Africa has never faced hunger crisis like this before as the lockdown enforced by countries shows the frailty of the food supply chain. There are several statistics showing the impact of COVID19 in increasing the rate of acute hunger in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
It is ironical that hunger ravages our continent in the midst of food abundance as evident in food wastage found at farm gates.
I have been harvesting mangoes from my family’s trees for years now, but it is really only profitable during the off-season. When it is in season like now, it is hard to sell a basket for anything more than ₦5000. There are also many untended trees in the area, and even though we pick as much as we can to sell, a lot of it falls to the floor and rots. Especially now with the pandemic, not many people come to buy directly from us like they used to, and the markets are no longer open every day Mr. Idado a Mango Farmer in Benue.
Nigeria is estimated to produce about 850, 000 metric tonnes of mangoes annually of widely varying varieties, with most of this production via small scale and subsistence farms scattered across the country. During the peak season for the tropical fruit, usually between February to June, depending on variety, it is widely available and sold at low profit to farmers because of its overabundance due to poor storage, resulting to large quantities of the fruit being wasted because of a lack of consumers and few facilities for storage and processing.
Postharvest losses in African agriculture are estimated at between 20 to 40 percent of food produced. An estimated 25 percent of agricultural produce are lost following harvest in countries such as Nigeria, due to mishandling, spoilage and pest infestation . Coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic at this time, the problem has become increasingly direr. Many farmers could see a total loss of investments into their businesses, and unfortunately, this loss in capital is usually seen within the micro and small enterprises in the agribusiness, and can be so severe that they can lead to unemployment as high as between five to twenty staff strength within a small farm.
The COVID-19 pandemic has understandably had a tremendous impact on the agricultural sector, and restrictions to movement are seriously accelerating post-harvest loss. Stale eggs are buried and yam tubers rot in poor storage facilities. Mangoes, currently in season, are being wasted in alarming quantities daily, due to the difficulties associated with transport to a larger market.
The fear of harassment has significantly caused a scare amongst truck drivers as perishables from Funtua town; Kastina state with Lagos state as the target market goes through several checkpoints leading to a delivery delay by two days says the P.R.O Perishable Food Association Mile 12.
The impact of food scarcity in urban areas is already being felt, from the raids carried out by the 1 Million Boys gang in areas of Lagos, where, from street to street, residents are sent letters alerting them to expect a visit from the gang, to the food trucks ambushed on the roads by hungry residents in Northern cities.
To mitigate the severity of these highlighted challenges to food production and supply, better logistics, digital markets and infrastructure are needed, as well as collaboration with innovative agribusiness enterprises to allow farmers reach a wider audience and link them with vendors who can provide a platform for sales to the end consumers, as well as allow them further utilize their produce through processing and preservation.
It is imperative to support the agricultural sector as much as possible at this time to ensure that food shortages associated with food insecurity do not arise. In order to prevent farmers from losing their investments, Big Dutchman in collaboration with other players in the food and agriculture value chain is sponsoring a social media campaign tagged “The African Farmers’ Stories” to support these micro and small enterprise farmers tell their stories of success, struggles and innovations with the aim of reaching a wider market and investment in the sector. This campaign initiated by SupportforAfricaSMEs group in partnership with BusinessDay will also help consumers in need of these products access to them using digital market place infrastructure of partners to enable farmers reach their desired market.
The resilience and innovation of the Nigerian spirit comes to mind, and this is a call to action to propagate hope for African food manufacturers and garners collaborators for farmers who can bridge the gap between food wastage and food shortage- using a docuseries on Instagram-with @monsieurUwem during the ongoing pandemic.