Editorial : Let’s take note of fears of a spiralling food crisis

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The Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS), which has 13 member-states and is based in Burkina Faso, has produced data that show West African traders of perishable produce and livestock have seen losses of 10% to 30% since health restrictions came in, as transport is disrupted and markets close; while illegal tax collection at checkpoints has leapt by nearly 50%.

The breakdown in trade is contributing to fears of a spiralling food crisis. The fact is stark, as the United Nations says the COVID-19 pandemic could cause the number of West Africans living in food insecurity to double to 43 million in the next six months.

Restrictions imposed by governments in response to COVID-19 are crippling the trade in perishable goods and livestock like never before. Another separate survey by Réseau Billital Maroobé, a collective of West African herders, showed economic activities are at a standstill for 42% of herders in the region.

The informality of West Africa’s food trade makes it especially vulnerable to coronavirus restrictions, even when governments carve out exemptions for trade, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute has observed.

In recent weeks, some governments have started to ease restrictions in an effort to reduce the economic toll; including reopening some markets and shortening curfews. The United Nations warns that trade frictions could contribute to a food crisis.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) forecasts that more than 43 million people in West Africa are likely to be in urgent need of food assistance in the coming months – double the initial estimates – as the COVID-19 outbreak accelerates.

West Africa, where the outbreak of COVID-19 is most severe, is of increasing concern. According to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), impact from the coronavirus pandemic could increase the number of people at risk of a food insecurity and malnutrition from 17 million to 50 million between June and August 2020.

As the rains set in over Ghana, the Peasant Farmers Association is urging the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) to increase the subsidy for fertiliser from 50% to 75%; and looking at the dire predictions for food security in the sub-region, this proposition can be rationalised as a form of stimulus package to the country’s farmers to double production and avert what many have predicted to be an impending food crisis.

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