It is a fact that Nigeria’s agricultural sector and by extension food production is sustained by small holder farmers . JOHN OBA in this write up looks at the impact of the lockdown on rural farmers.
The deadly coronavirus has continued to disrupt and to bring most sectors of world economy to its knees. Following the outbreak of the pandemic in the country, the federal government of Nigeria has issued a stay at home order, halting most economic activities in the country with farmers hit hardest.
The lockdown unfortunately is having more far reaching impact on farming actitivities as it falls at the neck of farming season. With 80% of Nigeria food cultivated by smallholder farmers who may at this time not be able to access their farm to plant or have access to market to purchase seedlings.
The sweeping order that saw to the shutting down of the country for two weeks starting March 27th, 2020 has adversely affected farmers most of whose livestocks die, farm produce spoil, and businesses closed with no customers to buy such goods. Farmers serve as the bedrock of any society by ensuring food security for the populace, propelling food export and ultimately generating revenue as well as employment for people in the sector.
Though President Muhammedu Buhari during his lockdown speech assured Nigerians that food processing, distribution and retail companies would be exempted from the lockdown, there was no modalities put in place to ensure smallholder farmers that lives in the rural continues their farming activities.
One of such farmers is Danladi Umar who plant vegetables through irrigation farming in the Mpape axis of the FCT. He lamented that the limitation of transportation has hindered him from bringing his produce to the market making him lose thousands of naira as his crops are withering.
Danladi Umar further stressed that his livelihood had depended on what he called ‘dry season farming’ for years. Through this, he had been able to feed his family and send his children to school. “I am not happy with what is going on: look at my farm, I am supposed to be harvesting on a daily basis. The vegetables will overgrow and turn reddish. But the roads are blocked and there’s no transportation” Umar lamented.
Another farmer also affected by the sit at home order is Solomon Shagba; a yam farmer. “With the sit at home order, I am unable to transport my goods to the market. No driver is willing to go. We have heard about those arrested for defying the order. Also, security people have been beating people found going about. This is the most difficult time for me and my family and we are hoping that the government will do something to assist us” Solomon said.
A local farmer: Pastor Mike who is into yam and cassava production observed that “I am happy with the lockdown; for a man who justle office and farm work at the same time, now I can concentrate on farming. As you know, it’s the farming season. The difficulty I’m facing though is getting my produce to the market. I need to buy certain food items and condiments as well but the roads are closed”
Mr Timothy Orjime on his part said: “Prices on agro chemicals and farm tools has increased overnight making them hard to access. With the closure of markets, (since these tools are not considered essential service) farm implements have almost become extinct. Getting a cutlass or hoe during this lockdown to curtail the spread of this deadly coronavirus is impossible, and even when you do find, the prices are three times what they used to be a month ago.”
Market women also blamed the unavailability of essential farm products on the lockdown imposed by the federal and state governments in the country. They described the situation as appalling, accused the federal government of not giving them adequate time to prepare, restock, and plan ahead.
“My suppliers no longer come to supply me for the lockdown, and that’s why things are costly. Markets were empty in the first week of lockdown: all my goods I had in stock spoiled, it was a huge loss for me. Now, most of the farm products I use to sell are difficult to find and costly.
“What I use to buy for 3000 naira is now sold for 4000 or 4,500. Even when people come to buy, they usually frown at the high prices; most people even accuse me of padding the prices. I appreciate the government for the efforts in combatting this virus, the government should do more, especially in cushioning the impact of the lockdown on the citizenry. If you expect us to stay indoors, then more should be done to help the poor and less privileged,” Asha Miya said.
A pig farmer Mr. Benjamin Ormtswen decried the unbearable high cost of feed for his livestock.
“The cost of feeds has risen sharply in last week and getting these feeds is also another problem. I couldn’t watch my animals die so I had reduce them by sharing some with neighbors and since I live some distance from my farm, the only route to my farm has been blocked by a joint task force to restrict movement,” said Mr Benjamin.
He further said that his source of income and education had depended on the animals.
“I sell them when I need money for my studies and I also support myself and family through this farm. I’ve been indoors since the lockdown, and since the only access to my animals is blocked, I feel helpless. I wish that the federal government will look upon the plight of the farmers and assist us in subsidizing cost of feeds and allowing such shops as those that sell feeds to continue to operate”
The president of an Abuja based farmers multipurpose cooperative society Mr Akpenpuun Ordue David commended the initiative of the government to lockdown the country, he however noted that such an order could have dire consequences on the farming population.
He said that the government should release funds to assist farmers to avoid a post covid-19 food scarcity, starvation, unemployment, and to ensure continuity of the country.
He urged farmers to follow government directive to stay at home, and other health regulations in reducing the spread of the virus and ultimately stamping it out of the country.
The coronavirus pandemic began in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China and since then spread to hundreds of countries around the world. It is one of the biggest health crisis the world has seen in recent times. The virus has killed thousands, and thousands more are infected around the world leading most big economies directly into recession.
The African Union has predicted that African economies might suffer severely from the novel coronavirus.
As farmers shut their doors to keep out covid-19, the future of the country in the agriculture sector continues to look dim. Farmers worry that without government timely intervention, the country might be in be food crisis sooner than predicted, and families whose livelihoods depends on farming might be out of business. With a population of over 200 million people, food scarcity might have a far-reaching consequences than coronavirus pandemic as more people are likely to die from hunger than the virus would even kill.
Already, the Poultry Association of Nigeria, has earlier raised concern that the sector may be at risk of losing investment in the sector worth over N10 trillion.
Experts has predicted that a prolong lockdown will have a yearlong effects on main powerhouse of the Nigeria food production, the smallholders and has called for a well channel palliatives to help the smallholders farmers which will in the long run impact positively on the nation’s economy. It also calls for increase agricultural production and enhance the food value chains to meet domestic and continental consumption as part of post-COVID -19 measures.