The nation, according to experts, may be vulnerable to food scarcity should the authorities choose to ignore the impact of COVID-19 on farming activities in the country and its crippling effect on the economy. With all the efforts by the federal government to prevent further spread of the virus, the pandemic still poses a big threat to farming in Nigeria.
It is not just the virus that is the problem; the pockets of insecurity faced by certain parts of the country, especially the northern region, the nation’s food basket, as well as recent flooding that has aggravated the situation are other major threats.
A BBC report has projected that this year alone, 70,000 children are at risk and may die of hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa as a result of COVID-19, while children under age 5 may suffer from acute malnutrition. This corroborates the position of Save the Children Fund that the food situation is already bad and has now been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) as well as Oxfam, a non-state player, have also warned against increasing hunger in the world, noting that the Sahel region is a cause for serious concern. Specifically, FAO noted that in Nigeria, insufficiency of food in the North East is alarming.
Another report by ReliefWeb on September 1, 2020 noted that sustained conflict and military operations related with Boko Haram, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions, have led to an increase in the population facing crisis or worse outcomes.
Experts have also warned that much of the North East’s household purchasing power is below average, as staple food prices remain above normal, while flooding is equally seen as a threat due to its ability to cause significant displacement.
Reports further indicated that 7.09 million people in the covered 16 northern states of the country and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are projected to be food insecure in the lean season of 2020. This report came before the COVID-19 pandemic. With the pandemic ravaging the world, Nigeria is worst hit as the virus threatens food security, especially in Lagos, Abuja and Kano which have the highest number of COVID-19 cases.
Besides, the pandemic in conflict-affected areas in the North East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa that are already suffering from food insecurity is further worsening an already fragile situation.
Insecurity is playing a disturbing possibility as terrorists have caused people to flee to Internally Displaced Persons Camps (IDPs) camps. Out of fear of being attacked, they have stopped farming altogether and yielded their land to insurgents and bandits. The situation is now grave as prices of food in markets have spiked as a result of scarcity.
This newspaper is however glad to point out that in some parts of the South, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) have deployed Agro Rangers at the request of the governors of those states to protect farmers. They also guard farms and sound the alarm when it is unsafe to be at the farms due to attacks by bandits, killer herdsmen, kidnappers and robbers. It is left to the federal government to employ more of this.
While it is also impressive to note that farmers in Borno State have the army as escort to their farms for protection, an overall plan should be made to protect all farmers across Nigeria. The federal government must, as a matter of urgency, tackle insecurity, COVID-19 and flooding before it is too late.
In our view, flooding needs to be checked and adequate efforts made to counter it and the havoc it wrecks in the aftermath. If not properly addressed, a combination of all of these threats will overwhelm the country’s food situation.
The federal government should encourage farmers by offering them protection and giving them incentives, including the needed assistance in terms of inputs and other tools so as to make their lives and vocation easier, especially those who have fled to IDPs camps.
We are also of the opinion that the federal government should increase grain reserves and set up a task force just like it did for COVID-19 to overlook matters relating to food security. Now is the time to take a definitive action.