Originally published on Medium by John Agboola
The novel coronavirus (Covid-19) continues to spread rapidly across the world. Since the first case in Africa was reported in Egypt on February 15, 2020, the pandemic has spread to over 50 other countries on the continent.
In order to contain the pandemic, many industrial cities across Africa have been shut down in response to quarantine measures, putting a halt to the source of livelihood of millions.
While lockdowns and curfews may help in containing the pandemic, they may also lead to damage in the “stomach infrastructure” of many, and, in the worst-case scenario, a severe food crisis with a rise in hunger and malnutrition.
Hence, a pressing question on the lips of many people is the impact this pandemic and the quarantine measures will have on the food system since food is an essential need of life.
From the supply side, production across the continent has greatly been affected and the restriction of movement and total lockdown has led to a huge shortage of labor. A rapid survey of agribusinesses sampled in three African countries revealed some of the consequences.
Fasakin Aduragbemi, Founder of Advic Farms and Allied Service, Nigeria, highlighted how these measures have disrupted his farm production. “The restriction of movement has really hindered production as my workers are unable to commute to the farm,” he said, concluding that “…no production will definitely lead to no sales.”
Discussing the impact on the Ghanaian farmer, Evans Larbi, Founder of Beit Farms, lamented his inability to access the farm since the lockdown began. He also mentioned that a lack of storage facilities for products may cause a great loss for his small-scale business.
This was echoed by Isabelle Manya Teghen, Founder, Innovative Platform for Sustainable Agriculture (INPLASA), Cameroon. She noted that there is already a glut of perishable products on the farm, which will lead to loss of income. She also mentioned that she has planting materials, which were produced based on demand ahead of the planting season. However, farmers have been unable to get these materials due to the inter-region travel ban. According to her, this is an additional cost since these materials have to be stored until the farmers come for them.
Another major challenge echoed by agribusinesses surveyed in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon, is the inability to reach prospective buyers, leading to a broken supply-demand chain. “Since the pandemic, we have halted our supplies to manufacturing companies who needed our products since we are unable to distribute to other states due to the lockdown,” reported Nyifamu Ogechi, Founder of Farmatrix Agro-Allied and Technology Company, Nigeria.
Also looking at the demand side, food demand in Nigeria has grown exponentially due to panic buying for food items in the case of lockdown and disruption in the supply chains. As a result, the prices of major agricultural products have gone up. “Garri and rice, two major common man’s food have become gold in the space of barely one month,” said Faith Owu, a consumer in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
In Nigeria, farmers are experiencing difficulty in getting their products to the market due to the lockdown. The resultant effect is that demand is gradually exceeding supply and it is expected that an intense price hike of major products is imminent. According to Evans Larbi, this is already happening in Ghana, who reports that import-export disruption and rising prices are being experienced.
Regardless of these challenges, the surveyed agribusinesses are quite optimistic and reassured that there is no need to panic yet. However, to prevent a looming greater danger of a food crisis, they unanimously call for favorable policies to support smallholders.
Among some notable recommendations proposed by the agribusinesses surveyed is the need to provide timely support to farmers, particularly those involved in primary production, processing, logistics, and marketing.
“Farmers are essential at this time to feed the citizens, but the government needs to provide logistical support to enable us to get our products to consumers,” emphasized Nyifamu Ogechi.
Oyinkanola Mayowa, Director of QM Farms Limited, called for the government to replicate the distribution network developed by brewers to get inputs to farmers. “This will create a structure of quality and quantity assurance/monitoring units at the local level,” he said.
Indisputably, farmers are critical during this period to ensure that this crisis does not birth a more dangerous crisis of food insecurity and hunger. To achieve the food security agenda amidst the Covid-19 crisis, farmers must be supported with palliatives that aid production, ease supply chains, and create market linkages for their produce.