We live in uncertain times in the wake of the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global community. As a result, countries have turned to unorthodox and often tough measures in combating the virus, which have had dire consequences on the global economy.
Nigeria recorded her first COVID-19 case in February 2020. In tandem with the global community, the Nigerian government responded by restricting movements into and within the country through lockdowns and border closures, except for personnel providing essential services, such as those in food processing, retail and distribution, the Police and healthcare. Despite these measures, the Pandemic has continued to sink its teeth deeper into the country such that as at the first week in June, the number of confirmed cases and deaths had grown to about 11,200 and over 320 respectively, with figures increasing at an alarming rate daily.
Even though the Government has now transitioned from total lockdown to curfews and begun to gradually permit commercial and social activities, the movement restrictions had unintended effects on Nigeria’s economy that is still being felt and will likely continue to be felt for some time. These effects include a drop in crude oil price, affecting foreign earnings, to disruption in supply chain, restricting or even stalling the flow of goods and services and leading to rise in food prices. The Consequences of these restrictions were felt by all Nigerians, but more so by those in the informal sector who earn daily wages and were unable to conduct their businesses upon which they and their families depend.
Seeing the effect on businesses and households, the Nigerian government established some palliative fiscal and economic measures to prevent a total collapse of the country’s economy and minimise hardships felt by households. These measures included: loans to increase local manufacturing and production in select critical sectors; 50 billion naira ($129.5 million) credit facility to households and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); adoption of a ‘unified exchange rate system’ to reduce pressure on foreign exchange earnings; reduction in the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) and suspension of new tariffs on electricity, among others.
At the height of the lockdown, smallholder farmers, credited with producing most of the food in the country, found it near impossible to get labour for land preparation, access inputs including tractors and other mechanised equipment and markets to sell their produce. Farmers and small-scale sellers both faced transportation difficulties, impeding conveyance of harvested produce into storage or markets. Their inability to transport produce and the high cost of transportation due to the lockdown meant farmers and sellers also experienced losses when produce rotted in storage.
The lockdown may have been eased, however, COVID-19 is still a threat and everyone is expected to continue practising social distancing and other COVID-19 preventive guidelines. Access to market is still restricted to certain days and a ban on interstate travel persists. With the onset of the rainy season, which heralds the planting season in Nigeria, one wonders how farmers are expected to observe these preventive measures, especially social distancing, while working their farmlands efficiently. For a country that relies heavily on subsistence production for food supplies, there is a real concern that the food security situation may worsen if decisive steps are not taken by relevant authorities to support farmers’ capacity to produce and market their produce during the Pandemic.
How has Propcom Responded?
At Propcom Mai-karfi, we transitioned to remote working, adapted our intervention delivery mechanisms and prioritised activities in our 9 programme locations to respond to changes due to the pandemic. Specifically, we are doing the following:
- Enabling access to agricultural inputs: by unlocking barriers impeding access to agricultural inputs, through provision of equity contribution for input financing, fertiliser–grain swap, time–bound promotional discounts and brokering linkage between market actors to ensure availability, we help farmers continue to access the inputs that they need. Additionally, to improve access to mechanisation services we connect agents to farmers using Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) and targeted Short Messaging Services (SMSs).
- Contributing to COVID-19 intelligence: by plugging into our field network, we are gathering market intelligence on input availability, food and input pricing and access to markets, and generating evidence to guide policy actions that enable access to offtake markets.
- Market recovery: we are stimulating economic recovery activities by deploying communication campaigns across multiple platforms and strategically selecting key sectors to intervene in, particularly poultry and livestock value chain activities and briquette production and marketing, and helping SMEs and farmers conduct their business in a safe and efficient manner.
- Use of ICT: we have enhanced our use of ICT to sustain the provision of extension information to farmers using the FarmAid technology developed by one of our key partners. We are using Radio to inform farmers of the location of input sellers and providers of off-farm services as well to bring to the public sphere the impact of the Pandemic on rural communities.
There remains widespread uncertainty and anxiety over the Pandemic in Nigeria, and one can’t help but wonder when there will be an end in sight, especially with cases increasing every day and the economy yet to show signs of recovery. But as the Nigerian government continues to monitor the situation and implement best practices to combat the Pandemic, the hope is that Nigeria and Nigerians will gradually begin to build a level of resilience that eventually sees the country return to a new type of normalcy. Specifically, the hope is that those in the informal sector and rural farmers get the support that they need to prevent them from falling further down the poverty line and ensure Nigeria does not fall into food crisis or a worse economic situation.