Is COVID-19 affecting, has affected or will affect the Nigerian food security?
To answer this question, let’s first take a look at a typical Nigeria food distribution system before the outbreak of coronavirus.
Adamu is a tomato farmer at Barki-Ladi local government of Plateau state. He harvests his tomato every Monday evening or early morning on Tuesday and gives it to Mathias who aggregates from up to 10 of the likes of Adamus and takes it to the building material market in Jos.
At the building material market, Eunice comes to buy the tomatoes from Mathias and many other aggregators and send it through a truck to Shaibu in M12 market in Lagos.
Mama Iyabo and the likes come to buy from mile-12 market and sell at smaller retail shops across Lagos where Mrs Rufus buys to cook for her household.
Note that, Adamu may not get paid until Eunice buys the Tomato from Mathias and in some cases, Eunice may never get paid until Shaibu sells the tomato at Mile12 market in Lagos.
Now, due to the lockdown, the building material market in Jos no longer hold, neither does the mile-12 market in Lagos. That means Adamu is currently having some tomatoes on the farm that he cannot sell and they are getting spoilt as we speak. Matthias, Eunice and Shaibu are currently unemployed because their market is under lockdown.
If a reasonable proportion of Adamu’s tomato is not sold or worst case, got rotten on the farm, he may find it difficult to afford the necessary inputs like fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides etc. next season, assuming everything is calm before then.
I was discussing with my roommate yesterday on the potential impact of COVID-19 on local and global food security. We concluded that given the worst-case scenario, where the lockdown is extended up to three or even six months from now, one thing that people will early begin to look for is food.
Apart from the fact that people will be in dare to eat to survive, the likes of Mrs Rufus in Lagos may not even see the food to buy at all or it will become expensive and inflation sets in.
What is the way out?
I cannot advise that the lockdown should be relaxed. I do not have enough data to make such a recommendation, but what I do know is that, if things are not done differently, the lockdown will be as worst as leaving everybody to work.
If there is anything, this pandemic has allowed us to reinvent the food production and distribution system in Nigeria.
First, we need to be able to get tomatoes from Adamu in Plateau state to Mrs Rufus in Lagos. Through a public-private partnership, efficient food storage and distribution that allows agricultural products to be aggregated from the ‘Adamus’ and moved directly to organized grocery stores in Lagos where Mrs Rufus’ can have access.
The Mathias’ and Eunice’s can be a great asset in aggregating these products from the farmers as they are familiar not only familiar with them but also experienced in that. However, instead of bringing the product to the open market, they will just have to bring it down to an organized collecting centre close to them. With that, everyone gets to keep their job with less risk of spreading the virus.
The alternative or rather a complementary approach is to empower Mrs Rufus to produce her food. That will mean investing in urban/indoor farming technology such as hydroponics, aeroponics container farming, greenhouse technology etc.
The good news is, we do not need the government to do this. We already have young entrepreneurs blazing the trail. Typical examples are soupah.ng lead by Ifeoluwa Olatayo that is employing hydroponics and aquaponics technology and fresh direct using the container farming technology. This technology can be learned and scaled down to the household level
If you ask me, I will say it is a good time to invest in these technologies and the government needs to play a crucial role of providing incentives to help people acquire the skills and the resources. Whether or not we experience the worst-case scenario as explained above, you have nothing to lose, but a lot to gain.
We all know that after this pandemic season is over, there is going to be a “new normal”. We will experience disruption at different levels of the food and agricultural value chains ranging from production, through processing and transportation to distribution food. People are may lose their means of livelihood while others will position themselves to tap into the new opportunities to create new jobs.
What type of new normal do we want to next generation to meet as regards the food system?