As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 keeps increasing, it is pertinent to also know that food production is also threatened.
Though both local and international agriculture organisations had urged the government not to include farmers as part of those affected by the lockdown, it is also important to understand that the lockdown would affect everyone at the long-run if the disease is not contained.
Nigeria’s largest consumed staple food is rice, about 7 million metric tons of rice is consumed annually while our production capacity is yet to satisfy our local consumption.
Though Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) had assured that rice would continue to be available in this lockdown period, it is also important to note that if the lockdown lingers and the disease is not controlled, rice production would be affected greatly as farmers and actors on the value chain may also be infected with the disease.
Apart from rice, there are other food production that shouldn’t be neglected.
With the production setback suffered during the outbreak of COVID-19, it is pertinent to note that food production in Nigeria needs support from both the state and federal government.
The support would go along way in affecting all the actors of different value chains, including farmers, input suppliers, processors and service providers.
There are notable processors in Nigeria who are into large scale production, these processors needs government support and assistance because the produce food in this lockdown period and also creating jobs.
For instance, Wal-Wanne and Sons Limited is into large scale rice production in Borno State where he has mobilized over 18,000 farmers in rice production.
The rice company successfully unveiled a 33,000 rice pyramid in Borno State following the intervention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) through the Anchor Borrowers Program (ABP).
Wal-Wanne and sons limited is an example of rice and other food production companies who need assistance from the government in order to sustain production at this critical period.
Sitting on a state ravaged by Boko Haram, mobilising over 18,000 farmers, coupled with the outbreak of COVID-19, it became necessary that the company needs government support to sustain production.
If food production is distorted at this period, then the future of post COVID-19 era is just bleak because there may be shortfall in food availability.
Recall that the President of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Dr Agnes Kalibata had cautioned that the outbreak of COVID-19 shouldn’t lead to food crisis in Africa.
Speaking on the lockdown directive, Dr Kalibata said “this is clearly an important protective step, but we also need to consider the very real danger that the COVID-19 pandemic will leave in its wake, a food security crisis that could affect the political, social and economic health of African countries. Already over 250 million people in Africa are without food. These vulnerable populations will suffer more from both the short- and long-term effects of the pandemic”.
She said as governments are making efforts to slow the spread of the disease, there was need to make efforts to ensure people have food, else, food crisis is imminent.
“As health workers battle to slow down the spread of the disease, all measures must be taken to ensure that people have food now, in the recovery period and beyond. If this is not done, COVID-19 will result in a food crisis that will affect poor people the most, in both rural and urban areas. It is obvious that we can protect the interests and well-being of the most vulnerable among us by ensuring farmers continue to do their work”, she said.
The above statement underscores the importance of government supporting food production also as part of palliative measures to ease the pains of lockdown both for immediate gains and future benefits.
The Chief Executive Officer, Wal-Wanne and sons limited, Dr Abiso Kabir, recently said rice farmers in Nigeria have limited access to credit facilities.
Dr Kabir while noting that the firm specializes in mechanized farming, processing, storage and distribution of farm produce, said there is need for intervention so as to meet the targeted food security.
“Wet season farming is here, the restriction of movement has made it difficult for farmers to go out and get inputs for planting and with the situation at hand, if nothing is done farmers will lose their source of livelihood.
“Wal-Wanne and sons limited cultivates vast hectares of farm land across seven local government areas in the state; Jere, Mafa, Biu, Chibok, Konduga, Ganbuwa and Monguno. The farm engages their farmers with farm supervisors and agriculture extension to discuss matters arising regarding some difficulties and problems they are encountering”, he said.
In addition, the company exposes farmers to modern farming techniques to encourage high yields and reduce wastage, especially touching on dry season farming to boost yields.
The farm has its training centres in Borno, Niger, Nasarawa, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Taraba, Bauchi, and Yobe States.
The government needs to step up funding for agriculture activities especially rice being the largest consumed staple food in Nigeria, so that during and after COVID-19, Nigeria would not run into food crisis.
He further said the machinery, seeds, fertilisers and other agro-chemicals are also needed at subsidized rate in order to allow rice farmers produce enough for the populace.
The Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Qu Dongyu in a recent statement on COVID-19, called for immediate actions to minimize disruption to food supply chains.
In a statement by QU Dongyu titled ‘Keeping global food chains alive is crucial amid COVID-19 crisis’, he said coherent response is needed globally to prevent the outbreak of Coronavirus from triggering food crisis.
“To reduce the risk of an even greater toll – shortage of food for millions, even in affluent countries – the world must take immediate actions to minimize disruptions to food supply chains.
“A globally coordinated and coherent response is needed to prevent this public health crisis from triggering a food crisis in which people cannot find or afford food.
“For now, COVID-19 has not entailed any strain on food security, despite anecdotal reports of crowded supermarket sieges.
“While there’s no need for panic – there is enough supply of food in the world to feed everyone – we must face the challenge: an enormous risk that food may not be made available where it is needed”, he said.
He noted that restriction of movement may impede farmers from farming, and food processors from processing, as well as shortage of fertiliser Veterinary medicine and other farm inputs could affect food production.
“Restrictions of movement, as well as basic aversion behavior by workers, may impede farmers from farming and food processors (who handle most agricultural products) from processing. Shortage of fertilizers, veterinary medicines and other input could also affect agricultural production.
The above comments from the FAO Director General corroborate our submission that government at all level needs to support rice value chain in this critical period to avert disruption in food supply chain.