By John Okeke
The Speaker of the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Sidie Mohammed Tunis, has disclosed that the border closures, lockdowns and curfews imposed by ECOWAS member states to tackle the spread of the Covid-19 Pandemic may have had unintended consequences of heightening food scarcity in the region and causing more hardship for the already vulnerable population of the sub-region.
The Speaker said this during his remarks at the opening of the ECOWAS Delocalised Meeting on Agricultural Production, Food Security and the fight Against Covid-19 pandemic, which commenced in Bissau, Guinea Bissau on Tuesday.
The Delocalised Meeting was organized by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, Industry and Private Sector, Health, Energy, Mines and Social Affairs, Gender and Women Empowerment with the theme “Agricultural Production and Food Security in the ECOWAS Region under Covid-19 Pandemic”.
The Speaker decried that even before the outbreak of the pandemic, food security was a serious concern throughout sub Saharan Africa, adding that the chromic food crisis was driven by a variety of factors including economic shocks, climate change and conflicts which have led to a state of food scarcity.
He said the pandemic has compounded the crisis even as he tasked the leaders of the sub-region, multilateral agencies and other stakeholders to find new and innovative strategies to tackle the negative impacts of the pandemic in the region.
He said: “border closures, lockdowns and curfews intended to slow the spread of the disease have disrupted supply chains. These disruptions could have a much larger economic impact on our region with the United Nations estimating that well over 40 million people across West Africa could face desperate food shortages in the coming months.
“Moreover, disruption in food chains caused by labour shortages and low harvest has put the sub region further into crisis as a lot of our people rely on food systems for their jobs and livelihood. They work to produce, collect, store, process, transport and distribute food to consumers as well as to feed themselves and their families.
The speaker therefore called on leaders and stakeholders in West Africa to invest in and implement regional programs that will improve agricultural production and food security in order to minimize the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said “We must act now and together we must, and can limit Covid- 19 damaging effects on food security and nutrition. This we believe will set the basis to reduce the risk of the pandemic disrupting the food systems and causing a food crisis within our member states”.
He said further that the “pandemic has brought upon our shoulders even greater issues that demand robust action and real steps to mitigate future threats to the peace and security of our region.”
There have been several efforts made by the ECOWAS member states, the ECOWAS Commission and other regional and multilateral organizations to have the danger addressed. These included the establishment of presidential committees and task forces as well as regional and global responses to save lives, contain the spread of the virus and provide palliatives for vulnerable populations.
The Speaker noted that these efforts will also provide support systems to cushion the national and local economies and development of safety nets for the sub-region. He stressed that ECOWAS Ministers of Agriculture met in April to identify resource requirements aimed at managing the pandemic and adopted a framework that addresses both national and regional food and nutrition needs of member states. He added that the recommendations of the ECOWAS Ministers of agriculture are being implemented by the ECOWAS Commission.
In his address, the President of Guinea Bissau, Umaro Sisokko Embalo, who was represented by Vice Prime Minister, Soares Shambu, said that it has become imperative to take necessary steps to tackle the pandemic especially now that many nations of the world are beginning to experience the second wave of the pandemic, which he described as “more dangerous”, considering how vulnerable the sub-region has been in the face of the severe impacts of the pandemic.
He said “we must find a way and adopt new thinking to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on agricultural production and food security and prepare for the imminent second wave”.
President of the ECOWAS Commission, Jean Claude Kassi Brou, in his remarks, said the regional organizations will continue to show solidarity with member countries to ensure success in the fight against Covid-19 and the poverty ravaging the region.
Brou, who was represented by the Political and Diplomatic Counsellor of the ECOWAS Commission, Ambassador Emmanuel Ohin, also praised the effort of the government of Guinea Bissau for the progress made at the political front and assured of ECOWAS support and solidarity for the stability of Guinea Bissau.