By John Okeke
The Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has charged Nigerian Members of the Parliament (MPs) and others in the sub-region to pressure their respective home governments to increase budgetary allocation for agriculture in order to enhance food security in the period of Covid-19 especially with the threat of a second wave of the pandemic on the region.
Speaker of the West African Parliament, Sidie Mohammed Tunis, made this call in a press conference at the ongoing ECOWAS Delocalized 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 made this call following the disruptions in food supply and the shortages caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. This consequently made larger economic impacts on the region with the United Nations estimating that well over 40 million people across West Africa could face desperate food shortages in the coming months.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with an estimated population of nearly 200 million people. It is also West Africa’s biggest economy but is reportedly one of the most adversely affected by the pandemic in the region.
The Speaker noted that the Parliament, had already established a network in the Fourth Legislature on investment in agriculture, adding that the Parliament will provide support for farmers in the sub region against famine. He stressed that the legislature is working very hard to ensure that all the decisions taken in the ECOWAS especially on agriculture and food security are implemented in the national assemblies of member countries.
He said: “Parliamentarians being the ones that handle the budget of every nation are very key in ensuring that there is proper investment in agriculture. So, the whole idea of having these seminars, meetings, networks is to ensure that parliamentarians put pressure on their respective governments to ensure that adequate resources are allocated for agriculture and food security.
“In the last few weeks we have escalated our fight for food security because we are very much aware of the fact that the months from October to December are budget months for every parliament in the sub region. Most countries including Nigeria, which is the biggest economy in West Africa, are all working on their budgets. So, we are hoping that these advocacies will lure the MPs to put pressure on their governments to ensure that more resources are allocated for the agricultural sector.”
Tunis reiterated his vision to bring ECOWAS Parliament to the people by working directly with the national assemblies of all the countries in West Africa.
A Nigerian member of the regional Parliament, Oghene Emma Egoh, representing Amuwo Odofin Federal Constituency of Lagos State, told reporters in Bissau on Wednesday that Nigerian parliamentarians will use their oversight functions to prioritize agricultural budget and also train the farmers to be more productive.
“The Covid -19 is an eye opener and countries must move beyond that otherwise some countries will be facing serious hunger,” he said, adding that the government must provide enough silos to store food for Nigerians especially as the threat of a second wave of the pandemic looms.
Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, food security was a serious concern throughout sub Saharan Africa and the resultant chromic food crisis was driven by a variety of factors including economic shocks, climate change and conflicts which have led to food scarcity.
The pandemic has however, compounded the crisis as the border closures, lockdowns and curfews intended to slow the spread of the disease have disrupted supply chains.
Experts have said it would require the collaboration of multilateral agencies and other stakeholders to find new and innovative strategies to tackle the negative impacts of the pandemic in the region.