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COVID-19: Farmers count losses as commodities perish for lack of buyers – Part1

By Gbenga Akinfenwa (Lagos), Ahmadu Baba Idris (Birnin Kebbi), Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi (Jos) and Joseph Wantu (Makurdi) 
17 May 2020   |   4:28 am
Umar Kalo Vsla is a watermelon farmer in Damana community, Birnin Kebbi Local Government Area of Kebbi State.

• I’ve Lost Over N1.95m To Wastage — Vsla
• My Grains Have Been Decaying In Store —Bagudo
• Agro Exporters Badly Affected — Iyama
• Plateau Farmers Need N200m As Compensation — Enoch
• I Lost 10,000 Yam Tubers, 50,000 Lying In Store—Ajoko

Umar Kalo Vsla is a watermelon farmer in Damana community, Birnin Kebbi Local Government Area of Kebbi State. Since he ventured into watermelon cultivation five years ago, he has recorded good returns, selling with good price to buyers coming from various locations across the country and neigbouring countries like Republic of Benin and Niger Republic.

But within few weeks of the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic, he has incurred losses to the tune of N1.95m, due to lack of buyers. Sadly, the goods ended as waste.

“Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, buyers have ceased. Harvested fruits have ended up as waste. This has put me in a terrible and devastating situation. I invested a lot of money during the last planting season; I sold the two bulls, which I normally use during wet-season farming for ridges. I also sold some of my paddy rice and invested them into the farm, just to make good return. I was expecting a profit of between N1.5m to N2m, but I ended up making only N50, 000. It is very devastating.”

The sad experience of Vsla represents the situation of farmers across the country, since the lockdown began in late March.

Reports from states show that some farmers have recorded huge debts, as crops continue to waste due to lack of buyers to off-take them.

Co-founder, Farmvilla Resource Centre, Ago Amodu, Saki East Local Government Area of Oyo State, Yinka Adesola, said immediately the lockdown directive was issued, it became difficult for most farmers to get their goods to the market, especially the perishable goods, as vehicular movement was grounded despite waiver for movement of foods.

“So most of us left our produce on the farm. This is because, even if you harvest, it had become extremely cumbersome to transport them to our target markets outside the state.

“Also, many farmers having suffered losses from lack of sales, cannot afford to cultivate for the next farming season, which will likely lead to shortage of food supply. We are hereby pleading with the government to sensitise the security agents to grant our goods safe and quick passage, because the ripple effect of this situation will lead to scarcity and a hike in food prices.”

A member of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Kebbi State Chapter, Alhaji Abubakar Na Tala Bagudo regretted that a large chunk of his grains—maize, beans, guninea corn and millets have been decaying in store since there is no patronage from off-takers.

“I usually harvest 30 tonnes of grains across board from my farms, which I usually keep in my warehouse, stored with the aid of chemicals. But now, I have to bring them out to sell at ridiculous prices. Even when I send my crops to the markets, people are not buying because there is no money, despite the fact that we are in Ramadan period, which should propel people to buy more,” he said.

Bagudo claimed that the closeness of his town to the border has also affected farming activities in the area, especially in the area of rice cultivation, as majority have their farms in the neighboring country and have been shut out since the Federal Government directed the closure of land borders.

“Before this period, I do realise millions of naira as revenue from my farms, but now, to get N500, 000 is hard. We want government to rescue us and bring sanity into the sector,” he added.

Alhaji Abubakar Nma, a tomato and onion farmer also lamented his predicament. “Despite the importance of tomato and onions, I have been forced to beat down the prices, to make sales, to prevent my harvests from decaying.

“I am recording losses as I am bringing down the prices. This is a terrible situation for all farmers. The attitude of buyers is unintended; the issue is that they don’t have money to buy because of the current state of the economy, caused by COVID-19. The sad news is that government is not ready to assist us,” he lamented.

National President of the Federation of Agricultural Commodity Association (FACAN), Dr. Victor Iyama, said agro exporters are badly affected; warning that lack of foreign exchange would worsen the situation.

Iyama said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a devastating impact on the agricultural produce.

“The truth is that it is going to affect so many of us because the buyers are not even buying because there’s lockdown all over the country and all over the world.
“And there are no demands and even where the terminal markets are open like in cocoa, for example, you can see that the price has really nosedived- say the cocoa that most of us have bought for N960, 000 plus FOB (Free on Board) charges that is going for over N1m, if you sell today, you will lose nothing less than between N350, 000 to N400, 000, how do you do that?

“Apart from the price nose-diving, there’s going to be serious short-weight because the longer it stays, the longer it loses weight. Of course, you can still try to keep it in such a way that the quality will not deteriorate but definitely it will lose weight.
“Many of us in the sector have people who have stocked ginger, cocoa and other crops because the thing happened suddenly. We are still in the midst of the season, so only a few farmers will be affected as most of us had already taken the goods off the farmers.”

Iyama said the pandemic is a wake-up call to the government to pursue its plan of diversifying the economy, noting that agriculture alone could guarantee over $100b revenue yearly if government is ready to do the needful.

To mitigate losses incurred by the exporters, Iyama said government could help minimise the losses by giving at least a 50 per cent rebate after ascertaining the authenticity of goods kept in warehouses.

“Government can also use goods as collateral to give exporters soft loans, which is interest-free to help mitigate the situation, as well as enable them to buy more to blend and sell.”