Boosting Nigeria’s agricultural activities, preventing hunger amid COVID-19 pandemic

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A News Analysis by Grace Yussuf, News Agency of Nigeria

Unarguably, COVID-19 pandemic has brought changes in virtually all human activities, including farming.

In Nigeria, such as in other developing and some developed countries, the effects of the pandemic are grievous, especially on agriculture and its value chains, threatening food security.

This development has, similarly, informed increased awareness among food producers (farmers) agro-business persons, governments and consumers, on how to make food sufficient to fight hunger.

In recent times, citizens have on many occasions, expressed concern about increasing scarcity of commodities and high cost of food items due to the inability of farmers to go to farms.

Also worrisome is a recent report of UNICEF that the pandemic can push between 82 million people and 132 million people to hunger in the world that analysts describe an emergency situation.

Although, the report says it may be too early to determine the full impact of lockdown as the pandemic is still raging, analysts note that public has got worst time of the pandemic.

For instance, they note, the latest report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says food index rose by 15.18 per cent in June 2020 compared to 15.04 per cent in May 2020, while general inflation increased by 12.56 per cent in May 2020 due to the pandemic.

NBS attributes the rise in food index to increase in prices of basic food items such as bread, cereals, potatoes, yam, and other tubers, fruits, oils, meats, fish and vegetables, among others.

Similarly, some agriculturists have expressed concern about the astronomical rise in prices of food items, making these basic foods out of the reach of the not just the poor even the middle class.

In the same vein, Prof. Job Nmadu, the National President, the Nigerian Association of Agricultural Economists (NAAE), calls the attention of the relevant groups in agriculture to the high cost food items across the country as a result of the pandemic.

Nmadu says the pandemic has disrupted some vital agricultural activities such as the 2019/ 2020 harvest, land preparations and planting for 2020 and 2021 season, leading to the high cost of goods.

He warns that unless something urgent is done by the government and relevant stakeholders to arrest the situation; it will lead to devastating conditions such as severe hunger and starvation.

According to him, some effects of the pandemic have started manifesting with prices of food items rising sharply making it more difficult for most Nigerians to afford food items that will provide balanced nutrition.

“In order to avoid widespread hunger and starvation in future, government must start working on strategies that will ensure that shortages are appropriately supplemented.

“In particular, post-harvest losses which are about 34 per cent of harvest must be prevented as much as possible,’’ he observes.

Reduced agricultural activities brought about by the pandemic notwithstanding, observers note that government has not been able to effectively address the issue of lack of storage of commodities.

According to them, this has resulted in huge loss in agricultural output due to the seasonal nature of agricultural activities in the country.

They observe that the Federal Government’s food security policy is being threatened with trepidation from industry watchers that think that achieving affordable food may after all be a mirage.

They cite recent survey of food prices in some markets in the Federal Capital Territory such as Dutse, Wuse, Utako and Garki that show that prices of foodstuffs have gone up by between 50 and 100 per cent during the period of the lockdown — March to July.

The survey showed that before the lockdown in March, a bag of 50 kilogramme of rice was sold for N17,500, but it now goes for N23,000, a medium measure of beans was N300, but it is now between N400 and N450 and a measure of maize was N180, now going for between N300 and N350.

Also, 100 tubers of yam were N35, 000, but now N75, 000, which has even been affected by the rainy season, while the price of 50 kilogramme of milk increased from between N25, 000 and N27, 000 to between N45, 000 and N47, 000.

Tomatoes price rose from N4,500 a basket to between N12,000 and N15,000, while a dustbin basket of tomatoes sold for N800 before, now goes for N3,000, while a big basket of pepper that was N4,000 before is now N10,000.

Some farmers have, nonetheless, attributed the rise in the prices of foodstuffs and commodities to transportation and other logistics activities during the period of the lockdown.

Many farmers say they find it difficult to transport their food, livestock and agriculture inputs to different parts of the country.

Concerned by the development, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Sambo Nanono, set up a joint technical task team on emergency response to COVID-19 pandemic to ensure unrestricted movement of agricultural products across the country.

“Numerous reports have been received by the ministry of agriculture on the problems faced by transporters of food, livestock and agriculture inputs in different parts of the country.

“Available information confirmed that the restrictions have resulted in food scarcity and impacted negatively on the nation’s agricultural production,’’ he said.

Nanono outlined some of the terms of reference for the team to include working with relevant agencies in states and local government areas to ensure unrestricted movement of agricultural products without compromising security.

The responsibility of the team is to ensure adequate information and to clarify that controlled movement of agricultural products is being disseminated by the media to food transporters and security personnel.

However, some agriculture experts say to address the perennial high cost of food and agricultural products, especially with the coronavirus pandemic, more people must be encouraged to go into farming, especially the youth.

According to them, government at all levels should put in place incentives to make farming attractive and high subsidies on machineries and equipment, including financial support in form of soft loans for farmer.

An agriculturalist, Mr Chijioke Egbo, advises the public to embrace farming to combat scarcity and high cost of food in the country.

Egbo, who is a retired palm oil seedlings desk officer, Enugu State Ministry of Agriculture, says the call for public to take up farming is to promote increased food production.

He says reduction in food production will bring about food insecurity and malnutrition among Nigerians, especially children.

“People can stop doing many things in this time of global pandemic but they cannot stop eating.

“If there is shortage of food in the land, malnutrition and starvation will definitely set in as well as diseases.

“To avert this outcome, we need efficiency and innovative technology to continue fueling large-scale sustainable agriculture,’’ he observes.

The agriculturist says reduction in food production, food insecurity and youth unemployment, might have characterised the economy.

He notes that the problems of unemployment and food insecurity have been associated with an increase in population without a corresponding increase in agricultural productivity and favourable policies.

Egbo, therefore, calls on every citizen to engage in farming activities, no matter the size of the lands as it would help to have food in abundance come next harvesting season.

However, the call on everyone to engage in farming to ensure food security will require the support of government at all levels to make the environment conducive for farming, critics suggest.

They note further that accessing credit facilities is the most important of all the support as this will make a budding farmer to stand.

But optimists insist that the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) by the Central Bank of Nigeria is aimed at providing such facilities by creating linkage companies involved in processing and Small Holder Farmers (SHFs) for required key agricultural inputs.

They explain that the thrust of the programme is inputs in kinds and cash for farm labour to SHFs to boost production of cotton, rice, maize, wheat, cassava, potato, yam, ginger, sugarcane, soybean, cowpea, tomato, and livestocks such as fish, poultry and ruminants, among others.

They also advise that the programme should be made to reach the very small farmers in all the states without discriminations and that the support must be sustained over the years to make food sufficient.(NANFeatures)

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