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Special Report: Tales of gloom as Nigerian farmers deal with the hard realities of Covid-19

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By Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi

In Anambra State, in South-Eastern Nigeria, the yearly farming season started with early planting between October and December while the late planting season commences around February to April. By the time Nigeria was affected by the COVID 19 pandemic,  the farmers in Anambra State were already at the peak of their farming season, most of the farmers that produce Okro, Vegetables, pepper amongst others have already planted.

Asikaralu Eucharia OKAFOR has spent 30 years in farming, she has been farming since the age of 8. Her farm is located at Okpunika, Mmiata-Anam, Anambra West Local Government Area while she lives in Abuja. She told the reporter that the coronavirus lockdown took farmers in Anambra State by surprise as farmers produce were all due to be harvested. She said most farmers in Anambra usually takes the farm produce either to Onitsha Market, Ekeilla or Canoe point market in Asaba, the Delta State capital to sell but a majority of the small scale farmers could not afford the price of transporting their produce,  and they suffer a loss before and during the lockdown due to the increase in transportation.

“Transportation was doubled the initial price. I pay N100 for a basket of garden-egg which also depends on the vehicle. The transportation for N200 is now N300, and sometimes N400 depending on the vehicle and it is usually charged per basket. Imagine the cost of transportation and when you get to the market, you will now add it on the goods against your initial cost price” this Eucharia identified as the cause of the increase in food prices during the lockdown in Nigeria. 

Before COVID-19 in Anambra State, Eucharia At Afor-Otupu market, Mmiata-Anam about to convey paddy rice to Nzam for milling. Photo Credit: Eucharia Okafor

For the likes of Eucharia Okofar who are into rice and yam production, they were fortunate to have the rain come on time.  By the second week of February, Anambra is said to have started experiencing rain, but Eucharia said farmers need to buy the seedlings in the neighbouring states, like from the Egbuzor in Delta areas for the yam seedlings, and there was no interstate movement. She added; “To see seeds to buy and other Agro growing seed is also a problem like an insecticide to clear our farm and do windows and put emergence, we could not buy them because most Agro input companies or dealers were on lockdown.  This led to most of the farmers in Anambra State not farming early enough and it is now that most of the yam farmers have started farming”, this means there will not be enough yam production to sell except for few persons who were able to farm before COVID-19 lockdown.

Due to the social distancing rules, youths who gather at the community market arena to help with farm work and get paid are no longer seen. Eucharia said Labourers from the neighbouring community like Abakaliki who migrate to Anambra to do labour could not due to the ban of interstate movement.  For Eucharia who lives in Abuja but has farmland in Anambra, she could not move to oversee her farm produce due to the ban of interstate travel and this has made her lost some of her crops.

Eucharia was hoping to process her last year’s rice harvest in a cottage mill but with the absence of cottage mill in her community, she will have to take her rice to a neighbouring community like the Nzam and Otoucha for milling. She said; “I calculated the cost of moving from Abuja to Anambra and mill, so I decided to keep the rice till the end of the coronavirus lockdown but hunger came and I was forced to start milling gradually to feed my family, others got spoilt, I didn’t sell any as markets were shutdown”.

Eucharia is worried over the unavailability of storage mechanism for her produce amid the pandemic as she would not like to sell amid the pandemic lockdown.

Benard Nnechiresides in Omor, 25minutes drive to his farm at Omasi in Anambra State. He told the reporter that he has no crops on his farm anymore due to the unavailability of fertilizer, pesticide/insecticide to enable the crops to grow. He said when COVID-19 came, the corns were ripe and due to be harvested but he could not harvest the corn, and they all got spoilt including his Okro which is cultivated in one hectare of land.

Benard told the reporter that his customers who come from the neighbouring states stopped coming, and the loan which farmers received from non-governmental organizations have also stopped, this he identified as a major issue. He said the “loan is given through input to farmers. It is subsidized, when they give you an input worth N10,000, you will pay N5,000”.

Andrew Egbelu in his palm fruit farm

In the oil-rich Niger Delta state, Rivers, Andrew Egbelu lost over 500 fresh bunches of palm fruits in the first week of July. Andrew whose farm is located on the East-West Road of Ahoada West,  45 minutes drive from his resident in Ubeta Community could not harvest the ripe palm fruits due to lack of finance to pay for harvesting and production.

He narrated with a faint voice; “Since there was a ban on interstate travel, and the demand was low, I could not afford to employ workers to harvest the ripe palm fruits. The rotten 500 fresh bunches of palm fruit if produced and sold out will be up or more than N500, 000”, Andrew lamented. 

Monday Ezebunwo, a senior citizen,  decided to go into fish farming 3 years after retirement was also hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Monday who resides in Ubeta, in Ahoada West Local Government Area of Rivers State said during the lockdown in the two Local Government Area of Rivers State, Obio/Akpor and Port Harcourt city affected the purchase of feeds for his fishes. He told the reporter that lack of feeds for his fishes resulted to the death of his fingerlings. He said; “I lost over 50 fingerlings due to lack of purchase of feeds. I usually blend pawpaw during the lockdown but that seems not to be okay for them and I woke up and found out that they are dead.”

Monday Ezebunwo fish farm is 20 minutes walk from his resident in Ahoada West. He sells wholesale and retail before the coronavirus, and has lots of customers but the emergence of coronavirus pandemic and the imposition of lockdown has stopped most of his customers from purchasing fish. He told the reporter that only a few customers still make demand while some days none will patronize his business. 

Gladys Nathaniel is a farmer in Ubeta village in Ahoada West in Rivers State. She uses the sales from her farm produce to train and feed her 6 children. She told the reporter that the emergence of COVID-19 removed food from her family’s mouth due to the lockdown of markets. Gladys, a smallholder farm, produces waterleaf, pumpkin leaves, process her cassava into cassava flour(garri) yet no one to buy. She walks 35 minutes to her farm to harvest the crops. She said bringing the crops from the farm and not seeing buyers is a big challenge as everyone in the village has the same farm produce looking for buyers. Gladys sometimes goes against the government directives by taking her goods to the markets despite the shutdown of markets in the state.  Each time she takes her produce to the market, she and other traders are chased, and goods destroyed by the taskforce. 

“Recently, I left my 12 basins of garri, pumpkin, and waterleaf in the Mbiama and Ahoada market because taskforce was chasing us. I carried my farm produce to Mbiama market, no way to sell and also at Ahoada market the same, taskforce chased us, is a big problem for us”, Gladys cried and appealed to the Rivers State government to assist farmers by opening the markets in the state

Similarly, Idara Udoh who deals on the vegetable garden has been farming for over 30 years. she lives in Shelter Afric Estate, while her farmland is located at Nunug awte, .more than 15kilometre away from her farm in Akwa-Ibom, in southern Nigeria.  

Idara said during the coronavirus lockdown, her major problem was access to the market and labourers. During the announcement of lockdown, Idara 3 staff left to their villages in northern Nigeria, she was forced to hire labourers to work at her farmland which according to her, it costs more than what she pays her 3 staff monthly.

Her words, “I pay my 3 staff who left during the announcement of lockdown between N10,000 to N15,000 and this amount is different from ridging beds. Whenever there is bed ridging, I invite other labourers to come to help my staff, and they are paid based on the work.  Due to the coronavirus lockdown, the land to work on is minimal. Per ridge bed, I pay labourers N1,000, and recently, they started complaining and requesting for an increase. I pay for labourers to put manure, bed ridge and transfer. To sum up all the payment during the lockdown, it is more than what I pay my staff”.

During the coronavirus lockdown, Idara has already harvested her pepper and pumpkin leaves but the shut down of markets in Akwa-Ibom State made her lose what she would have made profit after-sales.

Idara told the reporter that since the shutdown of markets, she has no option than to give away some of the pepper, dry some to be chilli pepper and consume some, and sold few in a cheaper rate to prevent the pepper from getting spoilt at home, and large quantity got spoilt.

For the bundle of pumpkin leaves, many got spoilt. On a normal day, event planners buy Idara pumpkin leaves on a large quantity but the emergence of coronavirus has stopped events as her customers no longer buy pumpkin leaves,  only few she said bought for consumption. Idara issue is beyond taking her goods to the markets;  also the purchase of planting input/seeds is also a problem. Agro companies who distribute planting the seeds to farmers across the country are also affected by the coronavirus lockdown.

It’s difficult for her also to buy seed. She buys from Ibadan, Western Nigeria, right now due to lockdown, they have not been able to send seedling down to Akwa-Ibom.

Edna Akpan in her in Akwa-Ibom State, Photo Credit: Edna Akpan

Edna Akpan is into crop farming and has farmlands in multiple locations in Akwa-Ibom State, southern Nigeria. She has been farming for over 30years now. She is particularly into cassava farming and has incorporated corn, vegetables and some non-indigenous vegetables like cucumber, tomatoes, carrot, pepper, and others.

 Like other farmers, Edna challenge during the coronavirus lockdown is the purchase of crop component for her various farmlands. Unlike other farmers, Edna challenge is not about accessing the markets,  she told the reporter that she has all the linkages but access to her farms in Calabar, a neighbouring state with I35Kilometres To Akwa-Ibom is a big problem due to the lockdown. Edna Akpan is also a consultant and she is into everything like linkages yet she does not have a government permit to move outside her hometown, Akwa-Ibom due to the ban of interstate travel which makes it difficult to get improve varieties of crop component for her farms.  

The increase in labour price by labourers to work at farms seems to affect every farmer in Nigeria.  Like the previous farmers the reporters spoke with, before the coronavirus lockdown, Edna pays N500 daily but now she said she pays N2500 and it depends on the labourers.

” Flowering, hallowing and ridging cost N15,000, now I pay almost N35,000″, she said, adding that “labourers in the city are much expensive than those in the rural areas where my farmlands are located”.


Believe Obafaiye is the founder and director for Young Women in Farming –YOWIF, in Kogi State in the middle belt of Nigeria. She told the reporter that the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic has exposed small scale farmers to be more vulnerable.

She noted, “our latest findings from the community intervention activities amid the pandemic reveals that vulnerable households particularly women-headed households who earn income daily can no longer afford to feed their families”.

Believe also observed decline in farming activities, and the increased cost of basic Agricultural farm inputs such as improved seedlings, fertilizer and Agro-allied chemicals.

Another small scale farmer who is fondly called Papa, said the emergence of coronavirus pandemic has shifted government attention from providing subventions for small scale farmers in a bid in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic across the country.

Patrick Okezie Poultry in Imo State. Photo Credit: Patrick Okezie

Meanwhile, in Imo State,  Patrick Okezie, is into poultry farming for 11 years. He farms turkey, hen, and has over 3,000 birds in his poultry. Okezie who lives in Okpofe community in Ezinitte Mbaise Local Government Area with his aged father who taught him poultry farming has finally taken over from his aged father to manage the poultry farm. Unlike other farmers who could not take their produce to the market, Okezie takes his birds to the market whenever he wishes as there was no shutdown of markets. But one thing is similar with other farmers experience; “during the ban of interstate travel, my customers outside Imo state could not come for birds, it was only customers from Imo State that bought the birds”

Okezie told the reporter that the fowl feeds were increased against the usual purchase amount, adding that; “before the coronavirus pandemic, I buy N3600 per 25Kg of feeds, and I usually buy four bags each day for the over 3,000 birds, but now, I pay N4,000 for per 25kg, and it is expensive” Okezie said, which was the reason he increases the price of per chicken from N600 to N800.

Has Government Intervention amid the pandemic help farmers

Despite the launch of several interventions by government, which include the approval of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to disburse about N75billion as a loan to farmers in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) under the Nigerian Incentive-Based Risk Sharing in Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), most farmers in Nigeria have continued to cry of not receiving the loan. While some are of the opinion that the requirements in tedious others cry of not knowing the proper guidelines to access the loan.

Although Nigeria is making efforts to diversify her economy, the Agricultural sector is still underfunded. Budget analysis by Dataphyte reveals that within 5 years, Nigeria Agricultural budget was N592.9 Billion, a fraction of the total budget for the period despite efforts by the Federal Government to find alternatives to oil.

Nigeria in 2019 reduced its budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector by 47 per cent from N203 billion in 2018 to N107billion in 2019 despite the government claim that it is working towards attaining food security, data from the report shows.

Earlier, the Federal Government of Nigeria facilitated a 1.2billion dollars loan from the Brazillian government for the mechanizations of agriculture across the 632 out of 774 Local Government Area of Rivers State.

All the farmers the reporter spoke with accused the government of neglecting farmers despite the various intervention by government to assist farmer such as the CBN loan. Many farmers said they are yet to receive the loan, adding that information about the loan is poorly communicated and those who had the information and have made themselves available are not given the loan in spite of the effort made.

Andrew Egbelu, a farmer and chairman of Oil palm growers Association of Nigeria said all efforts made by his association to get the CBN loan has been abortive.

Also, Monday Ezebunwo who reside and farm in Ubeta in Ahoada West of Rivers State said he has made several efforts to get the farming loan he heard about but to no avail. He said; “Recently, I was in Port Harcourt to get the farming loan from the Rivers State Ministry of Agriculture but they kept on postponing the day the form will be given till I got tired and stopped going for the form”.

Similarly, Acquila Kalagbor, a farmer in Port Harcourt said several efforts to get government support even before the coronavirus has been abortive, adding that most of the information and assistance to farmers is majorly taking to the northern farmers.  Eucharia and Benard in Anambra also said they have not received any loan from government.

Chart Showing Drop in Food Consumption During COVID-19 Lockdown, see full food charts

                      

How Farmers problems affects consumers 

The shutdown of markets was not only affected by farmers. Food prices went beyond the usual prices, many consumers changed their pattern of purchasing food.

Although markets in Rivers State are yet to be opened since after the state government shutdown major markets in the state since after Easter celebration, traders like Precious Okojo who sell the agro product in their shops still manage to travel during the ban of interstate travel to other states through the bush part to buy the agro product.

 Precious Okojo, is a widow who trades on Agro products. She has a small shop in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State but travels to Bayelsa State weekly to purchase some goods such as garri( cassava flour), fishes, egusi, vegetables, palm fruits among others.

She told the reporter that during the lockdown, she took the bus part to travel to Bayelsa State, a neighbouring state to buy the agro product for sell to enable her feed her four children including her late sisters 2children.

“During the lockdown, things are so high, commercial drivers are paying on the road, traders are asked to pay ” matching ground” depends on the size of the goods. I buy garri 4500, it is not stable and I  won’t buy and sell same amount”, she said

During the lockdown, it was difficult for my family to feed, a basin of garri for N3,000 was sold for N6,500 and  2kg rubber we usually bought N700 was sold for N1500″, said a customer who had come to buy some agro produce from Precious.

I couldn’t see where to buy garri(casava flour), I have to go to their villages in Ikwere to buy from the farmers who fries the garri, it was expensive. That is why during the lockdown, I sold garri basin for N7500, said Mama Ijeoma, a shop owner that deals on Agro produce.

HOW ITS HAS AFFECTED NIGERIAN ECONOMY 

The impact of coronavirus pandemic has not only affected farmers but has also rendered many jobless. Report by Action Aid Nigeria in a Press Release obtained by the reporter has it that agriculture employs up to 80% of the population, especially in the informal sector, where the majority of the small scale food producers are women farmers.

The impact of coronavirus has badly affected the economy, it has caused an economic meltdown in the country. Nigeria billionaires are reported to have lost billions amid the pandemic, this will, in turn, affect Nigeria internally generated revenue. Many farmers who are supposed to pay their tax will find it difficult to pay, only few will be able to pay their returns but not as it is supposed to be.

For Monday Ezebunwo who pays his yearly tax said it will be difficult to pay this year as he is unable to make a profit from his fishes. While the likes of Eucharia who pays revenue daily at the market will no longer pay as markets are shutdown and sales have reduced. She said her daily revenue pay to tax collectors at the market is sometimes N500, or N200, depending on the quantity of her farm produce, and this means the government will lose its revenue from traders in Nigeria amid the lockdown.

Just as farmers are losing, the government is also losing money, said Associate Professor of economics, Amadi Nyekachi.

Amadi Nyekachi, a lecturer at the Ignitius Ajuru University of Education said there is an economic impact when farmers who pay taxes and revenue cannot sell their produce. 

“GDP will certainly be low being that farmers take their produce to farm and pay daily tax while some pays yearly. Why will the government not lose money when the economy is no longer functioning the way its suppose to function. And you know Nigerian is trying to come out from recession before the COVID-19 came that has caused economy meltdown globally. And, you know Nigeria economy is not doing well, that is why they continue borrowing money”, Amadi said

Solution

There are other ways farmers preserve their fresh produce, it can be process and dry, like the dry pineapple, said Azubike Nwokoye, Food and Agriculture Programme Coordinator of ActionAid Nigeria.

Azubike Nwokoye said to save farmers produce from getting spoilt, the government need to do a lot in terms of providing those utmost technologies that can be used in terms of production, processing and storage, adding that government can provide a small cooling system in the communities to preserve farmers fresh produce.

His words; “We are supposed to have silo and storage stores across the country to support farmers. It was the silo during the pandemic they brought out how many metrics tons of grains they sent to states and we could hear from the news that they produce were spoilt, which means Nigerians need to work on the food reserve strategy. Taking into account market information system, guarantee a minimum price to support farmers and other additional support including extension services”. 

The Food and Agricultural expert told the reporter that Extension services in Nigeria are highly underfunded, which he says in some states instead of having one extension officer to one thousand farmers, “It is one thousand to four thousand farmers”.

He said the ratio of extension officers to farmers is not encouraging, adding that Nigeria needs to do recruiting and training of extension officers. Nwokoye said there is a need to provide mobility like motorcycle, vehicles to support the extension officers to visit farmers in their farms and support them on extension services.

Further speaking, Nwokoye said there is a large disconnect between extension services and outcome of research and development, the outcome of improving technology, improve seeds, improve varieties that have been researched on by the research institutes.

Azubike Nwokoye also stated that the government should make the Farmers loan accessible to reach the smallholder farmers who cannot apply online.

He however advised smallholder farmers who are yet to join groups to do so, which he says will help farmers in engaging the government on their needs.

How COVID-19 is affecting other African farmers

The effect of coronavirus pandemic on farmers is not only applicable to Nigerian farmers as other African countries like Niger, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, as well as Burkina Faso among others, have a similar experience of what Nigerian farmers are facing amid the coronavirus lockdown.

In Mali, CEO of Faso Kaba, Seed Company, Coulibaly Maimouna Sidibe, said the emergence of COVID-19 has slowed down farming activities and reduced revenues enormously this year. Coulibaly said with no flights, farmers in Mali have missed many orders of inputs, including seeds, sprayers, pesticides among others that farmers import from overseas and due to restrictions in transport, it is also difficult to go into the field to buy inputs.

Same horrible and unexpected experience applies to Niger farmers. The General Manager of  Ainoma Seed Farm, Nasser Aichatou Salifou, narrated the ordeal of farmers in Niger; “As for the pandemic, we are feeling the effects on the marketing of our produce and this could have an impact on our turnover. We have put some kits at our administration office and our production site. However, our financial means do not allow us to reach producers or distributors with the kits. Although right now, the marketing of food products is not too impacted by the pandemic, our worry is that the isolation of the city of Niamey prevents us from setting up inputs shops at our points of sales”.

While in Ghana, El Hadj Abdul Razak who happens to be the Director General of Heritage Seeds Company said, they cannot go to the market to sell the seeds and it is difficult to reach farmers. Also, because of social distancing, it is difficult to engage many workers for weeding and/or applying fertilizer, adding that; ” If this continues, we may have to decrease our acreage in production”. Razak said Planning for the future is very difficult because the company don’t know what will happen in the next moment, stressing that clients have been coming from Accra city in the previous years but not this time because of the lockdown in Accra

El Hadj Ibrahima Diouf, President of the GIE-Jambar (Groupe d’Interet Economique), Meouane, Senegal, The GIE usually receives pre-basic seeds of millet and peanuts from ISRA (Senegalese research institution). Due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Senegal in early March, they are yet received the seeds adding that, the seeds produced last year still need to be certified, packaged and distributed to farmers. Ibrahima said all the processes have been stopped due to the pandemic, while the rainy season is about to start.

Similarly in Bukina Faso, Roger Kabore of Minim Sông Pânga Association said the closings of markets, borders and gold panning sites have cut off the sources of income of some producers. Rogers said farmers in Burkina Faso are concerned that insufficient and high cost of imported agricultural inputs may affect production. Therefore, the association has put a lot efforts on producing and using local inputs (compost, seeds, and phytosanitary products). “This pandemic is a real threat but there are opportunities to be seized for the future by building a strong local economy network and safety nets for the benefit of producers”, said Roger.


This report is in collaboration with PagedInitiative as part of the Reporting of the Gender for Inclusive Reporting project in Partnership with Free Press Unlimited. 

Note: Reports on the impact of COVID-19 on other African farmers was culled from reliefweb.

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