Signs Of Greater To Come -Warning Signals For Post COVID-19 Food Insecurity

By: Jonathan S. Stewart

Food Security Advocate & Green Ambassador

Email: stewajo09@gmail.com

According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition 2020 Report just released by the UNFAO, there are 690 million acutely hungry people and 2 billion people who do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. What an upsetting situation. The signs for global food insecurity are setting in and the indicators are getting clearer. The factors are visible enough for players in the food sector to identify. The reports are highlighting the gaps. As we experience the  coronavirus across the world, in late April, there were concerns expressed over supply chain disruptions which led to several countries including Vietnam, Russia and Kazakhstan to stop exporting some staple foods to other countries in order to have enough available for their citizens. That is a sign of caution!

The questions that I may ask, are we following? Are we taking notes? Are we adjusting, realigning and planning according to the trend and the gaps? In this article I tried as possible to highlight some of the signs as being dappled in many countries including Liberia.

Pre-coronavirus global food security status was not favorable as the world had millions of hungry people. Malnutrition and other food and nutrition issues for vulnerable populations were increasingly settling in. Currently, there are series of issues surrounding global and local food security. With climate impacts, heavy rain fall, drought, flood and earthquake battling global food production and the disruptive actions of COVID-19 on the other hand, the future of global food systems are bleak. As whispered by the United Nations, there is a looming food emergency if nothing is done at this point to increase food production and diversify global agriculture. This is described as a food crisis that the world has not seen for over fifty years.

At present, there are reports of flood and earthquake in Asia and locust invasion in East Africa. Other natural disasters are being experienced across the world compounded with the devastating impacts of the coronavirus on the economies and food systems. These are warning signs that must trigger policy actions and concerted effort from all food actors at this point of the situation. With the growing challenges, it must be seen that more need to be done and it must start now.

With the coronavirus non submissive   posture to the United Sates health defense system, the impacts of the virus are something to look out for as the US economy is the biggest and whatever pain it feels will have a trigger down effect on the rest of the world. As the transmission gap scrambles in the US, the impacts are being felt with the labor market, manufacturing, food production and packaging, transport and food services. One would consider these as visible signs of what could put the world in another uncomfortable position (hunger pandemic).

The UN projection of growing food emergency recognizes the food security challenges of pre coronavirus era but saw new issues that have the potential to undermine to a larger extent the food security of developing countries with vulnerable populations and economies. Situations like increasing food access issues due to loss of critical income sources, growing disruption to local food market and collapse in global demand for internationally produced agri-food products show the gap the pandemic has created. If we expect to have a ravished global economy that means the agri sector is going to be highly affected especially for Africa that has 65% of it labor force in the agriculture sector.

Reports have it that President Buhari of Nigeria has called on farmers to increase food production as the nation experience rise in food prices. He informed the nation that the country does not have money to import food so Nigerians should get to the soil to produce food for the nation. This reflects the food gap created by the coronavirus which is not expected to go away anytime soon. Nigeria is a major producer of cassava and rice, therefore a decline in production of these staple will affect global food security as well. With over 200 million populations, a decline in local food production is a recipe for serious humanitarian crises and an open door to extreme poverty for vulnerable populations.

A farming organization in Ghana, Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana has warned against a possible food shortage during the harvest season in November and December of 2020 due to  the disruption in seed and fertilizer supply and decline in demand for food  from nearby countries because of closure of boarders and airports. This is an alarm that the message of the forthcoming global food shortage needs to be echoed immensely. About 45 percent of Ghana population derives their livelihood directly or indirectly from agriculture activities while 5 percent is food insecure and 2 million people are vulnerable to become food insecure. The agriculture sector is the most dominant sector in the economy of Ghana, therefore, shocks and disruption in the sector will play a major role in the widespread of poverty and hunger.

According to the Kenyan government, Kenya will lose sh 13.6 billion (126, 965,764.80 USD) in agriculture produce this 2020 due to pre coronavirus locust invasion, flood and COVID-19 disruptions. The government report indicated that due to COVID-19, food supply and output during this 2020 is likely to be affected due to some household financial incapacity. Kenya being a food hub for the horn of Africa, these loses will affect the East African community food security. It is a sign of something bigger for global discomfort. Let beware and act now!

The signs of global food crises are emerging and must be taken seriously at this critical stage. Liberia being a developing nation is vulnerable to the many food insecurity issues and must be on the alert to revert the impending hunger crises. Mind you, pre COVID-19 food security of Liberia recorded 34.9 percent in the Global Hunger Index and 39.1 percent of national food poverty. Truth be told, Liberia does not have the capacity to withstand the venom of the projected global food emergency. Already there is a household food shortage of 52.1 percent and poverty rate of 50.9 percent. Currently, smallholder farmers are facing difficulty in accessing input due to lockdown and border closure. Fertilizer, seeds and other chemical input are short on supply on the agro market, a situation that is affecting local food production. Liberia consumes 570, 000 tons of rice annually but unfortunately, only 20 percent is locally produce while 80 percent is imported, a situation that threatens Liberia’s food security at present and post COVID-19. Currently, there is some striving associated with accessing rice in some urban communities and rural locations. Some term it as rice shortage while others refer to it as artificial scarcity/ hoarding.  Whatever name we may call it, I honestly see it as a sign of the imminent food crises. Even if we import thousands of tons of rice now, it is not the sustainable approach to a strong food security. A strong food security leverage local food production and smallholder farmer’s capacity to grow at national consumption threshold. Rice being Liberia’s staple food must be cultivated on a mechanized scale so as to increase and expand production. It is reported that some highest rice producing countries have temporarily suspended new rice exports.  Vietnam, the world’s third-largest shipper suspended export while Myanmar also said it may cut overseas sales to avoid domestic scarcity.   This is a warning sign to Liberia, a food dependent nation. If we cannot identify the signs of food insecurity now, we may not be able to do later as we will be overwhelmed. Significant portions of the nation’s foods are produce by smallholder farmers. With the vulnerability of the smallholder farmers in Liberia, the impact of the coronavirus will extremely affect their financial capacity to continue food production post COVI-19. Already, lack of access to sustainable finance is a fundamental challenge in the agriculture sector; our hope to depend on local farmers to feed the nation post COVID-19 has been dashed by the economic downturn of the virus on smallholder farmers.   Just day ago, there is report that there is caterpillar worms outbreak in central Liberia, specifically Wolapolu Clan, Zota District in Bong County. This is reportedly creating difficulty for residents most of whom are farmers and involve into agribusiness related activities for their livelihoods. Farm works and other activities are being abandoned and farmers are fleeing for their lives. This is another situation that calls for urgency from stakeholders so as to reduce its impact on the food and nutrition security of Liberia.

During this Coronavirus period, GROW Liberia, an agri-business and investment advisory program has been involved with tracking the impacts of the coronavirus on agri production and agribusiness in Liberia. Several articles were published which outlined the challenges and constraints faced by farmers, agribusiness actors and suppliers as a result of the disruption in supply chain, access to input and access to finance especially for smallholder farmers. In one of its COVID-19 Response article, how is COVID-19 disrupting Liberia’s vegetable production and supply networks, issues faced by vegetable producers were highlighted ranging from border closures, curfew, cost in transportation, and access to market and fair price. These issues have crippled the already underperforming agriculture sector and if nothing strategic is done, the post COVID-19 output will make little impact on our national food security. There is lot that must be put in the sector to resuscitate it. Farmers will lack finance, quality and climate resilient seeds, market channels, storage and post-harvest technologies and skills. They will also need skills and technology on climate smart agriculture that will promote sustainable and profitable productions in the face of climate change.

The wind of food insecurity is emerging in all nations across the world which must get the attention of agriculture policy makers and stakeholders in Liberia. Experts have projected and announced a global food emergency due to these signs and   situations caused by climate and environmental issues, COVID-19 economic and social impacts and weak food security policies and programs across predominantly developing countries like African nations. Farmers and farming organizations across Africa are signaling cautionary of the collapse of food systems if strategic national actions are not taken.

The issues mentioned in here should draw the attention of national leaders in Liberia to develop immediate action plans and program for a food secured Liberia post COVID-19. Liberia needs to take note as a country and Africa as a continent to design impact based programs that promote agriculture development and empowers farmers, transform production systems and integrate technology (ICT & mechanized farming). In the post COVID-19 era, nations will focus on their economies, focus on production for domestic demand and social welfare for their citizens, therefore, Liberia will have to put in place policies and programs that will increase local production of the nation’s staple and enhance farmer’s capacity to grow more. Liberia needs to see these global and local situations as a sign of emerging danger that we cannot withstand.

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