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COVID-19: Leaders of Nigerian farmers warn of impending food crisis

Unless government pays more practical attention, and less of rhetoric to agriculture in Nigeria, the country could be heading towards severe food crisis, post COVID-19 and possibly even before the pandemic is over.

Some farmers have been unable to harvest their crops from the farms, leading to losses, while others are unable to prepare for the planting season. In both cases, farmers are losing an opportunity to earn income, while Nigerians at large inch closer to a food crisis unless food production is ramped up. Some heads of farmer associations during the first session of a webinar series by the Guild of Nigerian Agriculture Journalists (GNAJ), lamented inability to produce food, and losses being recorded by millions of smallholder farmers.

“The farmers are in trouble like every other Nigerian; the economy is not working and the lockdown is affecting everybody,” said Kabiru Ibrahim, of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN). “The farmers are finding it difficult to move goods and services from where they are produced to where they are needed.”

“If hunger sets in and God forbid the UN prediction that Nigeria is among the countries that will go through that phase, we will have problems,” said Ibrahim.

Bello Abubakar, president, Maize Association of Nigeria (MAAN), explained that farmers who planted last year dry season for 2019/2020 dry season have been  affected because by the time they were about to go for harvest, the coronavirus pandemic crept in and with the following lockdowns could not access their farms.

Many have lost what was planted last year for the dry season 2019 and 2020. Also, in areas where the rain started earlier like the South/South and the Southwest where planting is done earlier than the Northern side of the country, due to challenges of COVID-19, farmers have been unable to go to their farms.

While some were set for planting, the challenge of lockdowns made it difficult to access their farms or source inputs from suppliers, which still made it difficult to plant even if they could access the farms.

 “If there is no production the problem that we will go through, when it comes, it will be more devastating than the COVID-19. If there is no food, there is a problem,” said Abubakar.

While Nafiu Abdu, president, Soybean Farmers Association of Nigeria said Soybean farmers have been “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.

Importantly, getting inputs is causing a lot of worry as Abdu explained that the cost of inputs is becoming very high, for instance, Fertiliser is being sold for more than N10,000 in some places, which is double of what the federal government sold it last year.

The movement of poultry such as Chicken has also been affected, to the extent that after spending several hours on the road and delays at checkpoints, when they arrive in far places such as moving from South to the North, “because of stress, we lose quite a number of them,” said Ibrahim of AFAN.

Ezekiel Ibrahim, president, Poultry Association of Nigeria, said COVID-19 has had a very devastating effect on the poultry industry, which should be at the fore front of ensuring food security. “Poultry industry shouldn’t have suffered the way it has,” he said.

The pandemic has exposed the country’s very poor distribution network for poultry products and even inputs, making it difficult for farmers to sell what has been produced, or to even adequately take care of their current stock.

With Nigeria having Wheat as the highest agricultural commodity it imports, Salim Muhammad, president, Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria, bemoaned the neglect suffered by farmers under his commodity association. The hundreds of billions of naira spent importing wheat could be retained in the local economy if as he said, the crop has not become a “political crop.”

Muhammad noted that from confectionaries to bread that is widely consumed, and even noodles, millions of Nigerians consume wheat based products every day. However, if farmers are constrained from producing wheat either because of inaccessibility to farms or inputs, these food products would soon become expensive and scarce.

While Ibrahim of AFAN says some committees have been set up to address some issues pertaining to farmers, certain palliatives are going to be required in order for the 2020 farming season to work very well and (failure to do this) would affect food supply in the country.

Abubakar on his part, appealed to the Central Bank of Nigeria to make provisions for maize farmers to get better access to the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, a plea also made by Abdu of SOFAN, and other farmers’ associations.

A common appeal in order for food production not to suffer more in the interim was for government at all levels to engage relevant agencies in making proper arrangements for farmers to have access not only to their farmlands, but also inputs, same for livestock producers like poultry.

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