For many Nigerian farmers, the lockdown imposed by states and the federal government to curtail the spread of the coronavirus was no good news. Across the country, farmers lamented the impact of the lockdowns and counted their losses as restriction of movement ruined sales and affected supply chains.
Ayodokun Oluwafemi, a poultry farmer in Lagos desperate to clear accumulation of eggs, reduced prices from N850 a crate to N500, leading to huge losses.
He said the reduction in the sale of egg price had to be made in order to continue feeding the birds, though the farm is running at a loss.
But it was not all negative stories that shaped the season after all. For many, it was a welcome opportunity to return to the farm.
Itoro Emmanuel narrated his experience during the lockdown and how it turned out to benefit him.
“The lockdown has affected everybody but at the same time, since movements are restricted, it helped me to devote more time to my farm work, something that wouldn’t have been possible if there was no lockdown,” said Itoro Emmanuel who resides close to University of Uyo permanent site, works with a private construction company in Akwa Ibom State.
Small scale farmers like Mr Emmanuel, who farm mostly to feed their families and raise extra income, said lockdowns allowed them to give more attention to their farms, as they had more time and could easily trek to the farms.
“As you can see, so many people are in their farms, most of these farmers you are seeing here are residents of this environment, they only trek short distances to their farms,” he said.
Nigeria has so far recorded over 20,200 cases of coronavirus and about 518 deaths. The government introduced lockdown the first in March 30, 2020 at a time the numbers were comparatively low.
The lockdown crushed the economy as businesses closed. The government only allowed the movement of essential materials like food and medical supplies.
It later allowed the movement of agricultural resources like fertilisers.
As the coronavirus pandemic batters the Nigerian economy, cutting oil revenue and leading to job losses, experts have advised that a promising sector that can help revive the economy is agriculture.
They point to agriculture as one sector that can provide food and even small revenue to families.
“With the fallen prices of oil in the world market, I am very optimistic that the only option left for Nigeria is to diversify or go back to agriculture which had long been the mainstay of our economy before the oil boom as a way out of our economic woes and to boost our almost falling GDP,” Victor Ebong, an associate professor of agribusiness and economic development at the University of Uyo, said.
The 2020 World Food Report says 5.1 million people in Nigeria will face food shortage if the pandemic worsens in the coming months.
The report said the number of food-insecure people has increased in Nigeria by 1.1 million people since October – December 2019, predicting about 7.1 million more people to be in a worse situation by August 2020 if measures are not taken
While there have been calls for Nigerians to return to the farm, not many have heeded the call. Many young unemployed people are searching for largely non-existent blue-collar jobs.
Many said the period of the lockdown provided an opportunity to return to the farms.
People engaged themselves in backyard farming and even other big farmlands that are closer to their residences.
In Akwa Ibom State where this survey was made, a lot of people, men, women and children were seen trooping to their nearby farm every morning and evening to do their farming work, making them feel less impacted by the imposed lock-down by the government.
Nkoyo Ime Aaron, a farmer and a civil servant in the Akwa Ibom State Civil Service, who lives in Uyo, said Nigeria experienced a food boom in 2018 after “the government advised everybody to go into agriculture.”
“I have a strong belief that what happened in 2018 when we experienced a food boom following the enormous farm work that was done in the previous year will happen again in 2021,” she said. “The lockdown has created a lot of opportunities for people to do farm work this season, most of us that have farmlands close to the house are benefiting from the process.”
“As you can see, I have planted cassava, maize, vegetable, coco-yam and even okra here in this farmland and am checking on it every day, I don’t go to anywhere, look at my house there,” Mrs Aaron said.
Mrs Aaron, a mother of six with a husband who is a retired civil servant started her farming business with a plot of land.
She now plants cassava, maize, vegetable, cucumber, melon, garden egg and yam.
Mrs Aaron said she makes a profit of about N330,000 in each harvest session from the farms, pointing out that the business also serves the family in terms of food.
“Apart from selling the farm produce for profit, I also harvest my farm produce for home use, we don’t buy vegetables and some other commodities that I have in the farm,” she added.
Christiana Johnson, who owns a bridal shop at the popular Itam market, spoke of how she managed her own time during the lockdown. She made use of the period to invest her time in farming work.
”It’s better this lockdown occurred during this year’s planting period, as a law-abiding citizen, I will keep to the government order that says everybody should remain at home, so I am using this period to do some planting in my backyard garden.
“If there was no lockdown, working at this farm wouldn’t have been possible,” Miss Johnson added.
However, experts say diversification into other sectors like agriculture is encouraged, whereby the government and people go into farming. This will not only grow the country’s economy but also provide adequate food in every part of the country whereby excess of this farm produce can go into exportation.
According to Abraham Godson, the CEO of Pilgrim Ranch Nigeria and a former research supervisor at The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture-IITA, Ibadan, he said the current lockdown has shown “the prime importance of food and agriculture in our daily lives, therefore, being involved in agriculture is very strategic.”
“Being involved in agriculture is very strategic. Not only are you able to produce part or all the food we produce, we are sure of the quality and the safety of our food,” he said. “The current lock-down COVID-19 lockdown has shown the prime importance of food and agriculture in our daily lives, all of a sudden prices of foodstuffs increases at the markets.”
“Many countries from where we import many food items are also undergoing the pandemic crises and we can only guess that meeting their internal demand will be their priority,” he adds. “This is why I encourage everyone to begin to farm. Use your backyard to plant vegetables, fruits, arable crops, keep some animals; example chicken for meat and egg, rabbit and among others, don’t allow any land to lie fallow.”