More widely, the United Nations says coronavirus disruptions could double the number of people globally without reliable access to nutritious food, to 265 million.
“There is no question about it that there is an imminent problem of food insecurity, not only in Nigeria, but also in nations all over the world,” Nigeria’s Agriculture Minister Muhammed Sabo Nanono told Reuters.
Sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s largest rice-importing region. The imports the region relies on have also dried up as major suppliers, including India, Vietnam and Cambodia, have reduced or even banned rice exports. The curbs hit prices immediately. The price of a bag of imported rice rose by more than 7.5% in Abuja and Lagos between the third week of March and early April, according to SBM Intelligence, while bags of local rice became about 6%-8% more expensive.
The region has among the lowest inventories regards rice reserves relative to consumption, so export restrictions mean rice shortages “could happen very quickly,” according to John Hurley, lead regional economist for west and central Africa for the U.N.’s International Fund for Agricultural Development. In Kenya, panic-buying and government programmes to distribute rice to low-income households have already depleted reserves. Across sub-Saharan Africa, countries rely on imports for roughly 40% of rice consumption. Nigeria still imports at least a third of what it consumes.
If imports don’t pick up, East Africa alone could face a shortfall of at least 50,000-60,000 tonnes by the end of the month, said Mital Shah, managing director of Kenya-based Sunrice, one of the region’s largest rice importers. “The entire supply chain has been disrupted,” Shah said. “In the next couple of weeks, East Africa is going to have a huge shortage.”
Senegal’s rice imports have fallen by around 30% due to international supply disruptions, said Ousmane Sy Ndiaye, executive director of UNACOIS, a Senegalese commerce industry group. He estimated the nation had enough in storage to cover two months.
Movement restrictions are also hindering farmers, and some are warning that production will fall if governments do not act.
In Nigeria’s Benue state, the food basket of the country, Mercy Yialase sits in front of her idle rice mill. Demand is high across the nation, but she already has mounds of paddy rice that are going nowhere amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
“I can’t mill because the marketers are not coming,” Yialase said, referring to wholesale buyers, as she sat at a market stall in the city of Makurdi with dozens of other millers.
Although food truck drivers are meant to be exempt from lockdown restrictions, many are afraid for their own safety, or fear they will be fined or arrested by overzealous police. Trucking logistics firm Kobo360 said 30% of its fleet across Nigeria, Kenya, Togo, Ghana and Uganda was not operating as a result. Several farmers said crops were rotting in the fields or at the depots waiting for trucks that never arrive. And millers cannot get their milled rice to buyers. Kobo360 co-founder Ife Oyedele, added that truck bosses were afraid. “They’re scared to go out and have their drivers on the road.”
Nigeria’s fertilizer stocks are currently 20% below normal levels. There are only enough seeds and other inputs to farm 1 million hectares out of the roughly 30 million typically farmed, the study showed.