COVID-19: a war against hunger and malnutrition
The world is fighting many common enemies,including hunger and malnutrition. Ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition in the world, particularlyin developing countries such as Ghana, remains a great challenge.
According to the United Nations (UN), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Bank, 805 million people in the world do not have enough food to eat and that 791 million (98 per cent) of this figure reside in developing countries, including Ghana.
For instance, a paper presented to the Lowa State University in 2016 titled: “Agriculture and Food Security In Ghana” by Barnard Darfour and Kurt A. Rosentrater, indicated that about five per cent (1.2 million people) of Ghana’s population are food insecure and that about two million people are vulnerable to become food insecure nation-wide, which means any unexpected natural or man-made shock will greatly affect the pattern of their food consumption.
And with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus globally, which has affected Ghana also, it is envisaged that many people would become more food insecure during and after the disease, hence thwarting Ghana’s efforts in preventing hunger and malnutrition problems.
Nutrition is an essential element in maintaining a healthy and productive life. Lack of access to essential food nutrients could have negative consequences on one’s health and wellbeing. Many health experts say that not eating well could even affects one’s physical growth and brain development, as well as the body’s immune system to fight diseases.
Information sourced from WFPand published on the website of World Vision Ghana indicated that the number of people who die from hunger in a year is more than that of AIDS, malaria and TB combined.
The COVID-19 threat
In Ghana where many of our basic food items, including vegetables are imported, with the outbreak of the coronavirus which has affected production of all things, including food products in countries around the world, Ghana obviously faces a serious challenge in meeting the food needs of its population.
It must be mentioned that many people in Ghana are already unable to have three square meals in a day due to poverty. And with the prices of food items going up due to the coronavirus pandemic which has increased demand for food, the plight of many people, especially the poor and low income earners, would be seriously affected.
On July 13, 2016, the government of Ghana launched a National Nutrition Policy (NNP) with an objective of ensuring a high coverage of nutrition-sensitive interventions to address the underlying causes of malnutrition and to reposition nutrition as a priority multi-sectoral development issue in the country.
Among the aims of the policy was to increase the coverage of high-impact nutrition-specific interventions that ensure optimal nutrition of Ghanaians throughout their lifecycle, with special reference to maternal health and child survival.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, nutritionist and other health officials have advised the public to eat well to maintain a strong immune system. But with food items becoming scarce and expensive for the budget of the ordinary people, it means that many poor people will not be able to eat well.
For instance, the WFP Chief, David Beasley has said that the coronavirus could cause the biblical type of famine in the world and that 30 million people could die from hunger, and this could happen anywhere from 10 to 36 countries.
As part of efforts to help government attain its vision of eliminating malnutrition in all forms, the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation’s launched an evidence based advocacy programme, Voice for Change(V4C) in partnership with International Food and Policy Research Institute and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on August 2016 in Accra.
The five year advocacy programme under the four thematic areas- Food and Nutrition Security, Renewable Energy and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is part of the worldwide effort by the Dutch Ministry to reinforce space for civil Society Organisations (CSOs) worldwide.
It seeks to ensure increasing equity and access to sustainable, equitable and affordable Sanitation and Hygiene services and products.
It is being implemented in six countries including Ghana, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Rwanda, Indonesia and Honduras.
The Food and Nutrition Security component is focused on Sustainable Nutrition for All (SN4A) with emphasis on Gender and Nutrition Sensitive Value Chains and also on Post – Harvest losses and Food Safety.
Mr Ibrahim Akabila, Coordinator of the Ghana Trade and Livelihood Coalition (GTLC) a, non governmental Organisation and a partner under the V4C project was of the view that government needed to adopt proactive policies to ensure the country was food secured during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
He urged the government to put in place proper mechanisms that would ensure that agricultural policies were implemented in an efficient and effective manner.
According to the him, “The country has many policies which are weak in formulation and needs attention”, pointing out that the country needed to strengthen and build capacities of “respective institutions to effectively and efficiently implement the policies and other related action plans to sustain agriculture.”
Mr Akabila explained that it was incumbent on the government to build greater commitment towards policy implementation, strengthen agriculture policy practice, reduce cost of implementation and increase confidence to implement policies using existing resources.
He added that agriculture was the most important sector in sub-Saharan Africa and there was the need to put in place effective and efficient regulatory policies to improve the sector.
He has, therefore, called on the governments to engage stakeholders in the agricultural sector at different points of policy implementation to attain efficiency and effectiveness.
For his part, Dr Bashiru Boi Kikimoto, a Veterinary Public Health Specialist/Consultant said the modernisation of agriculture would enhance significantly on food security and help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal two (SDG 2) of eliminating all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030.
He noted that though the nation had performed quite well in her efforts at reducing hunger, there was more to be done to end malnutrition, obesity, hunger and micronutrient deficiency in Ghana and urged the government to coordinate programmes geared towards the reformation of agriculture and industry.
“Additionally, the government should take certain actions, including institutional measures, to prevent food losses such as the District Warehousing policy, promotion of production, utilisation of locally grown and nutrient-rich food, strengthening early warning, emergency preparedness systems, developing and implementing a nutrition strategy, which adopts a life cycle approach to deal with malnutrition at all levels,” Dr Kikimoto stressed.
Dr Amonu-Gyamfua Ampofo, a Nutritionist at the HopeXechange Medical Centre, Kumasi, implored Ghanaians to still eat healthy foods despite increase in food prices during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
She explained that Ghanaians could adopt the four star diet commonly called the balanced diet.
She noted that Ghanaians could make use of seasonal foods such as legumes, nuts and seeds which were in abundance and affordable, and store them for future use.
“We have to revisit traditional foods like kontomire, dawadawa, cereals, soybean, oranges, watermelon, pawpaw, and banana which must be frequently consumed, grow what we eat and make use of every portion of land,” Dr Ampofo advised.
“People are complaining about food prices going; it is because we don’t have enough food as a country,” Opanyin Kobena Sam, a farmer at Ekumfi Bogyano said, adding “The government must provide farmers with the needed inputs so that we can farm well and produce what the country needs.”
He added “Many of us here farm small farms because we don’t have enough money to embark on large scale farms.”
According to him, the country would continue to be food insufficient if farmers were not given the needed assistance, such as inputs, machinery and capital.
“The lands are there but the money to get all the inputs and labour is the challenge. If we get the needed financial and material assistance, we can feed the country,” Mr Ebenezer Brown also at Ekumfi Bogyano reacted.
“I’m not surprised that food prices are going up. A lot of people are going after the little food we have. Even we the farmers don’t have enough to eat,” he said, noting “And we are told to eat well so that our body can fight the disease.”
Madam Grace Achia, a food retailer at Sarpeiman, a community in the Ga West Municipality in the Greater Accra region, in an interview said her food supplies had gone down drastically, following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I buy my gari at the Nsawam market but these days when you go there, I don’t get the quantities I used to get,” she noted, stressing “And it is the same with other food stuff.”
Explaining why food prices had gone up, she said “People usually buy the gari for their children who are in school but when we heard that government was going to lockdown the country, people were just buying it abnormally and so we had to increase the price.”
For Auntie Sylvia, also a food retailer at Sarpeiman,“Prices of tomatoes and other vegetables, except onions went up so fast but now the prices are coming down.”
“The demand was high especially when people heard that the president was going to lockdown the country. People were buying the things to store,” she explained.
Auntie Sylvia was of the view that Ghana could prevent food shortages by empowering its farmers to produce more since there was huge market for food items.
“We used to have a lot of food in the country but when the coronavirus came, it looks like there is no food in Ghana. Everyone has increased the prices,” she said.
Call to action
In the words of FAO “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
There is no doubt that the coronavirus has put the world on the brink of a hunger pandemicand as a nation, this should serve as a lesson for us to introduce proactive measures to quell any form of hunger and malnutrition now and tomorrow.
By BENEDICTA GYIMAAH FOLLEY