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How farmers can survive Covid-19 pandemic

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
29 March 2020   |   4:20 am
With the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic, the country is gradually heading towards a lockdown, as markets, farmers’ marts and superstores are gradually closing operations.

Online Sales Is Best Option—Daramola
• Farmers Must Have Designated Pick-up Point On The Farm—Adesola
• It’ll Reduce Human Traffic In Markets—Oyekoya

With the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic, the country is gradually heading towards a lockdown, as markets, farmers’ marts and superstores are gradually closing operations.
Customers’ education is high and they are conscious of health, security and safety during this scary time, as more and more people are working remotely, sheltering in place, and practicing social distancing.

As of Thursday, Lagos, Plateau, Imo, Ondo and Edo States have shutdown their markets, as a preventive measure against the spread of the disease.Despite the confusion, farmers have a responsibility to shift with these turbulent times to keep the customers fed and generate disposable income.

It is however, sacrosanct that farmers must by all means stay safe while not losing income, as the current health crisis presents both challenges and opportunities to them.
Stakeholders in the agric sector and marketing experts are advocating a shift to online sales, which appears to be the right option, as more and more people are working remotely and choosing to stay indoors.
The Guardian checks revealed that farmers and consumers were beginning to embrace online transactions before Covid-19 spread into the country, but now it’s becoming mandatory to survive at this trying period.

Founder of Menitos Farm Depot, Toluwalope Daramola, who said online sales are the best for many Nigerians at this period, however, added that there is need for the farmers to perfect their delivery logistics, as it is a key factor in online sales.
Daramola said: “Menitos has been doing it before the advent of Coronavirus, the patronage has been much better since the land borders closure and since people are truly having to look at local alternatives, online sales have been booming.

“But the pressure now has made us increase the number of logistics partners we have.”

To stay safe, Daramola advised farmers to develop a model that would keep them and their customers safe, adding that there must be collaboration with farm outlets to ensure farm produce keep moving from the farm to the consumers without exposure to contaminants.
“I see this as an opportunity to convert hitherto skeptics to fans of Nigerian produce. Collaboration is the key to success at this time. From the pepper sellers and the chicken sellers, the fish sellers and snail sellers, it’s time to network and create indigenous solutions like Germany did during the war.”
According to the Co-founder, Farmvilla Resource Centre, Ago Amodu, Saki East Local Government Area of Oyo State, Yinka Adesola: “Online services will create a better ease of selling and buying of goods by farmers and their customers. However, the majority of the food producers, the farmers, are not literate, hence some great disadvantages.
“Yes, there are several online platforms that offer farm goods to customers. But they are not working in partnership with farmers because they usually act as middlemen whose interest is to cheat the farmers. For online platforms to function well, there must be a partnership in term of sincerity of purpose between the platform owners and farmers.”

She advised farmers to protect themselves from visitors that come to purchase food on the farm by embracing spacing recommended by health professionals to stay safe.
“Farmers must have a designated place on the farm for pick up by their customers. They must have protective gears like overalls, gloves, hand sanitizers and other safety tools at the entrance of the farm for visitors before they could be allowed into the pick up point.
“Farmers should have the list of their customers or work with a list for direct communication and supply.”
To market their produce without in-person contact like conventional markets, Adesola advised farmers to: “Collect the weekly food need of the customers, send them bills of requested list through WhatsApp or SMS, the customer makes payment online, farmer packages and labels the food according to customer’s demand and payment, the delivery van/driver delivers at an arranged destination based on agreement time for customers’ pick up.
“The process is repeated every week or twice per week. This has no need for farmers market. They only need a pick up point at strategic place. Considering home delivery will be too cumbersome in our system though it can be considered for customers in the same vicinity.”

Prince Wale Oyekoya, agriculturalist and consultant, sees online marketing as the best option at this period. “Yes, I can see online sales picking up gradually in Nigeria now, and it is reducing human traffic in markets. Some farmers are doing it before COVID-19 and they are doing well on it. This period will make them to improve on their online business.

“Farmers can stay safe by practicing all the recommended safety procedures by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Federal Government, especially in the area of social distancing and others, but the most important thing is to stay on their farms and supply their goods to the distributors or agents at the farm gate, thereby reducing personal contacts from customers or get a transporter to be distributing for them.

“Another method that farmers can adopt at this period instead of the usual farm markets is to adopt value chains strategy. With that strategy, losses will be reduced. I have always been an advocate of value chain addition before this dreaded disease broke out, but it has been very difficult because of finances and enabling environment due to challenges like infrastructure such as power, good roads, security and others.

“Lack of storage facilities will be a hindrance to our survival during this critical time, as we produce to consume and not storing for hard times like this.”
One of the strategies listed by an Ogun State-based farmer, Jelili Raheem, is the need for farmers to first consistently maintain their presence online, which according to him, would immediately build discoverability for potential customers as more people turn to the online world to support themselves.

“Farmers should start posting to local Facebook groups to get their farms presence and products out there. There is need to get email marketing software set up. There is need to network with other local farmers immediately to enjoy referrals. Most importantly, have an online shopping experience for your customers. An online store is crucial during this time. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to ship products; you can fulfill orders by doing community drop-offs, home delivery, or on-farm pickups.