Published 26 Jun,2020 via The Nation - IN Nigeria, where millions of smallholder farmers grow fruits, vegetables and various cash crops, so much has been lost as land, sea and air borders are shut or restricted around the world.
For instance, crops, such as cocoa, cashew and others, suffered as the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) forced importers to cut orders as their processing factories were closed due to lockdowns imposed to slow the spread of the virus.
Locally, millions of farmers are staring at huge losses estimated at over N60 billion, according to the Voices For Food Security (VFS).
VFS is a coalition of more than 18 local civil society organisations and small-scale farmers’ associations campaigning for food security in Nigeria.
It is supported by the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Association of Small-Scale Agro-Producers in Nigeria (ASSAPIN), Ogbonge Women Farmers Association, Small-Scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON), among others.
President, Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme, Temitope Odetola, said in Lagos that members of the Poultry Association of Nigeria(PAN) lost N40 billion as a result of eggs that got spoiled during the lockdown. Similarly, fish farmers lost about N20 billion.
He added that the outbreak of swine flu at the Oke-Aro Pig Farm in Lagos caused the death of no fewer than 145,000 pigs.
The setback caused by the pandemic, a member of VFS, Sulaimon Arigbabu noted, plunged the country’s struggling farming economy that supports a major part of its population into further distress.
Arigbabu said the sector was hobbled by severe labour shortages, transport bottlenecks and plummeting demand.
He explained that there were situations where fresh produce accumulated at farms, resulting in food and financial losses for farmers who were unable to sell their produce due to transport and market access bottlenecks.
According to him, interstate transport restrictions have affected the markets, impeding farmers’ access to input and output markets.
He added that schools and hotels were the big markets for agricultural produce but lack of access to them affected farmers.
He is calling for more reliefs to help small-scale farmers and agricultural producers. This is because Nigeria faces population growth and producing enough food will be crucial in reducing poverty.
He said the sector needed relief packages to keep farmers and firms in business and people at their jobs and help prevent a temporary disruption from causing longer-lasting economic harm.
Though the Federal and state governments have acted quickly to help the sector navigate the crisis, stakeholders said farmers needed a relief package to ensure food security and to support agriculture to fuel the nation’s growth.
One of them is a World Bank Consultant, Prof Abel Ogunwale.
He said key sectors of the economy would seek interventions, including the food industry.
His words: “The food industry will need relief funds for the following reasons: The agricultural production and food industry are adversely affected by COVID-19 in the sense that farmers have loss during this pandemic and food production for 2020 will suffer greatly as a result of COVID-19. The industry found difficult it to secure raw materials from local sources as a result of lockdown and boarder closure.”
He said: ‘’Food industries will be forced to reduce staff strength due to their inability to procure raw materials and process them for optimal profitability. So, without relief fund from the government it may be difficult for many food industries to remain in business and provide employment for the workforce. So, to increase their capacity to generate jobs and make positive contributions to the growth of Nigeria, food industry should be provided with relief fund.”
The Managing Director of Farmcrowdy, Kenneth Obiajulu, said agriculture could contribute significantly to Nigeria’s growth, but the sector remained rooted on subsistence farming.
According to him, the sector’s productivity remains the lowest, given the dominance of subsistence farming, poor adoption of suitable on-farm and post-harvest technology, lack of timely supply of quality input, including fertiliser and seeds, and limited financial services and infrastructure.
He urged the government to encourage the production of high quality food products through utilising the latest agricultural technologies, as well as developing national standards for markets and products.
He said the sector should be revamped to support the transformation of traditional farming practices to bring in higher-value, high-tech farming and research and development.
The Executive Director, Agricultural Extension officers, through Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI), Dr Olufemi Oladunni, noted that the pandemic and the resultant lockdown affected every sector.
His words: “Though the agricultural sector was rightly regarded as providing essential service and as such was largely exempted from the lockdown, it was still negatively impacted, especially the marketing domain. You will understand that once a domain of the value chain is affected, it impacts the other domains. For instance, when marketers are not able to freely move and sell their products they cannot buy more from the producers. Hence, actors suffered a higher dimension of post-harvest loss of agricultural produce which translates into loss of revenue and investment.”
He added that agricultural value chain facilitators and extension officers through ARMTI should be capacitated to reach out to the actors along the value chain in the agro ecological zones. The research system should be further encouraged to develop improved varieties for farmers and processors.
A former Provost of Oyo State College of Agriculture, Prof. Jacob Gbemiga Adewale, backed the call for relief package to support agricultural producers.
Hear him: “The relief package should be in form of subsidies on farm input, such as seeds, seedlings, agro-chemicals, tractor hiring services, and purchase of agric produce by government at fair prices.’’
Adewale, now with Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) in Ogbomoso, Oyo State, noted that the dairy industry was not doing maximally.
He observed that efforts made to develop theindustry, especially in the Southwest has not recorded tremendous success.
His words: “The Nigerian experience has been characterised by indiscriminate importation of foreign animals, poor feeding, high incidence of diseases, loss of animals, and failure of dairy development programmes.”
He said the dairy industry, if well supported, could generate employment, produce milk, create wealth and provide nourishment for our well-being.
“It can provide millions of jobs and generate about N300 billion naira monthly into the economy,” he said.
As a result of poor milk production in Nigeria, he said between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion were spent yearly on milk import.
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