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How COVID-19 rattles Nigeria’s poultry farmers

The Nigerian poultry industry has been negatively impacted by COVID-19 as farmers lose millions of naira to the pandemic, writes JOSEPHINE OKOJIE.

 

At the centre of Mowe town in Obafemi-Owode Local Government Area in Ogun State was once a flourishing poultry farm belonging to Taofik Abdulsalam, a 56-year- old farmer and father of five.

Abdulsalam started his poultry business over 10 years ago after losing his accounting job in a construction firm.

The farm, which has a capacity of 3,000 layers in a battery cage and an additional 1,000 broiler birds for chicken, has become a shadow of itself since the Federal Government imposed the initial COVID-19 lockdown in Lagos, Ogun, and Abuja to curb the spread of the virus.

During the lockdown, he was stuck with about 2,800 crates of eggs he could not sell owing to the restrictions which obstructed the country’s already fragmented food supply chain.

Also, the situation reduced the demand for eggs and chickens from restaurants, eatery, hotels and confectioners who were Abdulsalam’s most loyal customers.

Eggs have a short shelf-life. As a result, Abdulsalam was forced to destroy about 500 crates of eggs that got spoilt during the period, selling the remainder far below his production cost.

“It has really been difficult for my family since the lockdown,” he says. “The business from which I have earned my income in the past 10 years is almost collapsing,” he says.

“I cannot even feed my family anymore because of the huge losses I incurred during the lockdown. We are now trying to restart the business again,” Abdulsaleem says, in a voice devoid of hope.

He suffered an estimated revenue loss of about N5million owing to the short shelf life of the eggs and disruption in the food supply chain.

He was forced to reduce his staff strength from eight to three as he could no longer afford to pay their services.

He says that despite suffering this huge loss, he has not got any form of support from the government to revive his business.

Many poultry farmers like Abdulsalam across the country have suffered severe losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic control measures imposed by the government.

The situation has impacted their livelihoods negatively with many closing down their businesses. It has also led to a surge in post-harvest losses currently estimated at $9 billion.

“There has been an increase in post-harvest losses since the COVID-19 outbreak, as farmers were unable to transport their fresh produce to the markets because of the lockdown,” says Akin Sawyerr, executive secretary, Agricultural Fresh Produce Growers Association of Nigeria (AFGEAN).

Though the economy has been battered by the virus and low oil price, the government has failed to provide sufficient social safety net to protect businesses.

“Many farmers did not receive any form of palliative from the government despite that their businesses have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” AfricanFarmer Mogaji, head-agribusiness, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), says.

“The government needs to come to the assistance of farmers to survive through this pandemic, most especially the poultry farmers” Mogaji adds.

An empty battery cage of Abdulsalam’s farm in Mowe, Ogun State

Looming food crisis

Farmers have continued to count losses owing to the pandemic and they fear it could trigger a looming food crisis in Africa’s most populous nation by 2021 – as production declines.

“I had to sell all my broiler birds at half their prices during the lockdown because I could not continue to feed them after four months,” says Dayo Gawati, chief executive, Fdot Farms.

“Now, my poultry cage is empty and I can’t afford to buy enough day-old chicks because of the revenue loss I suffered earlier from the pandemic,” Gawati says.

He explains that he could only afford to buy 400 day-old chicks which are less than a third of what he had pre-COVID-19.

Farmers hinge their belief in food crisis next year on the obstruction of the country’s fragmented farming supply chain that has led to spike in input prices.

They say that the country is approaching the peak period of the rainy season – June through November— when flooding usually submerges and destroys crops.

“There will be a 10 or 12 percent reduction in farm produce this year, and if the coronavirus continues to spread to rural communities the reduction might get to 25percent,” Ayodeji Balogun, country manager, AFEX Commodities Exchange Limited, says.

“We need to declare a state of emergency on the cultivation of wet farming and ensure that there is free movement of trucks conveying food on the roads and ports,” Balogun says.

He calls on the government to adopt disruptive and innovative solutions to address the impact of the pandemic on the agricultural sector.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that the coronavirus pandemic will push an additional 130 million people to the brink of starvation.

The 500 crates of eggs being destroyed in the farm

High input cost, FX volatility complicate matters

The high cost of key inputs such as seeds, vaccines, and feeds across the country is frustrating farmers who are currently struggling to survive the difficult moment.

The prices of farm inputs are surging owing to foreign exchange (FX) volatility as most of the vaccines and drugs used in the country’s livestock industry are imported. Naira exchanged at N360 to a dollar at the parallel market before COVID-19 outbreak, but this has skyrocketed to N450 to a dollar as a result of dollar scarcity attributed to low oil prices and oil glut.

Nigeria depends on crude oil for over 70 percent of its FX needs and revenue, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

BusinessDay survey at some markets in Lagos shows that a 25kg bag of layers marsh now sells for N3,600 as against N3,200 sold prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, while broiler finisher marsh now sells for N4,200 as against N3,750 pre-COVID-19.

Even prices of day-old chicks have also surged by 10 percent amid the virus.

“Our production cost has increased since the virus outbreak owing to FX volatility. Dollar is  used in importing more than 70 percent of our inputs like vaccines, hormones and other additives like lysine and methionine among others,” Rotimi Oloye, national president, Catfish and Allied Fish Farmers Association of Nigeria (CAFFAN), explains.

He says farmers are finding it difficult at the moment and, if the situation persists without adequate support from the government, they can be forced to abandon their farms, leading to threats of food insecurity.

“It will potentially lead to loss of employment while people who have shown interest in investing in the farming may lose interest,” he warns.

The new stock of day old chicks

No alternatives for farmers 

Experts say if Nigeria had fully utilised the opportunities in value addition, the impact of the pandemic on the sector would have been limited.

Fresh eggs can be processed into powder and fresh fruits can also be processed and preserved for future uses, but this is not happening on a wide scale.

The country is the largest producer of eggs in Africa with 10.3 billion eggs produced annually, data from the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) show.

However, the nation is yet to fully take advantage of this situation by processing eggs into powdery forms.

The country is a major producer of fruits and vegetables but a large number of these go down the drain as wastages owing to limited processing factories and facilities.

“The country has been losing a lot of money due to our inability to process eggs into powder. It has really been a tough situation for poultry farmers,” says Kabiru Ibrahim, former president of the Poultry Association of Nigeria, in a telephone conversation with BusinessDay.

“We need to start processing eggs into powder and also fruits into concentrate to help address the issue of wastage in the country and also increase the shelf life of our highly perishable produce,” Ibrahim adds.

Raw eggs are said to last about four weeks, while powdered eggs can last up to a year.

This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its COVID-19 Reality Check project.

 

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