264m In Nigeria, Others Undernourished – IMF
The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday said the COVID-19 pandemic had led to a 20 per cent increase in the number of undernourished persons in Nigeria and other Sub-Saharan African countries to 264 million in 2020.
The Deputy Managing Director, IMF, Antoinette Sayeh, made the disclosure in Washington during a conversation on ‘Supporting Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa amid the COVID-19 Pandemic and Climate Change.’
A statement on the Fund’s website quoted Sayeh as saying, “The Sub-Saharan Africa has made substantial economic and social progress over the past two decades. Yet, the region is facing difficult challenges, including vulnerability to climate change.
“Indeed, we have seen a marked increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, which are driving the desertification of the Sahel, for example, and threatening growth, employment opportunities and food security. Climate change can also act as a multiplier for conflict and fragility in the region.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has also disrupted production, imports and supply chains of food, resulting in volatile and rising food prices. And that, along with falling incomes from the pandemic, has led to an increase in the number of undernourished in the region by 20 per cent in one year to reach 264 million in 2020.
She added, “It is also deeply worrisome that the global recovery that is now taking hold is driven by only a few countries that have had greater access to vaccines and resources, leaving others, especially low-income countries, at greater risk of falling behind. In this context, safeguarding food security is clearly a daunting challenge for sub-Saharan Africa.”
According to Sayeh, due to the low vaccination rate in the region (2.5 per cent), COVID‑19 will continue to claim more lives in the region.
She said there was a need to safeguard food security and increase the efficiency of public expenditure by gradually phasing out agricultural subsidies.
The IMF deputy managing director added that these subsidies would come at a high fiscal cost, adding that “across 10 sub-Saharan African countries we have data on, the cost ranged from nine per cent to 45 per cent of public agricultural spending (or some 1.5 per cent of the GDP on average) in 2014.
“Country experiences from the region, however, suggest that the contribution of agricultural subsidies to improving food security and reducing poverty has only been weak. Policymakers should channel the savings resulting from subsidy reforms toward strengthening social protection through cash transfers,” she said.
“The additional resources could also be invested in climate-resilient infrastructure, such as irrigation systems and storage facilities that would help weather recurring droughts and floods. Reforms to safeguard food security must also include facilitating fair competition, trade integration, and enabling digitalisation – all of which will be critical to attract much needed private sector investment,” she added.
Sayeh stated that in August, the IMF made its largest SDR allocation to sub-Saharan Africa (about $23bn).
According to her, the allocation is to supplement countries’ foreign reserves, reduce their reliance on more expensive domestic or external debt, and help step up their fight against the crisis.