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IFAD, WFP Call For Sustainable Commitments To Address Food Crisis In West Africa

The present food crisis is said to be due to limited food production, barriers to regional trade, amongst others, which could be directly linked to the ongoing war in Ukraine that is disrupting global food trade.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), say longer-term political and financial commitments to address the worst food security and nutrition crisis to hit West Africa in 10 years are crucial.

This was part of the outcome of a high-level conference on food security and nutrition in West Africa held in Paris, France recently.

Populations affected by food insecurity and malnutrition in West and Central Africa regions are expected to multiply in four folds by June 2022, according to a statement released on Wednesday, April 13, 

The statement said the numbers of women, men, and children affected has already gone from 10.7 million to 41 million in just three years (2019 – 2022) reaching a new record high.

“The situation is spiralling out of control. Needs are escalating much faster than we are currently able to respond – this in an immensely complex and volatile operational environment,” said Chris Nikoi, WFP’s Regional Director for West Africa.

“Both governments and partners need a step-change in tackling the underlying drivers of hunger and malnutrition. Bold and rigorous political actions are needed now, including lifting barriers to the regional trade and ensuring the most acute needs are met during a lean season that is projected to be extremely challenging in the region” Nikoi added.

The spiralling situation is said to be as a result of limited food production, barriers to regional trade, amongst others, which could directly be linked to the ongoing war in Ukraine that is disrupting the global trade of food.

Benoit Thierry, IFAD’s regional representative in West Africa, lamented that, “Africa has the largest untapped potential of arable land, yet most of these countries import food. Governments need to support long-term agriculture plans for the next generation, including investments in developing agriculture, livestock and fisheries to achieve food security.”

While the increase in staple food prices has been steady in countries affected (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Togo, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania), a 40 per cent surge from the 5-year average has been witnessed. This has pushed basic meals out of reach for millions of people. 

In Nigeria, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has stated that about 14.4 million Nigerians are facing a food crisis and the numbers are likely to increase to 19.4 million between June and August this year.

HumAngle has also revealed how the food crisis is likely to throw more children and women into acute malnutrition in the coming lean season. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) acute malnutrition report, 1.74 million children between six and 59 months will need treatment for acute malnutrition. Infograph: Zubaida B. Ibrahim/HumAngle

How the Russia-Ukraine crisis contributes to this 

An analysis by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) stated that although the region imports relatively little food from Russia and Ukraine, the region still faces rapidly growing impacts from the war. This includes spiking food prices, and a disruption in markets for cereals and other commodities, including fertilisers and fuels. 

The challenge for West Africa is the indirect effects of higher world prices. Food security in the region has been deteriorating since 2015, however, before the Russia-Ukraine crisis, West Africa was seeing an economic recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 but with the rising global prices this recovery has been threatened.

The cessation of fertiliser imports from Russia, which is the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) second largest supplier is also a serious risk for farmers in West and Central Africa. 

Though Nigeria has the capacity to substitute for missing imports with heavy investment through Indorama Nigeria and Dangote Group, difficulties arise for the demand of other types of fertiliser such as potassium and phosphorus fertilisers which the region imports 82 per cent from Russia and Belarus. 

Apart from the region’s high dependence on imports, the war in Ukraine limits the ability for international organisations and Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) to provide food aid. According to the World Bank, countries, especially in Europe, are under pressure to support Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees.

HumAngle has reported how in Burkina Faso, where there is an ongoing conflict, aid organisations including the Norwegian Refugee Council and Oxfam are cutting funds by 70 per cent to support their operations in Ukraine.

Currently, The African Development Bank (AfDB) says it will partner with African countries to combat high prices of fertiliser through improving sustainable infrastructural efficiencies, including storage, and fixing infrastructure required for food production.

Dr Martin Fregene, the Director, revealed that the bank is working on a $100 billion emergency facility to facilitate this measure. “We engage with member countries on policies that will make more sustainable infrastructure efficiencies in our agricultural system. Rural infrastructure like storage and rural roads are what we need our countries to fix,” he said 

He added that the reason why Africa turns to Russia and Ukraine to buy cheap wheat and maize is because local production is not competitive. ”We want African countries to be able to adapt better.”

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Zubaida Baba Ibrahim

Zubaida Baba Ibrahim is a journalist and a creative writer. Her works have been featured on Daily Trust, Premium Times and Guardian. She also has experience in broadcast journalism and is a graduate of Mass Communication from Baze University, Abuja. She tweets through @zvbaida

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