Food crisis is a global concern, even before the menace of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the problem of food insecurity is even more severe in certain regions across the globe. This is largely due to some inherent factors in those areas such as violent conflicts and instability, environmental factors, development and governance deficits, economic shocks, amongst others. For example, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Afghanistan are the top three most affected countries and are equally experiencing different levels of violent conflicts within their national terrains. A 2020 analysis by the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that Africa is the continent most affected by food crisis and accounts for about 54 per cent of the global total of the number of people in crisis.
In West Africa like the Sahel and Cameroon, people in food crisis increased from 11 million recorded in 2018 to 12 million in 2019. This increase is tied to acute food insecurity in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Cameroon. According to the report by the World Food Programme, with a recorded 5 million people, Nigeria has the highest number of people in crisis in the 15 countries analysed in the region. Also, 29 per cent of the total number of people in crisis were from Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Nigeria had about 50 per cent of West Africa’s food insecure population in 2019. Unsurprisingly, this situation is aided by the 10 years of terrorism the area has experienced and the debilitating impact of the shrinking Lake Chad on economic and agricultural activities. Also, the global pandemic has exacerbated the already existing challenges.
The Coronavirus pandemic has impacted virtually all aspects of human life globally. As it relates to the food crisis, the pandemic has worsened the innate realities. In Nigeria, lockdowns, curfews, and inter-state border closures have been part of the government’s responses to the pandemic. It has led to a hike in food prices. Besides, before the pandemic, as a protectionist move, the Nigerian state banned the importation of staple food items such as rice to protect local industries and boost local production. A combustible mix of embargoes on food items, the reluctance of manufacturing countries to export and the reduction of economic activities due to the pandemic has led to food price hike as high as 120 per cent across markets nationwide.
This challenge will be worse off for the vulnerable population. Before the pandemic, Nigeria had about 7.1 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2019. In 2020, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance rose to 7.9 million coupled with 82.9 million Nigerians that are living in poverty as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in the same year. These figures will likely increase as the pandemic and state control measures unfold. The prospects of providing such interventions to these millions of people are greatly threatened as containing the spread of the pandemic tops the priority list of the government and relevant non-governmental organisations. Nigeria’s northeast region which has the highest contribution of food insecure population in the country is challenged by Boko Haram insurgency. For Instance, agricultural activities have been severely affected as Borno State Police Command had to set up a Rapid Response Squad to protect farmers from attacks. With sinking oil prices and slash in budgetary allocations, the government as part of its social contract is burdened with the problem of catering for its vulnerable population and those that will slip into vulnerability because of the pandemic.
Nextier SPD study of some terror-troubled communities highlights indigenous efforts of the vulnerable population in the Northeast and how government and other stakeholders can support and strengthen their community resilience initiatives. This can be one of the ways government and relevant agencies can cushion the impact of COVID-19 on the vulnerable population. Also, in another publication, Nextier SPD argues that government agencies responsible for the vulnerable population should ensure that humanitarian assistance and intervention schemes are kept up and running in the face of the pandemic. COVID-19 intervention packages should prioritise vulnerable population. The government should seek the involvement of agencies who will directly provide intervention schemes to the nation’s 7.9 million people in need of assistance. It should also incorporate thousands of others that have been grossly impoverished because of the pandemic. Food insecurity can exacerbate already existing conflict issues, create new vistas for violence, hence, urgent policies and programmes should be targeted at solving the deepening crisis.