By Sheyi Babaeko
It was Martin Luther King. Jr. who famously declared that; “we are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now”.
It is with the above declaration of Martin Luther King in mind that I stand in solidarity with people across the globe at this perilous point in time —be it in Asian China (Wuhan) where the lockdown began— or in the United Kingdom, America, Europe and Nigeria where the lockdown is still ongoing.
Before now the main threats to national security have been terrorism, espionage, cyber threats, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. However, with almost 4 million COVID-19 cases confirmed globally, it is now clear that the pandemic is a major threat.
To draw an inference by this statistics and the rise in cases daily is a confirmation that the pandemic is a threat to global security affairs, our national security, food security and agri-Business. Considering the projection that Agric business will be worth a trillion-dollar by the year 2030, except a collective action is taken by government, stakeholders, and citizens to curtail the spread, the projection will remain a feeble Ilusion as a result of the damage caused by COVID-19. This is more so as global population is expected to grow by 9.8 billion in the year 2050. With more than half of the growth coming from Sub-Saharan Africa, there is no gainsaying the fact that addressing the issue of food insecurity has become a matter of urgency and necessity.
The high rise in the spread of the deadly virus which is causing global transportation stoppages, supply chain disruptions, plunging stock prices —with about 30% coming from the European Union of some basics like wheat to make flour for bread or lamb chops may well have come from the other side of the world. Also to be noted is the fact that the season for asparagus and beans start in a couple of weeks with cucumbers in early April with tomatoes and maize being all year round. In May, it’s going to be a season of soft fruits; strawberries, raspberries. Lettuces have been in the ground since December.
Despite the advancement of agriculture with modern technology, the agric sector has continued to struggle with dearth of labor because many fruits and vegetables must be harvested by hand to avoid bruising, damages and post-harvest losses. In the case of Nigeria, with high numbers of malnourished children, hunger and high level of poverty with millions of people lacking access to potable, the situation appears frightening and I urge the President Buhari led government through the Ministry of Agriculture to as a matter of urgency increase the tempo of commitment to the Agriculture sector. There should be some relief packages for farmers else the 2020 target of million metric tons of maize will not be achievable since agriculture is basically a seed time and harvest affair.
The permit for agricultural purposes is highly commendable at this point, for us at Babaeko Farms, we are thankful to our founder for his huge investment to both the theory and practice of Agriculture, thereby making the farm a solution center for the banishment of hunger and poverty. Knowing fully well that good food gives nutrients that boost the immune system to fight diseases; It is on this basis that I appeal to all critical stakeholders in the Nigerian projects to emulate our founder by Investing in Agriculture to create direct and indirect jobs and eradication of hunger and poverty in tandem with the SDG Goal 1 & 2. It is time to collectively act to save our nation from the imminent collapse and the looming anarchy of hunger. A hungry man is an angry man they say.
The way forward and recommendations:
(a) The Implementation of the Maputo Declaration, on food and security about seventeen years ago. The African Union passed the Maputo Declaration of 2003, which among other things stipulate the allocation of 10 percent of federal budgets to the development of agriculture. Nigeria is yet to implement the agreement despite the fact that the Nigerian government signed the agreement in 2003, after which the National Assembly ratified it on 16th December 2004. The African Heads of State and Government passed the declaration at the Second Ordinary Assembly of the AU in Mozambique in July 2003 to promote food security and maximize tangible growth in agriculture. The urgency of the Covid-19 crisis has now made it important for the FG to implement it since the deadline is 2020.
- b) Reduce Interest rates on all loans, particularly agricultural purposes loans. There are no better ways to increase productivities to boost the economy than now, hence the banks need to renegotiate loans and interests on loans. The Agric sector has been doing well even than the Oil sector before the pandemic, hence, banks must reduce interest rates, renegotiate or rollover loans for the Agric sector and the private sector to boost the local economy.
(c) Provision of one-year post-COVID-19 tax waivers to all business owners. The private sector needs a lifeline to remain in business, reduce jobs lost, and guarantee job security post-COVID era. For companies to remains in operation, the government must as a matter of urgency and necessity gives tax waivers for entrepreneurs to survive.
- d) Mandatory and compulsory wearing of face mask as part of lasting measures to curtail the spread of this killer disease: it is important for Government at all levels to ensure and enforce the compulsory use of face mask to curb the spread.
- e) Building and equipping our hospitals: there is no better time to build more hospitals than now when most hospitals are death centres owing to the underfunding of the health sector and high level of corruption.
The dream of the future, they say is better than the history of the past, no doubt Nigeria will be Great again if we collectively unite to build.
- Babaeko is General Manager, Babaeko Farms