In 2020, the world experienced an outbreak of Corona Virus Disease (COVID) in Wuhan China that quickly spread across 213 countries and territories. Apart from the profound negative consequences on the health of people everywhere, this pandemic exacerbated several preexisting issues for many countries including Nigeria. With a 2018 report ranking Nigeria as the country with the world’s poorest people, the coronavirus outbreak worsened the already struggling economy and ongoing insecurity in farming Northern regions forcing even the middle class into a tight corner. The World Bank estimates that roughly 18% of Nigerian households have at least one adult who can not afford to eat for an entire day at a time due to the COVID 19-fuelled food insecurity, poverty, unemployment and inflation. Prior to the pandemic, only 6% were unable to eat.
The general cost of living skyrocketed as people struggled to survive during the lockdown and the other measures put in place to curb the virus. According to the World Bank, seven million Nigerians were pushed into poverty by COVID 19 in addition to the 86.9 million (approximately 4 in 10) who lived in extreme poverty prior to the pandemic. “What we are experiencing in Nigeria is different from what is being experienced all over the world,” said Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based think-tank Centre for Democracy and Development. “Crime is actually skyrocketing on a daily basis because people are trying to make ends meet.”
Enter the Lagos Food Bank Initiative
Starting in 2015 with only 16 volunteers as the first indigenous food bank in Nigeria, the Lagos Food Bank Initiative went into action as the government struggled to deal with the rising hunger and food insecurity as a result of the outbreak. Having successfully fed over 1.7 million people across 20 local governments prior to the pandemic, the group were able to tackle the problem head-on. According to the food bank president Michael Sunbola, the demand was 40% higher than before the pandemic. Describing the sorry state of affairs, he told Reuters, “Middle-class families, people who would ordinarily not imagine queuing up for food, are now in that category of people that we serve.”
Launching the Covid-19 Emergency Food Intervention Plan (CEFIP), the food bank swung into effect on the 23rd of March to support vulnerable women, children, and families dealing with food insecurity and other economic impacts of COVID-19. Noticing the increasing demand for food, the organisation went from one monthly outreach to three times a week. In line with the government’s directives; the food bank had walk-in options for people who lived close by and distributed food items from house to house. The food packages also included personal protective items to help beneficiaries against the virus. This was done with over 11,000 registered volunteers who came in handy during the lockdown and the pandemic.
Apart from food insecurity, the food bank also targeted other issues like unemployment with a Job Placement Program which uses a team of Human Resource practitioners to help job seekers put together CVs. These are advertised to corporate organizations and start-up businesses through the food bank’s social media and email marketing platforms. So far, over 100 beneficiaries have gotten jobs with the organisation’s help.
The efforts of the Lagos Food Bank Initiative have been recognised by a total of 700 individual donors, 120 corporate brands and several international media organizations as it stands out as one of the most prominent groups in the fight against Covid-fuelled food insecurity. While the lockdown and the worst of the outbreak appear to be behind us, many Nigerians continue to struggle with the pandemic’s implications as the country, the rest of the continent and the world opens up. This is where the West African Peace and Security Innovation (WAPSI) Forum comes in. Organised in the framework of the ECOWAS Peace and Security Architecture and Operations (EPSAO), the event seeks to understand and address the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the ECOWAS region. With 10 speakers and 1,000 virtual participants from 16 countries, the forum will look at initiatives like the Lagos Food Bank and other private initiatives that are tackling food insecurity and other human security challenges in the ECOWAS region as Nigeria and the rest of the continent attempt to recover from the pandemic. The forum is slated for March 9–10, 2022. Register to help the fight against covid-fuelled issues.