By Bode Olushegun
A collaborative effort of European Union, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), UN Women, and Borno State Government is putting food of the table of over 10 000 severely food-insecure households in troubled Borno State.
Borno State in the North East of Nigeria has been ravaged by a decade old Boko Haram crisis which has rendered over a million persons displaced and depending on aid from international donor organisations and support from governmental bodies.
A statement by FAO on Friday, lamented that the lean season, usually between June and August each year, is a period when conflict-affected households in northeast Nigeria are most at risk of food shortages.
It stated that in order to forestall this, a European Union-funded initiative jointly implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Women, in collaboration with the Borno State Government, is enabling some 10,000 severely food-insecure households to access a monthly basket of nutritious fresh food sourced from local farmers.
The statement said the households were identified and selected from the Bama, Dikwa, Gwoza and Monguno local government areas (LGAs) in the state based on their level of vulnerability to food shortages and malnutrition, disclosing that each fresh food basket contains beans, cabbage, okro, potatoes, red peppers, tomatoes, and eggs.
The statement said: “Having disrupted food supply chains and limited access to local markets, the measure COVID-19 pandemic threatens to worsen food security conditions in fragile regions like northeast Nigeria. The initiative will significantly boost the food and nutrition options available to benefitting households, especially during the current lean season when household food stocks have typically been depleted and farmers prepare for a new farming season.”
It added that: “The fresh food voucher programme was also devised to revive rural markets that have been disrupted by the crisis and create market linkages to enable smallholder farmers to sell their produce through a supply chain mechanism that engages local vendors. Among these smallholder producers are farmers empowered with poultry production and crop production inputs received through the same EU-funded initiative.
“Through this collaboration between local vendors and farmers, vendors purchase the produce from the farmers at pre-agreed intervals and prices that are informed by the findings of a market assessment.
“The local vendors, using a simulated open-air market scenario, then aggregate and sell the produce to the selected beneficiary households who complete their purchases using pre-loaded electronic vouchers.”
FAO said: “It is envisaged that, over time, the collaboration will be strengthened and will enable smallholders to reduce risk, expand their production and increase their income.
“Moreover, the initiative comes at a crucial time because the pandemic has prevented many local vendors from sourcing produce from farmers and accessing markets.”
The statement quoting, Al Amin Umar, a vendor from Gwoza LGA, said: “Coronavirus slowed down my sales by about 90 percent. I lost some of my stock and it was difficult to get supply from the farm. I am hopeful that this activity will help me to restart my business.”
FAO, in the statement, said that: “Despite the gains made toward improving food security in the region, it is critical to sustain the support to enable vulnerable households to overcome food shortages and malnutrition, even more so in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. In most of the benefitting communities, households are accustomed to monotonous diets based primarily on cereals. The fresh food programme enables benefitting households, around 90 percent of whom are headed by women, to access diverse foods including vegetables, pulses, and eggs.
“The use of purposely designed e-vouchers ensures that beneficiaries purchase food to improve their household diet and reduce their food and nutrition insecurity. The redemption process is conducted within each community, thereby eliminating the need to travel and associated safety concerns.”
Al Hassan Cisse, FAO Representative ad interim in Nigeria and Cameroon, was quoted to have said: “We are employing an integrated approach that includes engaging and empowering local smallholders in tackling malnutrition, food insecurity and poverty. This approach ensures that communities are key actors in the rebuilding process and therefore guarantees the sustainability of our interventions in the region”
FAO explained that the fresh food voucher programme is part of a comprehensive development initiative funded by the European Union Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) to restore the lost livelihoods of nearly 100,000 farming households in Borno State through the provision of a wide array of agricultural support and capacity building activitie