The impact of the COVID-19 on rural small-scale farmers in Oguta has been nothing short of shocking. The effect can be seen first-hand in the market by the empty stalls occupied previously by farmers. Typically, on a market day, there will be stalls full of colorful fruits and vegetables, the people parading from stall to stall haggling for reduced prices and farmers talking about the general economy and how it has affected their wares.
By the middle of 2020, the full effect of the pandemic has been seen. The empty stalls not only evidenced the lack of produce but also the death of the owners who had died of the terrible covid-19.
it is true that most of the sub-Saharan African population, including that of Nigeria, are dependent on subsistence and small-scale agriculture for their food security and incomes. In many of these nations, the agricultural sector is already marred with difficult and unregulated policies which has made it unbearable for farmers to thrive. The farmers also suffer from lack of accessibility to funding coupled with little or no budget allocations to agriculture despite the fact that agriculture can ensure Africa food security should the government make it favorable and sustainable.
Impact on Oguta, Imo state
Prior to the COVID-19, the agriculture sector in Oguta and its environs had already been under stress from flooding, inaccessibility to roads leading to market, inaccessibility to government funding, lack of education and training of farmers, and lack of storage know-how leading to decay and waste of perishable goods.
In addition to the presence of COVID-19, severe challenges coupled with the aforementioned made farming and food distribution scarce which completely created food insecurity. There is no doubt that the effect placed the rural Oguta farmers, more especially the women-headed households, in extreme poverty.
Effects on production and productivity
Many farmers in Oguta particularly during planting season depend on hired labor from the community and its environs to tilt the land, dig mounds for Yam, burn the bushes to prepare for cultivating as well as tend the land after cultivation. With the emergence of Covid-19, governments ordered citizens to stay home, observe curfew or remain under quarantine. This was no different in Imo State where Oguta is located and this affected farmers who could not find laborers to hire and could not sustain the farm.
Some of the farmers spoken to lamented to me; “our yields are too poor. I have nothing to sell, I was unable to tend to my Yam farm, I could not hire anyone to help me due to the lockdown, what do you expect farmers like me to do? Now ,it is time for school and I cannot pay the fees subjecting my children to another lockdown”
Indeed, the effect of the Covid-19 is debilitating to farmers, food security, agriculture, and the entire economy as a whole.
Inaccessibility of moving goods from Farm to Market
The movement of farm products from rural farmland to the market was heavily affected. Yam farmers, Palm oil sellers and Fish farmers typically utilize public transportation to bring the goods to the various center markets. The lack of transportation due to the Covid-19 pandemic was unprecedented causing some farmers to hitch hike despite dangerous roads and armed robbers, and others who trekked several miles in an attempt to get to the market. Yet, on reaching the market, there were no persons buying as people were on lock down.
Vegetable farmers and corn farmers usually will have the produce ferried across to Oguta main market from areas like Osu Obodo, Egbema etc. Covid-19 crippled the ferry transportation as the Ferry man was also on Lockdown.
Produce no longer lucrative
One positive aspect (if there is any positive side to a pandemic) of the lockdown was that many people turned to farming albeit on a small scale. Families reported grown vegetables and corn in their backyard reducing the need to go to the market. On the other hand, this positivity on the side of the masses meant also that perishable items on the side of the farmer decayed and turned into waste as nobody was buying.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused so much economic damage to many nations. The poverty level has already increased in Nigeria and elsewhere. Government must enact policies that will encourage farmers to produce more food for the nation. They must come up with grants that will enable farmers purchase seeds, equipment, land, and also hire workers to boost agriculture. Farmers in Oguta should be formed into cooperatives to be able to access funds and grants faster through the government. Government must help in alleviating the stress that has been placed on farmers so that they can utilize this upcoming farming season in Imo State to encourage a robust harvest for 2022.
The Imo State government is advised to allow rural farmers to go to their farms with limited and observed restrictions. After all, if they cannot go to farm, people cannot eat. In addition, open up small agriculture satellite offices in rural areas where farmers can enter on certain days to obtain seeds, fertilizer, and manpower to assist them with their farms.
Government should also set up farmers markets in each locality on specific days each month to ensure that farmers bring their fresh produce and wares to the market and that people can actually buy. This is a win-win situation for both the farmer and the consumer.
We at afroagricexpo will be watching. On our part, we have begun the organization of farmers in rural towns of Imo State into cooperatives to enable the smooth distribution of seeds and fertilizers in the upcoming months. Stay tuned.
Dr. Njideka Kelley
CEO, Afroagricexpo LLC.