers, seeds, herbicides among others. Framers can also be assisted with farm mechanization to ease farmers challenges in line with Covid-19 palliative arrangement for the wet season farming. The government should come up with programmes and policies that are crucial for improving livelihood of the poor to improve self-reliance and reduce total reliance on food assistance as well as prevent food shortage taking advantage of this farming season.