As COVID-19 bites harder, Nigeria risks food crisis

No doubt, the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has had a great impact on global food production where farmers find it difficult to access their farms and inputs due to lockdown or fear of being infected.

Some international food organisations in the recent past had raised alarm over the looming food crisis if food supply chain is altered as a result of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, in Nigeria, stakeholders and commodity associations in the agricultural sector had also warned that if farmers were being denied access to their farms, the future of food production in Nigeria would be threatened.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead, President Muhammadu Buhari had asked farmers to return to the farm and produce more food for the populace.

The President acknowledged that with the dwindling oil price as a result of the pandemic, Nigeria may not have enough money to import food.

“I wish the farmers could go and stay in their farms so that we can produce what we need sufficiently so that we don’t have to import. In any case, we don’t have money to import so we must produce what we have to eat,” President Buhari said.

Also, the President of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Dr Agnes Kalibata recently cautioned that the outbreak of COVID-19 shouldn’t lead to food crisis in Africa.

Dr Kalibata, said though the movement restriction imposed in some African countries is a step towards curbing the spread of the disease, the implication on food production should also be considered.

She said already 250 million people in Africa are without food, and these people would suffer from both the long and short-term effect of the pandemic.

Luckily for Nigeria, the gradual easing of lockdown in some parts of the country would see farmers going back to their farms, but the government needs to intervene in the areas of inputs and funds as a boost towards good yield.

Also, the Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, QU Dongyu raised concern over the looming global food crisis following the ongoing lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.

He called for immediate actions to minimize disruption to food supply chains.

In a statement issued recently by QU Dongyu titled ‘Keeping global food chains alive is crucial amid COVID-19 crisis’, he said coherent response was needed globally to prevent the outbreak of Coronavirus from triggering food crisis.

“To reduce the risk of an even greater toll – shortage of food for millions, even in affluent countries – the world must take immediate actions to minimise disruptions to food supply chains.

“While there’s no need for panic – there is enough supply of food in the world to feed everyone – we must face the challenge: an enormous risk that food may not be made available where it is needed”, he said.

He said restriction of movement may impede farmers from farming, and food processors from processing, as well as shortage of fertiliser, veterinary medicine and other farm inputs could affect food production.

Meanwhile, some commodity associations in Nigeria have said that the future of agriculture in Nigeria is bleak if the lockdown across the country continues without alternative measures for farmers to access their farms and inputs.

These associations said their members have been unable to access their farms as a result of the lockdown, hence the crops they planted which are due for harvesting are wasting in the farms.

The national president of Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WEFAN), Alhaji Salim Muhammadu, said their farmers finds it difficult to move to their farms due to the lockdown imposed by various state governments due to outbreak of COVID-19.

Also, the President of Maize association of Nigeria (MAAN), Dr Bello Abubakar, lamented that due to the lockdown directive from the government as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many maize farmers found it difficult to access their farms.

Alhaji Muhammad said: “this COVID-19 has a devastating effect on all the crops generally, especially we the wheat farmers, because this is our harvesting period, we might harvest wheat between April and May, and the COVID-19 has attacked this country as a pandemic which our farmers cannot be able to move from one location to another, from one farm to another to harvest the crop, this is a major challenge we are having now”, he said.

He said some machines needed to process wheat for off take were unable to reach their locations due to lockdown.

“We have to deploy our threshing machines, we have to go to the warehouses where the off take can be made, and we have to move the commodity to the warehouse.

“So, if you look at the scenario, if you say you are bringing in wheat produced in Kebbi to Kano at this pandemic period, it is not going to be possible”, he added.

Dr Abubakar said farmers who planted during the 2019/2020 dry season farming found it difficult to go to farms and harvest their crops, hence, they have lost the crops.

He said as the rainy season has set in, some maize farmers in the South South and South West have been unable to access their farms to plant due to movement restriction.

Nafiu Abdu, President, Soybean Farmers Association of Nigeria said there is uncertainty if the soybean farmers will plant this season because of the lockdown.

He said Soybean farmers are “a bit fortunate that the crop is planted late in the season from the second week of June and in some places, even at the beginning of August”, notwithstanding, farmers have remained apprehensive. This is because of uncertainty whether they will be able to access their farms, as currently being experienced by others.

Abdu said the cost of inputs is becoming very high, like Fertiliser which is being sold for more than N10,000 in some places, which is double of what the federal government sold it last year.

The President, Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Ezekiel Ibrahim, said COVID-19 has had a very devastating effect on the poultry industry which should be at the fore front of ensuring food security.

The MAAN President said the pandemic affected farmers who planted during the 2019/2020 dry season farming, because they can’t access their farms for harvest.

“COVID-19 affected our farmers in so many ways, the farmers that planted last at the 2019/2020 dry season were affected because by the time they were about to go for harvest, this problem came in so they cannot move to their farms, they don’t have other implements to go and harvest their crops, so most of them have lost what they have planted last year dry season farming.

“If you come to the area where rain started earlier, like the South South and South West, they are planting earlier than the northern part of the country, so due to those challenges of COVID-19, our farmers cannot be able to go to their farms.

“While some of them have started planting, but because of the total lockdown, they cannot move to their farms again, they cannot access inputs from their suppliers, so even that on affected their planting.

As a way to cushion the effect of COVID-19 on food production, the Maize Association of Nigeria (MAAN) called for zero interest rate on the 2020 Anchor Borrowers loan given to farmers by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on farmers.

Dr Abubakar said the call is largely due to the loss encountered by irrigation maize farmers and unavailability of inputs for the commencement of the wet season farming.

He said the delay in the commencement of the wet season farming is due to the effect of the COVID-19 lockdown and restriction of movement in some parts of the country which have made it almost impossible for farmers to access their farms and inputs.

“About the interest rates, because of this problem our farmers have suffered especially irrigation farmers and early planting farmers who has lost everything”

“We are pleading with the CBN to give us zero interest rate for this year’s Anchor Borrower program so that farmers will be encouraged to go to the farm and produce so that we can meet our target”

Furthermore, the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) had asked the federal government to buy up the eggs produced by poultry farmers and distribute to vulnerable people in the country in the era of lockdown.

PAN said this call became necessary as poultry farmers were unable to sell the eggs they produced due to lack of market as the lockdown continues.

PAN also called on government to remove restriction on interstate movement on some essential items for poultry production such as maize, soyabean, poultry products, wheat offals and poultry feeds of all types. Also very essential are Day old chicks (Docs), eggs, frozen chicken, drugs.

In a recent statement, the Director General of PAN, Onallo Akpa, PAN appealed that all poultry farm workers should be exempted from the movement restriction.

According to the statement, the poultry farmers want “the removal of all restrictions on interstate movement of vehicles by the various states government for the transportation of all essential items for the production of poultry: Maize, soyabean, poultry products, wheat offals and poultry feeds of all types. Also very essential are Day old chicks (Docs), eggs, frozen chicken, drugs and all other essential food that are either meant for poultry or the livestock value chain entirely. This was reinforced in Mr. President’s address to the nation”.

The statement further said “the situation of the markets for poultry products are not stable at the moment despite the facts that Eggs and poultry meat are needed daily by all Nigerians.

“A lot of table eggs produced are not being sold because of the absence of economic and social activities and the closure of schools. We appeal to the government to consider buying up eggs from poultry farmers for distribution to the vulnerable population of old people and the sick that might likely come down with the Covid-19.

‘We advise that the necessary ministries and organs of government should be mandated to work with the association at all levels to make the above possible”.

Also the Nigerian Institute of Animal Science (NIAS) said the current lockdown and movement restriction enforced by government to contain the spread of Coronavirus may dwindle the value of the livestock industry.

NIAS, however, called on government to ensure that the livestock industry was exempted from the movement restriction.

A statement signed by NIAS President, Emeritus Professor Isreal Adu and the Registrar, Professor Eaustace iyayi, said herdsmen/pastoralists should be allowed to graze their animals freely.

“We also call on the government to exempt operators in the livestock industry from the restriction in movement.

“The Poultry industry for example with about 200 million birds and a total value of over N1.6 Trillion cannot be allowed to collapse.

Generally, inter-state movement restriction and general lockdown in some parts of the country poses a very serious threat to food production in the country.

Some farmers, for fear of being arrested had abandoned their crops in the farms. If farmers don’t produce, that means during harvest, there won’t be any crop to harvest, this will in turn starve industries of raw materials, and threaten a lot jobs.

 

 

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