At the just concluded African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Kigali, Rwanda, the Managing Director, Rockefeller Foundation, Mr William Asiko, said the closure of markets during the lockdowns occasioned by COVID -19 pandemic showed the fragility and lack of resilience of African urban cities in terms of the food chain.
Asiko said Africa has real work to do to build food resilience as the COVID pandemic also exposed the fragility of the continent’s transportation.
“The challenge of maintaining social distancing in open-air markets left the government with no option but to shut them down. But that was also not tenable and we now must work to create modern market facilities,”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the importance of strengthening local agricultural production. We have enough resources in the continent to sustain all our food needs.”
Mr William Asiko submission can not be far from the truth as the experiences of Nigerian farmers during the period of the lockdown have shown the need of strengthening local agricultural production.
Farmers across the country are lamenting the losses they incurred and still incurring as a result of the lockdown coped with the issue of drought and other climate change related issues.
Mr. Moroof Popoola , a cat fish farmer and the secretary of OGUNCIMA, in an interview, said the delay in the rainfall was the first of several issues faced by farmers in Ogun state.
He stated that “we could not start land preparation in some parts of the state till about April this year”. The pandemic issue and the lockdown compounded the issue of not only farm inputs distribution but also taking the harvested produce to the market. The August break which is the annual rain stop of rain for 2 – 3 weeks started in July and ended in September thereby destroying cultivated crops nearing harvest.
In his words, “we are just looking forward to a different 2021 as the rainfall goes to an end”.
Afolabi Oluwaseyi, a young fish farmer, at Odogunyan Fish estate, said “before COVID we sell our fish for N750 per kilo and we used to have many customers coming in to buy, but the pandemic came with the lockdown that made it difficult for customers to move around.
“Our customers had issues as they found it difficult moving around as security operatives used to harass them.
“But we had fishes to sell, the market then became the buyers’ market as they dictated what they will pay and they started paying usN650 per kilo. We had no choice but to sell.
Another fish farmer, 20-year-old- Olateru Oluwatosin, confirmed that it was the buyers ‘market during the lockdown “as at last year, we were selling our fish for N800 per kilo, but the pandemic affected many of us that have fishes planed for sales in February and March, but with the lockdown and restriction, the fishmongers could not come out and we were all stranded to the extent that the fishes we ought to have sold in March were delayed to May.
As at that time, the fish were already grown to a full-blown size and the feed we should have used to feed other sets of fishes were still being used to feed the old stock.
“It was a lamentation time for we the fish farmers that the buyers started dictating what they will pay.
The story is the same in the Poultry sector, as farmers explained that the sector had a really tough year.
They noted that the loss of poultry farmers is huge. From the hatchery down to broilers and layers production the story is the same. Processed chicken worth millions of naira wasted away because of the lockdown in the hospitality industry which are the major consumer of Poultry products.
Emmanuel Olakunle, a poultry farmer at Odogunyan farm settlement, a suburb of Lagos, while not praying for another total lockdown, said commuting from his home to the farm between March and May, when the first lockdown was in place, was a challenge, “it was quite tough then as coming to the farm from our houses was a challenge.
This was the same experience of Obey Azeez, another poultry farmer, who said “the restriction that came with the COVID-19 in March was traumatic for us as farmers here as customers could not come down to patronise us and the birds lay eggs on daily basis.
As the traders could not access the farms, the farmers started having issues with disposing of their produce, eggs and birds.
Emmanuel Olakunle, “During that period, we were not able to sell our products and most of us threw our products away and gave some out. It was quite a challenge as we had to keep on buying food but not selling.
Olakunle’s frustration was shared by Mrs Oluwakemi Ayonuga, who said “during the total lockdown in March, people could not come down to the farm to buy eggs and those who came will tell you what they will pay for the eggs. A create of Egg we used to sell before the lockdown for N800 (Two Dollars, $2) they will tell you they will pay N500.
“Because you can’t keep eggs for long you have to sell to them. Instead of incurring a total loss, we had to sell to them.
Another poultry farmer, Daniel Esarume, said “Before the lockdown, the price was stable and the customers were coming but when the lockdown started, some of our customers that were coming from the city had issues with security, so we started having gluts as a result of that prices crashed.
The issue of not being able to sell was not limited to the poultry farmers; fish farmers had the same experience.
Now that the lockdown is gradually being eased, the cost of feeds is another one of the major issues being faced.
A member of All Farmers Association of Nigeria , AFAN, Mr. Emmanuel Bayo, lamented the cost of Livestock production feeds and said that it is impossible to produce with the prevailing market price of inputs and make any profit at all. “This is really a hard time for farmers,” he added.
Various investors and Agribusiness farm management companies are also experiencing heavy losses at this time and are not left out of the weather and COVID-19 pandemic effect on the sector.
Olusola Olunowo, Managing Director of Agro Park Development Company Limited, a farm management company, which runs an agricultural asset management system with over 2,735 hectares of farmland in Ijale-Orile, Abeokuta, Ogun State, also disclosed that taking solace in food crop production was believed to be a way forward following losses in poultry chicken production amid COVID-19, but the drought had made nonsense of the hope.
He said drought devastated several hectares of maize, turmeric, potato, rice, and spice farms, compounding the firm’s losses earlier recorded as a result of the inability to sell catfish, chickens, and other animal products.
“We run an agricultural asset management system where people have invested a lot of money with us and we think if we don’t get it right, it will affect investments coming into agriculture.
“While we are trying to balance from the COVID-19 challenges, we decided to face the staple crops. Staple crops will always sell in a country like Nigeria, where men and animals still eat the same crops. Many people know that ‘August breaks’ come in the first week of August, then goes the last week of August.”
“But we had rained on July 8 this year, and you could count the number of rainfalls before then. This year, things are different. Everything that was planted in April waiting for the harvest was caught in the middle of the pandemic and it was really disastrous because many farmers are affected,” Olunowo said.
Apart from the drought, Olunowo said demand for products is still a challenge, saying, “what we can sell now cannot be more than 25 per cent of whatever we have been doing in the past. The chicken is even worse off now because of the cost of inputs that have gone up by 200 per cent.”
A live day-old-chick, he said, costs between N470 and N600 now, and the farm has to produce at less than 25 per cent capacity because Nigerians are not buying expensive chickens.
He harped on the export market as a game-changer, saying obtaining a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification would afford many Nigerians farmers and processors to maximise profit, employ more workers and deepen industrialisation of crops.
According to Olunowo, “the Nigerian insurance system is very funny. The insurance system gives you an umbrella when the rain is gone. There is insurance cover for drought and it is in three stages. If it happens at the planting stage, they will pay you for land preparation and planting; even in the land preparation, they won’t pay you full, they will just pay you for seed and identify some things.
“Then in the middle, they will pay you for maybe first weeding, then if it is for them to cover your return on investments (RoI) and everything, they will pay you when it has fruited. That is also the way they design the poultry industry. Before you can get anything, your birds would have been at a stage that you could make money. That is the way they structure it. So, it is never an insurance cover.”
However, he lamented that a lot of people who have invested in the company do not understand that there are times that there will be plenty of harvests and there are times that it would be small.
“A lot of people have invested with us, all over the world. In developed countries, they understand that there are days that there will be plenty and there are days that it would be small.
There are days that agricultural land will go to the peak. It is a business model. But here in Nigeria, it is still a business that people don’t understand.”
He added that “Since 2017, we have been here doing fantastically. We paid all our subscribers 100 per cent till the end of March before the pandemic lockdown. When the lockdown started, unfortunately, the government too did not realise what was going to be the effect of that lockdown. It was really bad and now, I don’t think that the Nigerian food industry has come back up till 20 per cent.
“For the average investors that do not understand the way agriculture works, they may not understand. They will say, you told us COVID-19, then no market and now you are saying drought again.”
Speaking further on the fish farm, Olunowo said: “What we can sell now cannot be more than 25 percent of whatever we have been doing in the past.
“The profit is gone. We are running at a loss now because once if it is an extra day over the due date, then you start spending the profit. So, the only option we have is to turn a lot of them to brood-stock. Feed them until they become like two years and that is more expensive. Hopefully, one will be able to get a premium on them while selling them as brood-stock. That is the only conversion that can happen to them,” he added.
He also said that the chicken is even worse off now because of the input that has gone by about 200 percent.