COVID-19: With ‘AID’ nations hit, who will come to Africa’s help?

The COVID-19 is here, another virus, and the worst yet. I was quarantined in China in 2008, over the H1N1 flu, but for only 6 days. I came back and talked to Kenyans about it but no one really paid attention. It was something most Kenyans were not familiar with.

Some are now reminding me about what I said then, 12 years ago. Now I must self- isolate because of my advanced age. If by now as a world citizen you have not heard about it, then you do not live on this planet. My people have a problem pronouncing it.

Well, all they know is that it is an enemy which has invaded our country and which our government in Nairobi is trying to contain. Many of them are wondering: What is new, as we always live on edge anyway. Well as of today March 29, 2020, there is a nationwide curfew, 7 pm to 5 am.

I have spent most of my life working on African hunger issues and even redirected my career to rural development to work with smallholder farmers to try and help them devise ways that would enable them to feed their families. I have become an advocate for smallholder farming and a champion of issues of hunger and poverty that these families face every day.

My focus has been on women, mothers, particularly. Africa has been a hungry continent for decades, always relying on donors and development partners.

African governments have always been assured of food donations from the more developed countries of the world.

With a fast-growing population, a continent ravaged by disease, drought, and other climate change impacts, food deficits, and economies that do not seem to keep up with population growth, this culminates on over-dependence on imports, including grain imports.

Some people argue that this kind of over-dependence will never allow Africa to develop, industrialize or be independent.

Now with a pandemic ravaging the world and hitting hardest those countries that normally come to Africa’s aid, and threatening their economies, clearly Africa has to get its act together or look elsewhere.

What the coronavirus has done, just like Ebola in West African countries a few years ago, is to expose the social inequalities, weak healthcare systems, and a lack of basic services for a significant portion of the population.

I probably should not be asking this: but while the majority of the poor have been denied water and basic sanitation, and given the way this virus spreads, how will we ensure the poor can take care of themselves? Being poor also means that many households are food poor.

We keep saying a strong immune system will ensure the virus keeps a distance from you. There is no way of building a strong immunity other than through good nutrition, derived from a diverse diet.

I have hesitated to give any nutritional advice in the wake of the virus. Why? I can easily find online foods that maintain or boost the immune system. But then the most vulnerable people do not have the luxury of knowing about nutrition; they do not have access to a diverse diet, rich in micronutrients that includes vitamin C and zinc.

Coloured foods are good because they provide antioxidants that protect the body’s cells while vitamin C (an immune booster) is found in many fresh fruits including guavas, citrus fruits like lemons, lime, oranges, and grapefruit.

Zinc supports the immune system, promotes healing of wounds, helps metabolism, and the development of tissues. Zinc is not stored in the body and so must be consumed daily. Good sources are nuts , meats, and legumes. It is preferable to get all our nutrients from food. Any rations given to families to see them through hunger periods have to take this into account.

All I know is that the kinds of measures African governments are taking to stop the spread of the virus are the same ones being proposed in the more developed countries.

The challenge is that all these developed countries have old money, reserves, and insurance to cover a crisis of this magnitude; well, they are better prepared. They can cover all their people who lose jobs as a result of a lockdown and can cushion them for basic services.

In a developing country such as Kenya, where more than 80% of working Kenyans are in the informal sector, and they have to close down their businesses, how are they going to survive? The Kenya government has announced far-reaching economic stimuli measures and that is commendable.

I fear that these will not go far enough to cover Kenyans in the informal sector and their families. One hopes that as this goes on, that our development partners who normally work on issues of poverty, and food insecurity and malnutrition will be able to work out appropriate packages that can go to assist families that suddenly find themselves in desperate situations.

This is an APPEAL. This is planting season, and all of a sudden, no one is sure whether farmers will be able to plant in this crisis. Farmers too need help here.

The writer is the Editor-in-Chief, African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development (AJFAND) and Founder, Rural Outreach Program (ROP) Africa

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