In his first address on coronavirus, President Muhammadu Buhari, on March 29, ordered a total lockdown of Lagos, FCT and Ogun, and exempted food processing, distribution and retail companies.
This was to allow the continuous flow of the food chain, to avert a food crisis as predicted by the Food and Agricultural Organisation.
However, the reality was different for Lagos farmers who deal with daily production and sales.
Sirajudeen AbdulAzeez, a farm manager at a crop farm in Epe, narrated to PREMIUM TIMES how the coronavirus lockdown impacted on the production and sales of leafy vegetables, which is highly perishable.
“Vegetables that get harvested within 45 days now stay for 60 days or more on the farm adding to the production cost, and limited transport workers to move the goods from the farm to market has increased the demand for drivers thereby increasing the transport fare from farm to market,” he said, detailing the challenges.
Mr AbdulAzeez, who harvests from his farm twice a week, an average of 40kg weekly before the lockdown, now harvests 10kg in a week, as a method of ensuring minimal post harvest loss.
“The cost of production and transportation to the market is N250 per kg while during this lockdown, it is N400 per kg.
“By calculation, sales and profit made before the lockdown was N20,000 and N10,000 per week respectively, while during the lockdown the profit margin has been N1,000 with N5,000 sales per week,” he noted. He said the farm could not have gone for sales price increment because they considered the buyers who are also struggling to make ends meet during these hard times.
Babatunde Agunbiade, a farmer at the Lagos Farm Estate in Ikorodu said until the whole pandemic is over, he is not going back to his vegetable farm because of the loss he suffered during the lockdown.
“I lost half of my vegetable farm. They got dried up while still on the field as they have gone past the stage of harvesting. I cannot increase the price of my produce because we rarely have buyers coming for it due to the no-movement policy and even the few that come around complain of police harassment and low market.
“I reinvest both my profit and capital into the business to keep expanding. Right now, Even the capital is nowhere to be found talk less of the profit.”
Just as a crop farmer, poultry farmers, who are into egg production suffer the same fate as egg produced and stored under normal room temperature can only last for two weeks.
Ayodokun Oluwafemi, a poultry farm manager, took to Twitter to market his produce. While narrating his experience, he said transportation of eggs from his farm to anywhere within Lagos is less of a challenge to him but the reduction in the purchase of eggs has led to great loss on the farm.
“At this time, it is hard to get a crate of egg sold at N600, we have to peg our price to N500 and we still struggle to sell 30 crates of egg per day, while we sell an average 150 crates per day at N850 before the lockdown. We are experiencing egg loss,” he said.
Mr Oluwafemi, who manages a poultry of 6,400 birds and has to empty 32 bags of feed to make up 800kg required by the birds daily at a cost of N102,400, said reduction in the sale of egg price had to be made in order to continue feeding the birds though the farm is running at loss.
“Before lockdown, the farm makes a profit at a sum of N25,100 daily but the lockdown and decrease in price has made the daily farm income reduce drastically from N127,500 to N15,000 having a daily loss of N87,400,” he noted while explaining his reasons for exploring marketing his produce on Twitter.
A similar experience was shared by Daniel Obinna, who also manages a poultry farm at the farm estate in Ikorodu.
“I haven’t picked eggs from the tray in the last three days because I have no crates left to put them into,” he said, pointing towards the pen of birds with a large amount of eggs on the tray, in front of the birds.
“My Emergency funds have been used to buy feeds. Just last week, the rain destroyed my second pen and I was left with no option than to sell off all the birds affected because I have no money for reconstruction.
“I resulted to reducing the price of the egg so as to get it disposed and I can’t reduce the ration of feeds given to them, … it will later have effect on them on the long run.”
Abiodun Damilola said his loss has been coming from middlemen who come to buy catfish from his farm as they forced the price downward.
“The buyers who come to my farm have been using the coronavirus lockdown to force down the price of catfish from N800 to N500 but I went to the market recently and the prices have not been reduced.
“We had no choice than to do that because we can’t keep them longer than that if we do not want much loss as we either have to continue feeding for them not eat themselves or lose weight which is an additional production cost.”
These experiences during the lockdown ranging from unavailability of access to market, low purchase, unavailability to input, middlemen extortion and decrease in farmer’s income mirror the challenges of smallholder farmers in a country where smallholder farmers consist of 80 per cent of those producing food.
Sanusi Muhammad, an agro consultant, asked the government to heed to the call made by FAO on how to assist the smallholder farmers.
“I know a few credit facilities have been out from the government to assist farmers but that is not enough. What farmers need most at this moment is Input facilities to farmers and making sure Agro dealers are connected to the farmers for input and produce free is what can save the 2020 farming season.”