Nigerian Farmers and stakeholders in the agro-sector, have warned that the country is in danger of food shortage as the COVID-19 pandemic hits hard on farmers and the agricultural sector, while stimulus and palliatives to cushion the effects from government remains grossly inadequate.
This was contained in a statement made available on Monday and jointly issued by Voices of Food Security (VFS), All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), the Association of Small-Scale Agro-Producers in Nigeria (ASSAPIN), Ogbonge Women Farmers’ Association, Small Scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON) and Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria. (RIFAN).
Signed on their behalf by Ms. Bridget Osakwe, Protem Chair, VSF; and Prof. Gbolagade Ayoola, Chairman, Right to Food Group, VFS, the group expressed concerns that smallholder farmers are not given adequate support fo government or well catered for in its palliatives even as they grapple with the challenge of feeding the nation during the lockdown and immediately afterwards.
They further disclosed that lockdowns and Police intimidation as a result are affecting farmers ability to access inputs, especially in States far away from ports where trailers have to travel long distances in order to reach farmers.
“We applaud the government’s prompt efforts at ensuring that the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill was signed into law. We also applaud the Central Bank’s unveiling of its plans to inject N3.5 trillion to support the economy through a stimulus package. We acknowledge the priorities accorded these various efforts, namely to: give tax relief to corporate bodies who keep the job of their employees intact during a window period of January to December; put a moratorium on mortgage plans enjoyed by Nigerians; and suspend import duties on medical equipment, medicines, and personal protective gear; reduce interest rates from 9% to 5% on its existing intervention programs over the next year; plans to create a N50 billion targeted fund from which households can access a maximum of N3 million and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) can access a maximum of N25 million; and introduced credit support for the healthcare sector.
“Most recent Federal Government guidelines for the movement of agricultural produce to curtail food shortages and ensure effective 2020 crop production is appreciated. However, there is still silence on how smallholder farmers who have already suffered losses can be compensated.
“We observe that these palliative and recovery windows may well work for the manufacturing and other sectors, but we are concerned that they do not adequately cover the needs of agricultural sector stakeholders let alone meet the nations needs of smallholder farmers who presently face the challenge of feeding the nation during the lockdown and immediately afterwards,” the statement read.
The stakeholders regrets that Farmers Associations are not strictly termed as SMEs, and will likely not be eligible for SME financing from the CBN, adding: “Yet, these funds are very much needed.”
“This is especially important as we consider the needs of farmers in the rainy season planting period.”
According to the farmers, the fall in oil prices further highlights the need for improved economic diversification in the country to ensure our economy’s resilience to external shocks, stressing that smallholder farmers make up the vast majority of food producers in the country, and we need the support of government to be more viable economic actors.
To address the challenges, the stakeholders recommend that government, “Work with smallholder farmers associations and farmers support organisations like us to come up with ways in which access to finance facilities can effectively support agricultural value chain actors, especially male and female smallholder farmers.
Part of statement reads: “State Governments across the country should set-up measures to avoid any form of disturbance to the supply chain while maintaining security and food safety. Key actors within the supply and value chain must be permitted to continue working
“Federal and State-level Ministries as well as the CBN should work with farmers and processors throughout the Country to use this opportunity to better improve working relationships with farmers. Too often, agricultural support does not reach ‘real farmers’ and this reality cannot hold if we are to ensure food security in Nigeria.”
“Police and other Security checkpoints set up throughout the Country should be sensitized on the need to facilitate seamless access to agricultural inputs and produce to the markets, especially given that these are part of the essential commodities included in the list of Mr President’s COVID-19 Directive, and for which a Presidential Committee chaired by the Honourable Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment has been set up.
“Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) should intensify efforts at reaching farmers in all the different agro-ecological zone with seasonal rainfall predictions to enable them operate their farms in ways that respond to the expected rainfall.”
The group further recommended that Ministries of Agriculture at State and Federal levels, as well as the Central Bank of Nigeria, should consider facilitating agricultural insurance especially for small scale farmers in order to forestall losses occasioned by climate change induced flood, drought, erosion, etc.
Now more than ever, they noted, State Ministries of Agriculture should facilitate farmers’ access to inputs so as to optimize their harvests, be more resilient to climate change, and guarantee food security post-Covid-19 era in the Country.
According to the group, small household grants should be extended to poor farmers at scale to enable them stay afloat in this uncertain period, and effort should be made to ensure that these reach real male and female farmers
They urged relevant authorities to extend access to finance facilities to ensure that farmer cooperatives and processing companies are able to procure technologies and inputs that will make their businesses grow; and generate more demand for farm products and open more market channels for movement of food from rural areas to cities.
“Farmers recognize that transparency and good governance benefits us all. We therefore also call on the Nigerian government to work with civil society to ensure transparency in the distribution of all the stimulus funding to be provided. This is because the efficacy of distribution to all sectors if done well will help ensure that there is money in the hands of the average Nigerian and help ensure that masses of people are not unemployed. As food producers, we know that more money in the hands of more Nigerians will mean more access to food for all,” the statement noted.