Like other commodity farmers suffering from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, vegetable farmers have continued to count their losses due to low patronage.
The Guardian learnt that due to the perishable nature of the produce, huge losses are recorded daily as vegetables are often sold at give-away prices at farm gates and market places to avoid outright losses.
At the popular Egbeda Market, Arigbajo, Ogun State, a sizeable bunch of vegetable, which often sells for N150 or N200 was sold for as low as N20. For a bunch of jute leaves usually sold for N100, three bunches are currently sold for N50.
It was the same scenario for waterleaf. A medium-sized basket, which is usually sold for between N350 to N400, currently sells for N100 to N120. It was observed that while some sold theirs at that ridiculous prices, others were not lucky as the produce were either given out to food vendors or left to rot at the market stalls.
Similar story obtained at Itori, Wasinmi, Ifo, Ijako and other neighbouring markets, which customer-base lies in Lagos State. The general complaint was the absence of middlemen who usually buy from the farmers in bulk.
Investigation showed that the dearth of patronage is not unconnected with the interstate travelling restriction, though lifted, and hike in transportation fare by almost 100 per cent.
This, it was gathered has limited the movement of the middlemen and traders from Lagos, basically due to high transportation cost affecting their profit margins. It was learnt that those who still travel to marketplaces, as a matter of necessity, have been forced to shift to more profitable produce for now.
The Guardian learnt that though interstate-travelling restrictions might have been lifted, high cost of transportation is another major impediment responsible for the development.
One of the affected farmers, Mr. Kazeem Adediran, who confirmed the development to The Guardian at his Coker Farm, Ifo, Ogun State, said they were recording huge losses as patronage for vegetables had nosedived.
He said: “The major problem is that we don’t have ready-made market for vegetables. Immediately it is harvested, it begins to diminish and there is no magic to return it to the farm. The best thing is to dispose because we don’t have any means of preserving it.
“Our hope of making some money from vegetable to cover-up debts incurred during the lockdown has been dashed. Imagine a sizeable bunch of vegetable initially sold for N200 is sold below N50 now. I must confess to you that we are currently selling the produce at any rate, just to avoid outright losses.”
Adediran said the buyers attributed their absence to sorry state of Lagos-Abeokuta road and high cost of transportation caused by the government’s guidelines on social distancing in transit.
John Odey, another farmer in Arigbajo, disclosed that due to the incessant downpour, vegetables mature at the same period and when taken to the marketplaces, “I cannot believe that I will be forced to sell at such ridiculous rate. Keeping the leftover at the farm would have been the best option, but the leaves started changing colour and I decided to harvest and give out to friends. It’s sad because I didn’t get the money used to cultivate the land, not to talk of making profit.”
A vegetable dealer, Mrs Oriola Alao, said the majority of them are currently into the sale of other agro produce, especially corn, which they believe can get them more profit, in spite of the high transportation cost.
“Transportation to Ifo from Iyana-Ipaja before the COVID-19 issue was just N300. Now, we are paying as much as N700 and when coming back with the load, I can pay as much as N2, 500 to N3, 000.”
The first time I did that, after selling the stock, I recorded huge losses. The second time when I decided to increase the price to make much gain, there was no patronage and the vegetables started rotting, which I eventually threw away. For now, I have shifted my attention to the sale of corn. It doesn’t perish quickly like vegetables and I can make good profit from it.”