COVID-19: Bleak planting season signals looming famine
• Acute Food Insecurity Could Worsen In Nigeria This Year —Report
• Access To Market, Inputs Are Serious Challenges — Tsekohol
• Farmers Are Forced To Stay-At-Home While It’s Time To Work
• It’s Impossible For Farm Workers To Cross The Border To Nigeria — Adesola
“Businesses in the food supply chains are suffering and many will go under since farmhands cannot get to work, input supplies have been curtailed and planning has become impossible. This crisis has come at the beginning of the planting season, and so many farmers cannot produce, even for the post-COVID-19 needs.”
This was the viewpoint of the Executive Secretary, Agricultural Fresh Produce Growers and Exporters Association of Nigeria (AFGEAN), Mr. Akin Sawyerr while reacting to the current dilemma of farmers in the face of the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic in the country.
His position captures the present reality confronting farmers and other agro producers, as the pandemic had already exacted a devastating impact on the new planting season.
While the agricultural season is beginning, producers and farmers are already severely affected economically by the crisis and have difficulties in accessing quality seeds and fertiliser.
To say a bleak planting season is inevitable for the country is to say the least, as the movement of farmhands has been restricted, just as cases of inaccessibility of seedlings and input suppliers have become the order of the day.
Checks revealed that while this development has begun to have an immediate impact on food sufficiency in the country, its long-term effect would be devastating as the country may face a serious food crisis in months to come.
Report has it that in West Africa alone, 50 million people are already threatened by hunger as a result of the pandemic.
According to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the impact of the coronavirus pandemic could increase the number of people at risk of food insecurity and malnutrition from 17 million to 50 million from June to August this year.
The 2019 Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC) revealed that of the over 135 million people in 55 countries and territories faced with acute food insecurity last year, Nigeria alone accounts for five million people.
The report showed that about 108 million people in 48 countries in 2016, 124 million people in 51 countries in 2017 and 113 million people in 53 countries in 2018 suffered acute food insecurity.
Of the 135 million in 2019, Africa accounted for 73 million and half of whom were in 36 of Africa’s 55 countries. Northern Nigeria alone accounted for five million, the report said.
The report predicts that the situation could worsen this year due to the impact of COVID-19, but the precise magnitude of the deterioration is not yet known.
Currently, access to market and inputs are the toughest challenges farmers are encountering at this period, according to Tsekohol Denison Denen, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, DENKOL Farms, based in Makurdi, Benue State. “As a farmer, who is also in the livestock business, planting of crops now or restocking our pens is not business-wise. For example, the off-takers of my birds are big eateries, hotels and individuals, but since the lockdown, patronage has dropped drastically, but we have birds consuming our feeds daily and nobody to buy them. Cost of feeding has increased, which equally means a marginal increase in our selling price, but nobody to buy them.
“For crop-based farmers, accessing inputs now is a huge challenge. We import most of the chemicals used in farm clearing in the country and due to total border closure, importation of those needed inputs are impossible.
“A lot of farmers are forced to stay at home while it’s time to work on their farms. Big poultry farms with thousands of eggs for sale are now in serious problem and nobody to buy off, no standard facilities to store fresh eggs and nobody can tell how and when the business will come back to normal. So, it’s discouraging to breed more birds again when there is no market.”
He said since the country currently relies on food importation, signalling self-insufficiency, the serious food crisis is looming unless something drastic is done by the government.
“The home demand for rice as of 2019 was 6.3million tonnes and we were only able to produce just 3.2million tonnes. Now that farmers have been unable to plant, this portends doom for the country.”
According to the Co-founder, Farmvilla Resource Centre, Ago Amodu, Saki East Local Government Area of Oyo State, Yinka Adesola, the development poses a serious food security risk to the country, as food will be inevitably scarce.
“Some of the current challenges of farmers at this period include absence of farm labourers; lack of access to farm inputs like seedlings, herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers and farm equipment.
“Getting these have become impossible due to movement restriction, for instance, we usually source for farm labourers from neighbouring countries. COVID-19 has made it difficult for them to cross the border, hence, no one to assist with farm work.
“The aftermath of this is that there will be massive food scarcity due to reduced crop production. The case will be made worse because most farmers did not recover their fund from the last harvest, hence they will not be able to plant another set of crops. There will be little agro produce in the market, which might lead to possible food inflation. The few ones available will be offered at higher costs. Many farmers are discouraged from cultivating another one again because they are not sure of what the future holds.”
She appealed to the government to exempt farmers from the lockdown by providing them a pass. “Farm inputs at seaports should be given clearance, as some seedlings are still hanging at the ports. Transporters of farm produce should be given a special pass and the government should assist with hand-held machinery at subsidised rates.
“Farmers should be given special pass and contacts of security agents to call whenever they are deliberately delayed on the road; seed and farm input sellers should also be given special access to get the input across to farmers.”
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