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COVID-19: What Will The Hungry Do?

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
19 April 2020   |   8:00 am
“LIKE it or not, people will die of hunger than the virus itself. Hunger will kill many before COVID-19 finds them. Some will survive COVID-19 and die from hunger. To eat at this present time is war. I mean practically, everything is on the hike when we have a very terrible situation on the ground."…

“LIKE it or not, people will die of hunger than the virus itself. Hunger will kill many before COVID-19 finds them. Some will survive COVID-19 and die from hunger. To eat at this present time is war. I mean practically, everything is on the hike when we have a very terrible situation on the ground.”

This was the outburst of Toluwalope Daramola, a farmer, and Founder of Menitos Farm Depot, in the face of the rising prices of foodstuffs and other agro commodities, occasioned by the current lockdown. To say hunger has begun to stare Nigerians, especially the low-income earners and the vulnerable in the face, is, to say the least, as the restrictions have continued to negatively impact the food supply chain.

As earlier envisaged by stakeholders in the sector that a prolonged outbreak of COVID-19 would lead to economic instability and food inflation, the groaning of hapless Nigerians is getting louder by the day, as more states ground commercial, human and vehicular activities to a halt.

Observation reveals that the market price of foodstuffs has increased between 30 to 60 percent in the last three weeks, taking the commodities beyond the reach of the masses. Ground checks reveal that as at Wednesday, April 8, a paint of rice which sold for N1,800 two weeks ago sells between N2, 400 and N2, 800; a paint of Garri, initially sold for between N300 and N350 now N1, 300; 5kg size of Semolina, initially sold for N1,600 is now N1,800; a kilogram of chicken previously sold at N1,100/kg is now N1,500/kg (excluding courier since they can’t pick it up); 50kg basket of tomato initially sold for between N4, 000 to N5, 000, currently sells for between N13, 000 to N15, 000; small tuber of yam previously sold for N300 to N400 has jumped to N700. This cuts across almost all categories of products.

Food supplies

Food supplies | Photo TVC

The development has not only exposed the country’s many challenges as it pertains to food security, but it has also created an unpremeditated food crisis, forcing many to break the restriction order, in a desperate search for survival.

One of the sad consequences of the current dilemma is the reported cases of robbery and other criminal activities by hoodlums terrorising residential areas in search of food and cash, which may escalate going by the extension of the lockdown order.

A commercial motorcyclist, Ayinde Nureni, who resides in Alakuko area of Lagos State, described the current situation as unpalatable.

“There is no doubt that there is hunger in the land. I don’t know how many of us will survive this period. Price of foodstuffs and other commodities have practically gone beyond our reach and we don’t even have any money to buy them. Stimulus packages promised by the government have not reached us, despite the noise. This is a very terrible situation.

“Like it or not, people will die of hunger than the virus itself. Why is every situation an opportunity to exploit people? Where is the compassion and pity in us? The world is coming together to fight a pandemic and we are here killing ourselves even before the virus. No wonder our leaders don’t care.

“People in government don’t believe anyone is suffering, they don’t believe there is hunger in the land. They always have the belief that all Nigerians are enjoying.”

To Madam Oyinlola Oladele, a sewing mistress, whose husband is an auto-mechanic, the family has practically been living on charity in the last one week.

“The lockdown order caught us unawares because we have never envisaged the economy can be locked down this way. Within the first week of the lockdown, we spent all our savings, with the expectation that more customers will come to sew clothes but it later dawned on me that only people who have successfully fed themselves and family that can think of sewing clothes.

“Since there is a restriction of vehicular movement, my husband too is not getting any job and hunger has been dealing with us. To survive the next two weeks will be through a miracle because we don’t have any source of income anywhere unless there is a miracle from God.”

Several factors have been linked to this untoward development. These include lack of food storage facilities; an increase in the cost of logistics; exploitation by traders and panic buying, among other factors.

An Agriculturalist and consultant, Prince Wale Oyekoya, told The Guardian Life that the problem stems from the fact that the country doesn’t have enough food in stock to survive during the lockdown, as it has failed to prepare for the rainy day.

He said:

“As the lockdown continues, so also is the fragile economy getting locked down because we have failed to prepare for the rainy day. We don’t have enough food in our storage facilities to survive during this lockdown. We are ill-equipped in all areas, and this is why the situation is really affecting us.”

“Lack of storage facilities will be a hindrance to our survival during this critical time, as we only produce to consume and not store for hard times such as this. Our leaders preferred to celebrate birthdays abroad at the expense of taxpayers, go for medicals abroad, take our money abroad and nothing left to cater to the citizens. There are no good hospitals, our education is in comatose, hence the bane of our problems today.”  

Oyekoya advocates the need for farmers to key-in into value chain addition, as another option, which will not only address the challenges of past harvest losses, it will also preserve the produce and make them last longer in the shelves.

“I have always been an advocate of value chain addition before this dreaded disease broke out, but it has been very difficult because of finance and enabling environment from the government. Provision of basic infrastructures such as power, good roads, security and others will provide enabling environment for farmers to embrace value addition to their produce.”

A marketplace

A marketplace | Photo AS English. Diario AS

To the Founder of Menitos Farm Depot, Daramola, the restriction order, which jerked up the cost of logistics, is responsible for the high cost of agro commodities. “The issue here is logistics, the foods are on the farm, more foods need to be grown but when the workers cannot get to the farm, farms can’t get feeds and ready produce can’t be moved to town.

“These are the areas being ignored currently, despite their relevance. Farmers have been complaining of highhandedness from law enforcement agents while going to their farms. Most of them have been arrested on the excuse that they don’t have a valid association’s identity cards. How many small-scale farmers join those associations and actually pay and get an ID? Is it at a time like this we should be enforcing association membership?

“The law never mandated farmers to be in any association. So, why is an association ID card now the only way to identify a farmer? I live in Surulere, my farm and frozen outlet is in Agege. If not for my relationship with those there, how would I cope?”

Daramola warned that if an urgent solution is not proffered, with the additional 14 days lockdown as announced by the Federal Government, hunger is going to be the resulting epidemic. “In other climes government is buying off farms and distributing farm produce at subsidised rates. It is even free in some climes. 

“Now, it’s a choice between feeding the nation and getting assaulted by police. I was in a store and chicken breast of less than 1kg alone is N1,500, the cost of logistics goes to the consumer, further reducing those who can buy except the government intervenes. Hunger will kill many before COVID-19 finds them. Some will survive COVID-19 and die from hunger.”

Co-founder, Farmvilla Resource Centre, Oyo State, Yinka Adesola, attributed the development to the exploitation of buyers by the traders. “The prices of the foodstuffs are rising because the sellers are taking advantage of the masses to make quick money, and as a result of fear of the unknown and panic buying, hence exploitation from sellers.

“The effect of this, if not quickly addressed, is that it will lead to a glut. There will be plenty of food with no money to buy since people are locked up; scarcity of food will follow when the stored foods are exhausted and there will be excessive price hike of the few food commodities that will be in circulation.

“To address this, there is a need to introduce supply to communities directly from the producers, to remove the activities of the middlemen. Farmers need to be encouraged and empowered to increase production.”

Considering the consequences of the reality on ground, the National Coordinator of Zero Hunger Commodity Association, Dr. Tunde Arosanyin raised an alarm a fortnight ago on the food crisis.

He said:

“It will be double jeopardy if the ravaging virus is not contained. This can lead to serious food crisis, hence the government should put in place palliative measures to assist farmers with free farm inputs and some credit facilities to encourage food production in the 2020 farming season.”

Arosanyin said the onset of the COVID-19 when the rainy season is about to start would affect farming activities and food production this year, adding that one major challenge is to get farming hands in the face of the current lockdown.

He urged the Federal and State Governments to assist farmers with inputs to safeguard the food security programme, adding that the food security of the country is already threatened due to the lingering crisis between the farmers and herdsmen in some parts of the country.

No doubt, the coming days will be tougher as many will go to bed hungry. Many will probably not die for contacting coronavirus but will die for surviving the pandemic simply because of hunger.  

One sure way of averting this looming calamity is for government to up its game by ensuring relief pacakages get to the low-income earners and the vulnerable promptly.

The common question begging for answer is: How soon can government stop this raging hunger?