As countries across the globe gradually ease out of the Covid-19 pandemic, experts have advocated a review of the national food security structure to address an imminent possibility of food security crisis that may hit Nigeria as a result of the effect in the pandemic in the agricultural sector. This was the summation of the perspectives of panelists on agricultural security at the BusinessDay National Conversation on Mapping Nigeria’s response to Covid-19.
The session with the theme ‘Safeguarding the Nation: Agricultural credit and national food security in an economic downturn’ drew participants from both the private and public sectors.
In her opening remarks, the Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications Africa at Upfield Foods, Motola Oyebanjo, said conversations around improved food security and systems is a discussion that must be prioritized particularly now that Covid-19 has impacted socio-economic activities on a global scale.
“Discussions around food systems during this pandemic is critical for both the private sector and public sector. It is important for the public sector because it requires a healthy and active populace to ensure that the economy runs smoothly. It is also important for businesses as the society must be thriving to ensure that products and services are profitable. There are great potential and possibilities for the food and agricultural sector in Nigeria during and post- COVID-19 pandemic. We must imagine a new reality, profer innovative solutions and take decisive action to ensure we harness them.” Oyebanjo said.
Commenting on the need to have sufficient food reserves across the country, the Vice Chairman of Dangote Foods, Sani Dangote agreed that food security is a reality that has shown up fully due to the current pandemic. Nigeria needs to concentrate on building strategy towards food security by looking at the particular grain or produce that can sustain the country in case of shortage or pandemic. For instance, there are no statistics to show the quantity of rice or maize produced yearly in Nigeria even at the state level. The country also needs to focus on the irrigation scheme to assist farmers in their crop production while a strong local sourcing policy is put in place in a coordinated approach among stakeholders in agriculture and the private companies that rely on agriculture.
Describing measures taken by the government to strengthen the national response for food security, the Managing Director of the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL Plc), Aliyu Abdulhameed said the agency is working with the Central Bank of Nigeria to provide guarantees for farmers and other technical support that they may require for a good harvest. The CBN through the NIRSAL has put in place funds to boost smallholder farmers before, after and post COVID-19 by focusing on three things which are risk analysis, agriculture finance and development.
Reacting to the trajectory in Nigeria, the Co-founder of Sahel Consulting, Ndidi Okonkwo-Nwuneli maintained that there have been issues in the agricultural sector pre-COVID-19. However, now that those issues have been further exposed, there is a greater need for collaborations across all relevant sectors.
Creating a scenario around why there must be an immediate policy intervention, Okonkwo-Nwuneli said “our ecosystem was already fragile before the Covid-19 and we already have challenges around productivity, infrastructure, post-harvest losses among others. Covid-19 is presenting us with an opportunity to rebuild our agricultural landscape.
Not only in terms of collaboration which is critical for the public and private sector to ensure that we rebuild but also to ensure we have credible data, reimagining how our market is structured to allow social distancing, thinking through our policy framework because we need a multisector and cohesive approach to food. We need to think about how we strengthen our SMEs because they are the bedrock of innovation in the ecosystem globally and Nigeria. Nigeria needs to commit to feeding itself and the rest of Africa”.
Oyebanjo agreed that such collaboration would enhance progress looking at Upfield’s experience coming into Africa.
“Two years ago, Upfield was just an idea of a better plant-based future which we believe is the future of a sustainable food system across the world. Some investors saw the potential and possibilites in this idea, aligned their thoughts and set in motion processes to turn the dream of having the largest plant-based food company in the world into reality.
As we discuss a post-COVID 19 Nigeria, we must also look at the great potential Nigeria has in terms of its people, its arable lands, all it available natural resources, as we all begin to define a new reality for the food manufacturing and agricultural sector in Nigeria because our future depends on the decisive actions we take now” she explained.