By Royal Ibeh,
The COVID-19 pandemic has come with numerous challenges in Nigeria, with the country’s fragile health systems often getting more attention, but with food system suffering major disruptions due to COVID-19 control measures such as lock downs and curfews, stakeholders in the agricultural sector said it will worsen protein deficiency in the country.
Stakeholders, at a Protein Challenge Webinar Series 4, with the theme: COVID-19 and Nigeria’s Protein Deficiency Situation, showed concerned that the pandemic is disrupting the agricultural sector, with a big effect on nutrition, adding that matters are grim with supply chains for agricultural activities by the lock down, which has steepen food prices.
Clinician and public health physician, Dr Adepeju Adeniran, said in the COVID-19 pandemic, food supply chain was severely threatened as farmers, transporters and food sellers were restricted in movements.
“Availability of food groups dropped, prices of food went up, household earning went down, scarcity of food by displacement occurred from the rural (producers) to the urban (consumers). No ability of the urban areas to produce their own food, leading to a displacement scarcity, harvests were lost as food were rotted at production sites and food supply is not perfectly elastic,” she added.
Speaking on the specific links of COVID-19 to protein deficiency, the public health physician said, “Animal proteins take a long time to produce, husbandry and agricultural practices have improved to reduce the rate of production but only to an extent. Humans consume mostly the adult form of animal proteins so it must take time to produce. Even dairy and eggs can only be produced by adult animals, which must have time to grow and develop.”
While month-long disruptions has created effects that are not easy to reverse, Adeniran however advocated for a well developed processing and storage systems to be designed to augment the effects of COVID-19 on nutrition.
In the same vein, a nutritionist, Beatrice Chinyem Oganah-Ikujenyo, from the department of Home Economics, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, said the first reaction to the COVID 19 pandemic was the lockdown nationwide and shut down of all economic activities. All farm produce where trapped in farms/storage and points of production which led to deterioration of perishable foods and a disconnect in the food supply chain, resulting in food scarcity and increase in price of available foods, Oganah-Ikujenyo said.
She said job losses due to the shutdown and resultant dwindling family income affected food choices in terms of quantity, quality, variety and food preferences. “Therefore, specific nutrient deficiency is likely to occur, especially protein deficiency and among the vulnerable are infants, young children, pregnant and lactating mothers,” she added.
She however advocated for food complementation and supplementation to meet daily protein, vitamins and mineral requirements respectively, adding that it will help to improve health and vitality of the body. She also urged all family to go back to the days where every family have a cultivated land for food crops like okra, leafy vegetables, plantain, etc, as this will reduce the pressure on the available food for sale in the markets.
Medical practitioner, Dr Monica Omo-Irefo said food security is the foundation for a healthy, well nourished population. However she adds that about 47 million children under 5years old are malnourished, 14.3 million are severely wasted and 144 million are stunted, according to WHO. In the first quarter of 2020, Omo-Irefo said 1 in 5 has severe malnutrition in the Northeastern parts of Nigeria, while calling for every stakeholders to join hands together to prevent malnutrition in Nigeria.