The recent warning by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and ex-Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Desalegn Boshe, that 80 million Africans risk extreme poverty if COVID-19 response does not focus on food security, agribusiness and rural development, deserves serious attention. The two leaders had expressed the concern that the continent could be the worst hit from the economic crisis unleashed by the pandemic as a result of the disruptions caused by it on the food ecosystem.
The alert is not entirely novel. It falls into earlier predictions on the likely impacts of the pandemic on the region. Therefore, the culture of dependency by African countries on the outside world, is worrisome. Africa accounts for about 20 per cent of the United States (US) aid, with Egypt, Kenya, and South Sudan being the biggest beneficiaries. With the COVID-19 pandemic equally posing constraints to the economies of the donor nations, the situation becomes more severe for Africa.
Businesses on the continent are struggling with lost revenue, disrupted supply chains arising from factory shutdowns, quarantine measures and movement restrictions. Farming activities in the rural areas have also been affected by the pandemic. The fear of hunger and poverty in Africa is, therefore, very high.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) spoke in this direction when it warned in April that the number of people facing acute food insecurity could nearly double this year to 265 million due to the economic fallout of COVID-19. The organisation listed impact of lost tourism revenues, falling remittances, and travel and other restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic as likely occurrences that could leave more people acutely hungry this year.
The alert by Obasanjo and Boshe is also in tandem with the recent warning by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Health Organisation (WHO) on the need to protect the African food supply chain. The three organisations had jointly remarked that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, there is need for Africans to map out measures to avoid food insecurity, adding that anything leading to food crisis should be nipped in the bud. This calls for more proactive measures by African leaders to ensure that the food sector is not jeopardised because of COVID-19. The number of Africans projected to be afflicted by poverty due to the pandemic is not small. The figure is staggering and worrisome.
The recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) that about 82.9million or 40 per cent of Nigerians, are living in extreme poverty is something to worry about.
The figures contained in NBS 2019 survey, ”Nigerian Living Standards Survey (NLSS), put the poverty rate in states as: Abia, 30.67; Adamawa, 75.41; Akwa Ibom 26.82; Anambra, 14.78; Bauchi, 61.54; Bayelsa, 22.61; Benue, 32.90; Cross River, 36.29; Delta, 6.02; Ebonyi, 79.76; Edo 11.99; Ekiti 28.04; Enugu 58.13, Imo 28.86; Jigawa, 87.02; Kaduna, 43.48; Kebbi, 50.17; Kogi 28.51; Kwara, 20.35; Lagos 4.50; Nasarawa 57.30; Niger 66.11; Ogun 9.32; Osun 8.52; Plateau 55.05; Sokoto 87.73; Taraba 87.72; Yobe 72.34; Zamfara 73.98 and FCT, 38.66.
This means that four out of 10 Nigerians have real per capita expenditures below N137, 430 per year. The falling prices of oil in the international market, disruption of economic activities in the North-East region due to Boko Haram insurgency, banditry in the North-West and farmers/herders clashes in the North-Central as well as other criminal activities in the South, may further heighten the poverty index.
This serves as a huge challenge to state governments to develop the rural areas by way of infrastructure uplift to stem the tide of rural-urban drift by the youth. Nigeria is blessed with enough arable lands for food and cash crops. This is the time for more involvement in agribusiness and rural development.
Relevant government’s agencies should ensure food security by providing necessary incentives to farmers. This will entail making available such incentives as fertilizers and other implements for the farmers. Banks and micro-finance institutions are expected to make interventions here by advancing credit facilities to the farmers and others in the agribusiness at lower interest rates.
More importantly is the security of the farmers. We have had cases of attacks on farmers by herders and other criminal elements in the North-Central region and other parts of the country. We call on the security agencies to ensure adequate protection of the farmers and others in the food supply and distribution chain. Food security should be given priority attention. Therefore, the advice by the two African leaders should be heeded.