Dr Ikechi defines food security as the point in which “all people at all times have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that will meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy lifestyle.”

Before diving deeper into the independent issue of food security, it is important to understand how the spread of COVID-19 across the globe has interrupted supply chains of numerous industries. While many industries utilize a central factory for manufacturing activities, the supplies and products used for the manufacturing of goods are derived from many countries. When COVID-19 infections ramp up in one part of the world, the resources from that region will become less available, thus interrupting supply chains reliant on deliveries from a region experiencing high infection rates. While this has always been a well-known theoretical consequence, the experience of these supply chain interruptions has the potential to change global manufacturing practices.

In terms of food security, the interruption of supply chains has the potential to create food shortages affecting millions of people in the wake of COVID-19, and could radically exacerbate the already existing issues surrounding food insecurity in Africa. This is likely to start with an increase in consumption of home-grown food, while farm staff is being laid off. With the lockdown follows an increase in prices of food and other agro commodities as well as an increased demand. Food security depends highly not only on supply chains, but security, sovereignty, and safety. These three factors are underscored by availability, access, utilization, and stability. As long as these factors aren't met, food insecurity in Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic will only be worsened. With interruptions in supply chains and the continued spread of infections, issues of access and availability to food will be heightened. In the longer term, political and economic stability are threatened, leading to an unsure future.

More so, an issue he highlighted as caused by the pandemic is diseconomies of scale. Dr Ikechi described that as “the concept of economies of scale means that the average cost (AVC) per unit of production decreases as the size of the farm increases.” As there are a large number of smallholder farms, representing up to 80% in the region, diseconomies of scale are an important factor to consider. They will lead to a continuing increase in prices.

Dr Ikechi identifies five (5) priority areas to focus on in order to decrease the effect of the pandemic on food insecurity. The points he raised included:
  1. Increasing sustainable production while growing the labour force

  2. Diversification of high quality processed products

  3. Promotion of efficient and equitable value chain development

  4. Implement plans for farms and agricultural systems to be more resilient to changes in environment

  5. Development of regional markets and controlling international integration

In addition, Dr Ikechi noted that the food processing industry holds a great potential for Africa’s economic growth. However, several barriers to this growth exist and they are as follows: high cost of inputs; lack of adequate processing and storage facilities; high prices due to inflation, poor infrastructure; inadequate water supplies; and a number of other factors.

Additional challenges exist within the African nations. Governments are yet to respond to farmers’ needs, as well as the other key players in the agriculture sector. Many of these governments may struggle to ensure or even implement financial intervention strategies which will enable them in benefitting from the packages introduced by more developed countries. As a matter of fact, some realistic solutions presented, include the opening up of borders to trade on food and other agro produce/products, encouraging DFI support and stimulation of investments in agriculture, as well as the introduction of new Agritech businesses. It is pertinent to note that the widespread infections of COVID-19 has led to a chain reaction, interrupting supply chains and daily routines, thereby continuing to exacerbate the ongoing issue of food insecurity across the African continent. That is why Dr Ikechi advocates developing agriculture in Africa.

PhD, Agribusiness & Agricultural Marketing (Nigeria)
Formerly Postdoctoral Research Fellow @Agric Research Council (ARC), Agric. Econ & Ext Dept. @Univ. of Fort Hare (UFH)
Lecturer & Researcher @Dept. of Agric. & Applied Econ @Rivers State Univ (RSU)