The coronavirus (COVID–19) outbreak has caused the confinement of over one-third of the global population through lockdown and food supplies were affected widely concern (Galanakis, 2020). As far as food production and consumption are concerned this situation has brought to the fore the imperative of promoting sustainability in food chain. The impact of the pandemic is largely felt by the most vulnerable population groups such as the chronically hungry, small farmers, and malnourished children (Siche, 2020). Women are also in many ways negatively affected by the through increased stress from their increased but largely unrecognized care economy services to their households and other pandemic-related income plummeting (Power, 2020). Thus, in response to this challenge many governments and groups among other measures had to recourse to sharing food handouts to vulnerable groups such as the poor and homeless persons.
The coronavirus outbreak has once again confirms the extent of presumptions and phobias around food security challenges in developing countries. Indeed, long before the COVID–19 outbreak, the serious crisis of malnutrition and hunger Sub-Saharan Africa are well-known (Webb et al., 2018). Nevertheless, the coronavirus pandemic has overarching impacts on the global food supplies and this crisis is likely to extend to the post-pandemic times (Shahidi, 2020). For instance, UN FAO (2020) observed that food production is being affected by the new sanitary measures, changing consumer demands, border and transport restrictions, logistics and market access. Food safety culture has also changed as shopping for foods and other groceries is now considered to be one of the ventures through which people risk catching the virus (Desai & Aronoff, 2020).
In spite of the grave challenges that COVID–19 has raised for the global food demand and supply chains, it is important to understand that food is one particular commodity that is continuously needed during emergencies and it reaches people either delayed or on time. This is particularly seen in food hands out given to displaced persons as in the cases of conflicts, droughts, floods, etc. Whilst humanitarian agencies have experiences on food delivery systems, the situation during pandemics such as the Coronavirus appears to be more complex and complicated. In the case of urban areas where more than half of the human population lives, Mukiibi (2020) observed that COVID–19 has exacerbated urban food insecurity for the urban poor through skyrocketing food price amidst lockdown related job losses. As COVID–19 is likely to have affected more cities and towns in more complex ways, it is apparent that new food access architecture is urgently needed.
Recently, Barau (2020) observed that urbanization is rapidly depleting spaces for urban agriculture and hence the need to embrace innovative strategies such as zero-acreage farming (ZFarming) to foster urban food security. Beyond that, more attention is needed on securing safe and nutritious foods for urban citizens that are exposed to unhygienic and processed foods.
Hence, it is crucial to explore how cities and towns can plan to adapt and respond to food insecurity challenges associated with pandemics. It is important to stress that transformation to sustainable food systems requires a paradigm shift from agriculture-cantered to food-cantered policy and research framework (El Bilali et al., 2019). This kind of shift will enable countries and communities to attain long‐ term food and nutrition security as it relates to their availability and access by all, utilization, stability, resilience and efficiency. However, one of the best ways to achieve this in developing countries is through improvement of agricultural infrastructure and provisioning of new farm technologies (Boratyńska & Huseynov, 2017). Therefore, African countries need investments in new technologies and innovations to scale up food and nutritional security. It is suggested that African countries can improve their population wellbeing and food security by integrating urban food system into urban planning and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in particular SDG 11—sustainable cities and SDG 2 – zero hunger (Barau et al., 2020). The vulnerable groups in African urban areas need particular attention as they may have nutritional and food needs that are different from rest of the population such as children, aged, pregnant and lactating mothers, severally malnourished displaced persons etc. In some instances, it was found that state humanitarian agencies supporting the displaced persons fleeing conflicts in North-eastern Nigeria were blind to their beneficiaries’ dietary needs and preferences of these people when they move into other cities (Barau, 2018). In such situations and also during pandemics vulnerable people need to be supported with healthier foods by their host cities in developing countries.
At the moment, the challenges of food insecurity in developing economies is enormous. Agricultural economists are of the view that food security and economic development in most developing economies depend on structural, agricultural and dietary transformations (Timmer, 2017). In the first case, the situation involves the decline of agriculture’s contribution to the GDP and employment and which ultimately creates scenarios for failing food prices, rising urban economic and industrial activities and financial instability which can be worsened by climatic uncertainties. The second case involves how domestic food consumption changes, innovation, international trade, and policy changes reshape agricultural production system of a country. On the other hand, the third transformation typology has to do with how a country’s households’ patterns of dietary changes influence its patterns of food production and consumption.
Nevertheless, these transformation theories are for normal times and not for periods such as Coronavirus pandemic when food and nutrition systems are exposed to shortages, shocks and uncertainties.
The above theories have underscored the importance of innovation, instability, urban food and economy, dietary changes as well as the role of policy. All these key elements are critical to addressing and understanding challenges of uncertain periods. However, a major challenge that remains unresolved in sub-Saharan Africa is the inability of agricultural transformation to enable smallholder farmers to attain food and nutritional security (Ecker, 2018). Nevertheless, an example of an encouraging situation of dietary transformation in Ethiopia suggests that sub- Saharan African is witnessing remarkable improvement in the consumption of high-value foods such as animal products, fruits, vegetables and processed foods (Worku et al., 2017). Increase in the consumption of foods and quality of diet in Africa is a welcome development. However, aligning food consumption and production to sustainability pathways is also crucial in this region. Knowledge based food security enhancement is needed in developing countries and particularly sub-Saharan Africa. In this regard, universities and research centres have critical roles to play in enhancing food security during pandemics and epidemics.
Universities and research centres have great potentials to improve food security and nutrition particularly through their research and demonstration farms. For instance, studies have shown that 158 experiments from over 30 universities and academies of agricultural sciences in China proved that scientific farming reduces Nitrogen fertilizer use by 24% and increase yields by 12% (Zhang et al., 2012). Such significant changes were possible due to improved use of soils and water, application of good crop management techniques and use of elite varieties with high yield potentials. Therefore, universities and research centres in Africa need to do more in order to diffuse innovative and sustainable farming skills that would enhance the experiences of farming communities in sub Saharan Africa. This is necessary because in countries such as Nigeria where the extension services are too inadequate as the ratio of extension agent to farming families stands at 1: 2000–22,000 with some states having less than 40 extension agents (Ifejika Speranza et al., 2018). In other words, farmers in many Nigerian states would hardly see any extension agent during pandemics and epidemics. On the other hand, universities can have alternatives of reaching out to farmers and consumers through different methods of diffusing and dissemination of knowledge and innovation aspects of sustainable food production. Such abnormal times need knowledge based interventions that will help societies to fast track and circumvent traditional delays and red tapes. Indeed, social scientists have for long since recognized that calamities induce the processes of social change (Cohen, 2020). Therefore, it is assumed that COVID—19 is likely to catalyse transition to sustainability pathways such as bioeconomy in developing countries such as Nigeria.
This paper takes a critical look at the 22-hectares research/demonstration farm at Bayero University Kano’s Centre for Dryland Agriculture (CDA). The aim of the paper is to examine how campus model farm driven by scientific and technological innovations contributes to ensure some level of food security during the COVID–19 pandemic. The main research question driving the current study is: in what ways can universities demonstration farms transform urban food security during pandemics? This paper may provide some insights into how scientific and sustainable farming system open windows of transitioning to safe food production and consumption by people within and around urban areas that were locked down during pandemics. The paper is divided into seven sections which comprise the introduction that explains the context of the paper and this is followed by a section on bioeconomy and food security. The third section describes the CDA farm and its components, while the fourth section explains its methodology. Section five and six explain the results and discuss them implications respectively while the concluding parts highlights the implications of the paper.