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COVID-19: Nigerians lament high cost of foodstuffs, agro commodities

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As the lockdown occasioned by the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic grounds commercial, human and vehicular activities in some parts of the country, hunger has begun to stare Nigerians in the face as prices of foodstuffs and other agro commodities increase at an alarming rate.
 
Currently, the restrictions have negatively impacted the food supply chain with the tightening of transportation and port capacities, which has resulted in the shortage of food supply. 

To say that the food sector is greatly feeling the impact of COVID-19 is to say the least, as The Guardian check revealed that the sector would experience the differential impact of the rapid spread of the disease on each stage of its value chain, in weeks to come.
 


For now, a paint of rice sold for N1, 800 two weeks ago, sells between N2, 400 and N2, 800; a paint of Garri, initially sold for between N300 and N350 now N1, 300; a kilogram of chicken previously sold at N1, 100/kg is now N1, 500/kg (excluding courier since they can’t pick it up); 50kg basket of tomato initially sold for between N4, 000 to N5, 000, currently sells for between N13, 000 to N15, 000; small tuber of yam previously sold for N300 to N400 has jumped to N700. This cuts across almost all categories of produce.
 
Stakeholders are of the opinion that a prolonged outbreak of COVID-19 would lead to economic instability and food inflation. They claimed that while the short-term impacts are more evident, it is yet to be understood what impacts and what magnitude of impact the outbreak of the pandemic will have on the supply chain in the long term.

A distraught resident of Abule-Egba area of Lagos State, Mrs. Moyinsoluwa Adeola, described the development as disgusting. “I feel like crying. It’s so heartbreaking that in time like this, we chose to be evil and wicked to one another. We are our own problems. A cup of rice is currently selling for N450 to N500; a bag of sachet water is being sold at N150; and hand sanitizer of N300 is now N800. To eat at this present time is war. I mean practically, everything is on the hike when we have a very terrible situation on ground.

“The traders and the citizens can’t help one another and tomorrow we will be complaining about a bad government. We are blaming and cursing government when our hearts are far more wicked and evil than theirs. In other countries, landlords are not collecting rents from their tenants, prices of things are reduced by 50 per cent or more, people are helping each other and here we are killing ourselves. Like it or not, people will die of hunger than the virus itself. Why is every situation an opportunity to exploit people? Where is the compassion and pity in us? The world is coming together to fight a pandemic and we are here killing ourselves even before the virus. No wonder our leaders don’t care.”

Founder of Menitos Farm Depot, Toluwalope Daramola, attributed the price hike to increase in the cost of logistics.
“The restrictions have increased our logistics cost. So the extra cost is added to the cost of the commodities.

 
“The issue here is logistics, the foods are on the farm, more foods need to be grown but when the workers cannot get to the farm, farms can’t get feeds and ready produce can’t be moved to town. These are the areas being ignored despite their relevance.
 
“Some farmers in Ikorodu were beaten on Tuesday by law enforcement agents on their way to feed chickens and pick eggs. They insisted they don’t have association’s identity cards. How many small-scale farmers join those associations and actually pay and get ID? Is it at a time like this we should be enforcing association membership? 
 
“The law never mandated farmers to be in any association. So, why is an association ID card now the only way to identify a farmer? I live in Surulere, my farm and frozen outlet is in Agege. If not for my relationship with those there, how would I cope?”
 
Daramola warned that if urgent solution is not proffered, hunger is going to be the resulting epidemic. “In other climes government is buying off farms and distributing farm produce at subsidised rates. It is even free in some climes.
 
“Now, it’s a choice between feeding the nation and getting assaulted by police. I was in a store and chicken breast of less than 1kg alone is N1, 500, the cost of logistics goes to consumer, further reducing those who can buy except the government intervenes. Hunger will kill many before COVID-19 finds them. Some will survive COVID-19 and die from hunger.”
 
Yinka Adesola, Co-founder, Farmvilla Resource Centre, Ago Amodu, Saki, Oyo State, said prices of the foodstuffs are rising because the sellers are taking advantage of the masses to make quick more money; and as a result fear of the unknown and panic buying, hence exploitation from sellers.

“The effect of this, if not quickly addressed, is that it will lead to glut. There will be plenty of food with no money to buy since people are locked up; scarcity of food will follow when the stored foods are exhausted and there will be excessive price hike of the few food commodities that will be in circulation.

“To address this, there is need to introduce supply to communities directly from the producers. Farmers need to be encouraged and empowered to increase production.”

In a related development, farmers and other stakeholders in the sector have raised the alarm on a looming food crisis after the COVID-19 crisis. They are of the opinion that the coronavirus pandemic would affect farming activities and could lead to shortage of food production.

The National Coordinator of Zero Hunger Commodity Association, Dr. Tunde Arosanyin, who urged the Federal and State Governments to assist farmers with inputs to safeguard the food security programme, said the food security of the country is already threatened due to the lingering crisis between the farmers and herdsmen in some part of the country.

He said: “It will be double jeopardy if the ravaging virus is not contained. This can lead to serious food crisis, hence government should put in place palliative measures to assist farmers with free farm inputs and some credit facilities to encourage food production in the 2020 farming season.”

Arosanyin said the onset of the COVID-19 when the rainy season is about to start would affect farming activities and food production this year, adding that one major challenge is to get farm hands in the face of the current lockdown.

“Another problem is how to raise money for farm workers and input in view of the fact that most produce buyers may not be able to travel to the rural areas to buy from the farmers.”


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