Chinyere Anyanwu, [email protected]
Although the COVID-19 lockdown in parts of the country has had enormous consequences for social and economic integration on Nigerians with the closure of many public places, experts in the agricultural sector believe that Nigeria is set for a rare agricultural revolution despite some of the initial disruptions in the country’s traditional farming season between February and June.
By now, many farming communities would have concluded land preparations and started crops cultivation.
Daily Sun’s investigation on the short- long-term implications of the lockdown on the agriculture sector show that there will be both positive and negative impacts. Stakeholders believe that if the lockdown is not prolonged, the effect will not be too serious on the sector expected to experience a turnaround for the better with the lockdown.
In a chat with Daily Sun, President of the Federation of Agricultural Commodities Association of Nigeria (FACAN), Dr. Victor Iyama, said he expects an early end to the lockdown, adding, “we’re are looking forward to the lockdown being relaxed because we don’t need rocket science to tell us that if farmers can’t go to the farms and there’s any logistics problem, that it will affect our food security. But I believe that we must find a way around it. The luck we have is that the planting season is just about to commence. I think we are still in order but I really look forward to it ending soon.”
Speaking on the positive outcome of the lockdown on the agriculture sector and the nation’s food security, Iyama stated that the situation is a wake-up call on the country to be more introspective in the handling of its food security question. He stated that, “the positive side of coronavirus is that we’ll be more serious with our agricultural production because we have seen that we can be shut out from the world. The whole world, who can come here now? So it is a pointer to us that we need to be more serious and prepare ourselves; at least, if we can’t feed Africa, we can feed ourselves but I know we can feed Africa if we are really serious about agriculture.
“For me, I think this situation is also a blessing in disguise because more than ever before, everybody now knows that the world can actually be cut off from each other and you will be on your own. So, you rely on yourself. And luckily for my country, as far as I know, we’re a blessed country. We have almost everything that can make us self-reliant, especially food-wise. We will be far more serious with our agricultural production now and even processing. The thing has shaken the whole world. Who can fly anywhere now? If we are depending on other countries for food, we will be doomed. I don’t see any reason why Nigeria should depend on any country for food. The first thing in this world is for you be able to feed your nation. We must gear up to become the food basket of Africa, at least, because we can do it.”
For his part, the General Manager, Project, Elephant Group Plc, Dr. Oluwarotimi Fashola, hopes that the lockdown does not interfere with this year’s farming season and consequently the nation’s food security.
He noted that, “if it doesn’t get too prolonged, then the impact will not be too severe. There’s already a small impact because the initial season crops that precede the season are not grown in the quantum they should. We are hoping that the lockdown will not be prolonged so that the main season, especially for northern states, which doesn’t start until June, will not be interfered with.”
Fashola said, “certainly there will be some negativity in terms of loss in production but it depends on how far the lockdown goes. The rains are just coming. If by May/June when the season is supposed to be in earnest, we’re still locked down, then there’s going to be a major problem.”
The Partner, Ray Farms Consulting, African Farmer Mogaji, who also lent his voice to the issue of the impact of the lockdown on agriculture sector stated that even within the less than a month lockdown, players in the sector are already contending with price increases in farm inputs.
Mogaji lamented that, “currently, within this lockdown, the prices of agriculture inputs have increased. The companies selling agriculture inputs have already increased prices so upon unlocking the lockdown, everybody will be faced with increase in prices, which is currently going on within the lockdown because, one, they can’t import. The ones that lockdown met their products on the sea will have to part with some money to get them out because even though government says, don’t collect money from them, you and I know that if they have to get their products out, money must change hands. As I speak to you, there is price review now. So if government says no more lockdown, they’ve already increased prices,” adding that, “farmers will have quite a bit of challenge, especially with inputs in terms of availability.”
The African Farmer, in addition, explained that owing to the lockdown, the income of private sector investors who, in response to Federal Government sensitisation, had planned on diversifying into agriculture this farming season, has taken a major hit.
He said, “another impact, which I see is that prior to COVID-19, the government had been sensitising people and many private sector investors were seriously looking into agriculture so we expected a lot of investments locally to come in but most of their core sources of income have been hit by COVID-19.
According to him, “the oil and gas investor who was planning to diversify into agriculture may not because COVID-19 has affected oil prices. Oil prices have gone down, salaries are still high, overheads are still high so what will happen is that they may say, ‘let’s take care of these’. So, we may not see the major investments we are expecting because they will want to be careful and stabilise as against before when everybody wanted to throw money into agriculture. The banks had said they will fund agriculture but their income has been hit big time.”
Listing the positive impacts of the lockdown on the sector, Mogaji stated that the governments, both federal and states, have been confronted with a new reality that will mark a turning point in their perception and approach to investments in the sector going forward.
He explained that, “the positive side also is that governments have been faced with the reality that they must approach agriculture from a value chain perspective as against when they just fund cassava, rice, and corn.
“Initially, they locked everywhere down except essential services; they didn’t include market and food. Later the outcry was, ‘how do we buy food’? They now opened the markets. After they opened the markets, there was an outcry by farmers that they can’t get inputs. They now included farm inputs as essential commodities.”
Furthermore, Mogaji submitted that, “now, for the first time in many years, government is finding out that agriculture is a value chain. You can’t just say you are giving fertiliser without looking at inputs. So after some time, they said any truck moving food is also allowed because they didn’t look at logistics before. So suddenly, they just found themselves in a situation where gradually they began to realise that agriculture is not just farming; agriculture is a chain.
“So they won’t just be funding maize, cassava and rice production and every processor along the line is left, input is left, logistics is left. Right now, they are faced with that complete value chain reality and I’m positive that the Nigerian agriculture will not remain the same because suddenly the reality of food security has hit every governor and they’ve found out that if there’s any crisis we cannot feed our people both at the federal and the state levels.”
According to him, “all state governors will wake up now and invest in food security and the Federal Government will support them. So, it will be the dawning of a new day in the agriculture sector. It’s going to be a time of great expansion for SMEs.”