Farmers lament losses, experts warn of food shortage
The COVID-19 outbreak is already taking its toll on all sectors of the economy, including agriculture, with the pandemic inflicting damages worth millions to farmers and agro-processors across the country.
Experts are already raising fear that if urgent measures are not taken to protect farmers, the country may experience severe food shortages.
Leading this call is the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which has warned that nations must evolve measures to mitigate hunger associated with the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Marco Cantillo, FAO's Deputy Director, Agriculture Development Economics Division, in a statement issued in Abuja, warned that agriculture activities will be greatly affected because of the pandemic.
In Nigeria, frustration is already building up among farming communities as they watch their investments go down the drain with poultry and fishery subsectors being worst hit as the rainy season is just setting in.
From North to South, poultry and fish farmers are lamenting the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses with some reported to have closed up.
How it affects the poultry sector
The National President of the Poultry Farmers Association of Nigeria, Mr Ezekiel Ibrahim said members of his association have about a third of their resources due to the pandemic.
He blamed this on the lack of synergy between federal and state governments which has caused serious logistic and distribution challenges.
"Now in this situation, most of our farmers have lost between 35 and 40 per cent of their resources because sometimes you cannot sell but they keep producing," he said.
"Like hatcheries, day-old-chicks when you hatch you cannot deliver them to farms. Eggs are supposed to be the number one thing as a palliative, in fact, the demand for eggs is supposed to have risen drastically due to its nutritional content but the reverse is the case," he added.
He said the impact on the poultry sector has a domino effect on the rest of the agricultural chain.
"Anything that affects poultry affects other sectors of agriculture. If you cannot sell day-old chicks, how can you afford to buy poultry feeds? If you cannot sell poultry feed, how will you be able to buy soybeans and corn? So these are the challenges," he said.
In Kano State, noted for its thriving poultry business, reports indicate that farmers are ready for harvesting but couldn't do that due to the lockdown order occasioned by the pandemic.
The leader of the poultry farmers in the state, Alhaji Umar Usman Kibiya said retailers of poultry products are no longer operating in the state, making it difficult for the farmers to sell their produce.
"Chicken joints, restaurants, hotels and other eateries are not operating during the lockdown and these are the major consumers of poultry products, as you are aware. Moreover, the present weather isn't helping matters as eggs keep getting spoiled because we can't take them to the market," he said.
From Lagos, a local poultry farmer, Joel Oduware, decried the growing level of egg glut in the country.
Oduware, who is also an egg processor, said local egg farmers have begun counting their losses due to dwindling demand for eggs at this period with the closure of schools.
"Presently, the major problem poultry farmers are experiencing is not related to chicken, but in the demand and supply for eggs.
"Farmers are complaining of egg glut because schools have been shut for a long time and this is what is creating problems for the sellers too.
"Statistics have shown that schoolchildren consume more eggs than adults do," the farmer said.
The glut, he said, has caused the prices of eggs to fall from the usual N1, 000 per crate to N750 as the supply has overtaken demand.
Not a good time for fish farmers
The National President of Catfish and Allied Fish Farmers Association of Nigeria (CAFFAN), Mr Rotimi Oloye, said right now, local markets are grossly "inadequate to take local supplies and with curfew here and there, the market is marked off."
He said this has brought fish prices below the cost of production.
As a result, Mr Oloye worries that many farmers would not be able to get back into production, and this will eventually result to shortages in supplies as demand eventually pick up because as the population will continue to grow.
Alhaji Hassan Mundu, a renowned catfish and tilapia farmer and owner of one of the biggest tilapia hatcheries with supply chain across northern Nigeria said the lockdown is taking a huge toll on production and has brought his supply chain to "near-zero".
The social distances measures and disruption of market activities, as well as the fall in purchasing power of people, have forced down demands for fish.
The National Vice President of the Tilapia Aquaculture Developers Association of Nigeria, Nurudeen Tiamiyu, told Daily Trust on Saturday in Lagos that access to feed ingredients coming from other states is a major challenge because of the interstate lockdown.
"Transport cost has gone up and prices of feeds have gone up too. With forex issues, the imported condiments of production have gone up," he said.
And from Plateau State, a fish farmer in Zarmaganda area of Jos, Olufemi Odueko, said the farmers have lost many fishes to the impact of the pandemic.
Odueko, who is also the CEO of Catfish Expert Global Ventures, said the problem most fish farmers are facing now is the inability to purchase fish feeds, which has caused the fishes to starve. This usually makes them to shrink or die.
The drop in demand, he said, is a direct consequence of the closure of pepper soup and sit-out joints, who are the major consumers of fish.
Our correspondent in Kano also reports that shortages of fish feeds and the availability of a ready market are major headaches for fish farmers in the state.
Umar Bello, a fish farmer, said they are counting their losses since businesses that drive up fish demand are not operating.
"To be honest with you, fish farmers in Kano State have lost millions in revenue due to this pandemic and what the government ought to do to save the fishing industry is to device means through which it will uptake all the reserved fishes from farmers and ensure upfront payment," he said.
Other fish farmers, like Malam Garba Shu'aibu, said some of them have resorted to smoking and drying their fish stock to cut losses.
In Enugu State, Mrs Hope Nduanya has been operating a fishery pond and poultry farm at Ghoshen Estate, Enugu East Local Government Area of Enugu State.
She said the impact of the coronavirus lockdown has made the survival of her business is an uphill task.
The restriction of movement, she said, means that her fish supply, which comes all the way from Ibadan, capital of Oyo State has stopped.
"The business is very expensive to run now. There is a high cost of doing business because the prices of fingerling, day-old chicks have gone up. Fingerlings used to sell for N50 before the lockdown but right now, it costs N120. The immunization for the fish and day-old chicks used to cost N175 but now it costs N200. After all these expenses, when you go to the market to sell them, you won't be able to make a profit. The buyers would be bargaining low prices, far below what you have invested in the business.
"On the other hand, if you don't sell them, the fish and chicks or birds will remain with you in the house consuming a lot of food because if you don't feed them, they will die," Mrs Nduanya said.
Why experts are worried
Mr Ezekiel Ibrahim Mam, a renowned poultry farmer, fears that the country may face starvation next year due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This year 2020, we are at least better off because we have enough food on ground but 2021, we are going to face clear starvation, not just hunger because of the restriction of movement of people since farmers cannot access farm inputs.
"Already, the rainy season has set in and if the maize producers and soybeans farmers cannot go to their farms, that is a threat to the poultry industry.
"This is because 70 per cent of the raw materials for the poultry industry, especially poultry production are soya and maize," he said.
The projections for the immediate future are not as great as Mr Marco Cantillo, FAO's Deputy Director, Agriculture Development Economics Division, fears that global economic activities will be greatly affected because of COVID-19 pandemic.
"Large scale consequences for the incomes and welfare of all, but especially for the most vulnerable food import-dependent countries.
"In the absence of timely and effective policy responses, this will exacerbate an already unwelcomed increase in the number of people who do not have enough to eat," he said.
What gov't must do, experts advise
Mr Oduware, mentioned earlier in the report, called on the Federal Government to immediately formulate policies that will help improve the value-chain for egg production in the country.
He said it was necessary to support the set-up of local egg powder factories and ensure that multinational companies patronise local egg powder producers to minimise the egg glut.
"We need to step up action for the preservation of eggs in this country. Most multinational companies that use egg powder still import them from abroad. They complain that the quality of our local eggs is poor and lack nutritional value. This should not be so; the government should withhold foreign exchange from importers of egg powder and compel these companies to patronise local egg powder. We can invest in the value chain of egg production to avert the impending crisis," he advised.
On his part, Mr Oloye of CAFFAN advocates a specific government plan to buy stocks on farms for storage to mitigate losses being incurred by farmers.
Jos-based poultry farmer, Iyemi, urged poultry farmers and dealers in perishable food items to engage in networking on social media and always make pertinent inquiries to be conversant with the business value chain and know what goes on in the market at all times.
"While at home, they can network among themselves, have social media groups and continue transaction on the platforms. And upon sealing any deal, dealers and suppliers can come home to buy the chickens and eggs to supply to people in their homes," he said.
The president of the Poultry Association of Nigeria, Ezekiel Ibrahim suggested that the priority for the government should be securing its human resources in the phase of the current pandemic as is being done in developed countries.
Ibrahim said that in securing the human resources, the populace must be provided with good food.
This he said the government can do by including eggs in palliative packages for the citizens, which to him would address the egg glut currently being experienced in the country as a result of the pandemic.
Whatever the case, experts advise that there is an urgent need for a well-thought-out intervention to curtail the lasting impact of the pandemic on food supplies.