Farming season in Nigeria will progress slower than usual this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic and the attendant lockdown in states, farmers have said.
The farmers, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES, said food security would be threatened this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 is a deadly respiratory ailment caused by a coronavirus. Nigeria has about 400 confirmed cases, as of Wednesday.
A Benue-based rice farmer, Donald Akule, told this newspaper that as the rains are approaching, farmers are making sceptical preparations to hit the farms.
“The rains are never a waste. Farmers are finding this information (Coronavirus) very confusing to comprehend,” he said.
He said preparations for the farming season may be very slow because most of the farming inputs (seeds) come from rural areas and if the rural areas are shut, then there would be a short flow of farming input, and those that arrive would not come as at when due and mechanisation will be shut down.
“Many farmers are in the hard-to-reach areas where little or no information about the pandemic have gotten to them. Hopefully, they will go to the farm.
“This is a very serious situation, now that the shutdown is (almost in) every state of the federation. The fear is where there is food insecurity, people will die more than another pandemic or virus,” he said.
“Even in wars, anything that will threaten the supply of food by smallholder farmers is very bad.”
“We keep telling farmers to observe anything that is being said by the World Health Organization but make sure you provide food. Go to the farm.”
Mr Akule said financial institutions, whose duties are to provide funds to farmers are partially not available and as such, goods will be in short supply.
Another farmer who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES, Ahmed Abdullahi, said the lockdown is likely to hurt farmers who are yet to purchase their farming inputs.
“It may be or may not be a difficult season for those that made their season preparations earlier. For those that will procure their inputs during this shutdown, it will be very difficult.”
Mr Abdullahi, a maize farmer, said the farm inputs would also be more expensive to acquire than they normally would have.
The President, Maize Growers Association, Edwin Uche, does not think differently from his colleagues on the matter. He said the pandemic will slow the season down, in terms of getting the right inputs across to farmers.
He said farmers in rural areas are ready to go ahead once they can source materials from anywhere available, to go to the farms, because their livelihood depends on farming.
“The pandemic will slow it (farming) down because there is no movement of inputs from one end to the other. It will be difficult for them to access inputs from the urban cities when there is restriction in movements and vehicles,” he said.
Mr Uche, a maize farmer, said the fear amongst farmers is the restriction of movement, “because if we can not produce food, how do we survive in trying times like this? If the situation continues, we might run into food crisis,” he said.
He said passing information to the rural area means communication at the language they can understand.
“So I can tell you in all honesty as a Nigerian that this practice is not fully observed at the rural areas. There is little or no information at the bottom of the pyramid (rural area). They are aware that there is a virus but that is not stopping them from going to their farms.”
Patronising local variety
Mr Abdullahi said a variety of local seeds would be available but may cost more due to the lockdown, while farmers who use improved varieties may change their decision on seeds.
“On purchase of inputs, especially seeds, our local varieties will be available but at a higher price than normal. For those who use improved and imported varieties, it will be more expensive, looking at the logistics and middlemen. The retailers may also skyrocket the prices,” he said.
Mr Akule, highlighting slow growth in the agricultural sector, said all efforts to improve the sector have almost failed as farmers rely on low-quality seeds which usually produce a poor harvest.
“There is an issue of using good seeds. They lack knowledge of seeds. Many farmers do not use first-generation seeds that is why farmers have very poor yield,” he said.
The rains will be fully utilised
Both farmers agreed that the rains will not be a waste. They said even unprepared farmers can still cultivate, despite the pandemic.
“Some places in Benue have started going to the farms to cultivate yam because the rains have visited, Mr Akule said.
“The rain has never been wasted and will not be, for any farmer who prepares,” Mr Abdullahi added.
Despite the fact that there is a gap in communication, Mr Uche said the association is making efforts to communicate with farmers in rural areas. He said the pressure of going to the farm is on the rise as the rains have begun to wet the ground.
Food Security Mitigation
“The government should look into ways of mitigating issues of food insecurity,” Mr Akule said.
He said since the coronavirus is a global issue and the health system is weak, farmers are also exposed to poor health systems and this, in itself, is a threat to food security.
“When the health sector is weak, and farmers do not have access to good health systems, they will not be able to work well,” he said
Mr Abdullahi said the Nigerian government is not really prepared to fight the food insecurity in this trying time.
He highlighted the period before the coronavirus and the failed policies that had been in place.
“The government policy and subsidy sometimes don’t reach the targeted farmers. Sometimes, even if they access the inputs, most of them do not utilise it as it should be,” he said, due to lack of knowledge.
Mr Uche made an appeal to the government to deploy food to people at the rural areas and get inputs across to farmers in this period.
He said since everyone is to observe social distancing, farmers should be enlightened on how to practice social distancing on their farms.
“Yes, the farmers need to observe the normal distancing policy of managing the virus. Farmers must observe the right hygiene and the use of disinfectants and the rest of them but at the same time the farmer needs to have food,” he said.
“The government must support the farmers by providing the right inputs and also take advantage of that to be able to educate them on what to do to be able to mitigate the spread of the virus at the rural areas,” he added.
“Food is key and the government cannot play (with) food at this point in time.”
Not all gloomy
The farming situation is, however, not all gloomy.
There are indications that farming activities will resume soon in the country as President Mohammadu Buhari has directed that the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the National Security Adviser, the vice Chairman, National Food Security Council and the Chairman, Presidential Fertilizer Initiative work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to ensure that the pandemic is minimised on 2020 farming season.
This was disclosed during the Presidential address, by Muhammadu Buhari, last Monday.
The Presidential directive is to see that food production in the country is not compromised, as preparation begins for the 2020 farming season, thereby enjoying key stakeholders to come together to ensure that the country is food secured while solutions are proffer to curb the virus.
“I am also directing the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the National Security Adviser, the Vice-Chairman, National Food Security Council and the Chairman Presidential Fertilizer Initiative to work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to ensure the impact of this pandemic on our 2020 farming season is minimized,” he said.
Some stakeholders in the sector applauded President directives, saying it was the right thing to do in such hard times, for food production to continue despite the ongoing lockdown.
A farmer, Nicholas Karl, who is specialised in aquaculture and poultry farming in Nasarawa, told PREMIUM TIMES that it was the right step to take as there will be more demand for food, which calls for farmers to return to the farm, especially meeting up with the coming farming season.
Mr Karl added that allowing the 2020 farming season to go without planting will plunge Nigeria into more crises as people are already seen storming the street in some parts of the country due to hunger.
He stressed that the hunger crisis is worse than the current pandemic as many people will overlook the current situation to look for food.
Mr Karl urged that the government gives proper support to ensure that farmers return to their farms fast enough to save the situation at hand.