COVID- 19 and its effects on Agriculture

With a kind of pandemic like the coronavirus disease, farmers will have to cope with movement restrictions and paralyzed supply chains. That is, the transport restrictions and quarantine measures are likely to impede farmer’s access to markets, curbing their productive capacities and hindering them from selling their produce. In addition, farmers might be hindered from working on their land and buying seeds or other essential inputs. An example of this situation occurred in January when Chinese Poultry farmers reported that they were “very distressed” due to lack of access to feed inputs. And the shortages of labor could disrupt the production and processing of food, especially for crops that are highly labor-intensive.

Also, even though there is no evidence that livestock and poultry birds are at risk, the animal industries in some countries are being affected by consumer fears. This in a way affected the demand of animal and animal by-products. Agricultural economists and development strategists are particularly very worried as they envisage delays in the supply of agro-inputs that are highly needed for the upcoming farming seasons.  Supply chain disruptions is the greatest worry as more companies are being forced to close down due to the delay or unavailable of most or part of the highly needed raw materials and spare parts.

As the fight to limit the impacts of COVID-19 continues, farmers, agricultural economists and scientists are finding new ways to continue to grow foods, harvest and transport them to market.

Effects Of COVID-19 on Agriculture in Africa particularly Nigeria

The preventive measures being proposed for the containment of the COVID-19 spread such as self-isolation and quarantines has the potential to adversely affect food production. This is because many African nations just commenced the planting season of their major crops and if farmers abandon their farmlands indiscriminately, in line with the general self-isolation calls, agricultural production will be adversely affected. The repercussion of such abandonment will be felt towards the end of the year when current food supplies must have been largely depleted without adequate replacement from new harvests, leading to food shortages, price hikes and starvation among vulnerable members of society.

On the other hand, even if farmers are permitted to engage in production, it will still be very challenging for farms to source adequate agricultural labor as these would be affected by the lockdowns and thus unavailable to render required input. Unfortunately, current mechanization levels on farms across Africa is low, with farmers having to depend on manual agricultural labor to meet crucial productivity targets. For instance, while the number of tractors per square kilometers in India and Brazil are 128 and 116 respectively, Rwanda and Nigeria boast only 1.3 and 2.7 tractors per square kilometers. Thus, any scarcity of agricultural labor in most African countries is likely to result in an overall dip in farm productivity which will lead to food shortages and attendant food price hikes. The effect of the food price hikes may be further exacerbated by the decline in consumers’ purchasing power due the projected COVID-19 Pandemic-induced global recession, resulting in widespread hunger and starvation across the continent.

Typically, the effect of low production volumes is supposed to be cushioned by preserved food in storage facilities, which will be released to markets in periods of low production, preventing food shortages. However, in many African countries, the storage facilities are either not enough or in many cases defunct/outdated. Hence, the food products stored in these reserves are inadequate to meet the projected food deficits.

Beyond the threat to food production in Africa, the spread of coronavirus may also negatively impact international agricultural trade. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many nations have closed their borders and reduced the quantity of their imports, including agricultural products. This could have grave implications for the agricultural sectors of nations that are very export oriented. For instance, according to the Agricultural Business Center, South Africa could suffer $2.5 billion export losses as a result of the coronavirus dampening demand from Asian countries. This projected decline in demand for agricultural produce from Asian countries across Africa, could lead to food waste, reduce farmers’ income, lead to job losses and could limit countries’ ability to generate foreign revenue, which would have an overall negative impact on the African economy.

In Nigeria currently, the biggest concern is how to sustain food supply to every Nigerian. Agriculture supply chain is the most affected in the sector as interstate transport is reducing daily. This is also affecting farmers’ ability to harvest crops and find suitable market for them.

Meanwhile, some agriculture institutes and commodity Associations have expressed fear over the future of agriculture in Nigeria if the ongoing lockdown continues. Some agriculture Institutes and bodies had also pledged to work with the government by deploying its members to fight the spread of the disease.

The Veterinary Council of Nigeria (VCN) and the Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA) pledged to assist government in combating the ravaging Coronavirus. Arising from a joint statement issued and signed by the President of VCN, CP Aishatu Abubakar Baju and Professor Bello Agaie, President NVMA, the two bodies commended the government for the efforts so far in managing the spread of the virus. They therefore said Veterinarians across the country were available to support the global efforts to contain the virus in view of its zoonotic potentials.

“The Veterinary community in Nigeria has noted with concern the ravaging effects of COVID-19 globally and particularly in Nigeria and wish to commend the efforts so far put in place by the Federal Government through the Presidential Task-Force on COVID-19 Pandemic, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and other relevant stake-holders. “Veterinary regulation and inspection service continues by overseeing the integration of public health, ensuring that only healthy animals and their by-products enter food supply chain to guarantee food safety for the population”, the statement said. They said in view of the zoonotic potential of COVID-19, Veterinarians across the country were available to support Global efforts in order to curtail infection by the virus through educating their clients, immediate community and the general public on the preventive protocols to contain the virus.

On the implication of the COVID-19, Agriculture Bureau Association of Nigeria warned that if the uncoordinated production and distribution of food stuff continues the country would be at risk of food shortages for large portions of the population, extreme inflation of food prices and massive food wastage. The group of indigenous Agro Business investors in a statement signed by its coordinator, Suleman Dikwa and made available to the journalists warned that if the country fails to act now, it might be facing a crisis of food supplies like it has never seen before. The Bureau harped on the need for government to immediately identify key players in the food supply chain, track levels of food availability and manage supply and distribution as this would require better linkages between users and producers. The Bureau, therefore, advised the need for farm camps, where only people working on the farms are isolated adding that the logistics can be worked out with drop offs and pick-ups. They said shutting down the food chain would kill more people than the virus stressing the need to take data of resources within our geographical area.

Also, the Nigerian Institute of Animal Science (NIAS) said that the current lockdown and movement restriction enforced by government to contain the spread of Coronavirus may dwindle the value of the livestock industry. NIAS called on government to ensure that the livestock industry was exempted from the movement restriction.

At the international scene, the Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Qu Dongyu called for immediate actions to minimize disruption to food supply chains. In a statement issued 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. He noted that restriction of movement may impede farmers from farming, and food processors from processing, as well as shortage of fertilizer Veterinary medicine and other farm inputs could affect food production. “The COVID-19 outbreak, with all the accompanying closures and lockdowns, has created logistical bottlenecks that ricochet across the long value chains of the modern global economy. 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”, Qu Dongyu said.

Meanwhile, the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) assured Nigerians that the present lockdown imposed in some parts of the country won’t affect rice production across the country. RIFAN in a statement signed by the National President, Aminu Goronyo, said they have enough rice paddy produced by their members in Taraba, Kano and Kebbi which is over 200,000 bags.

For poultry farmers, the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) has asked the Federal Government to buy up the eggs produced by poultry farmers and distribute to vulnerable people in the country in the era of lockdown. PAN said this call became necessary as poultry farmers were not able to sell the eggs, they produce due to lack of market as the lockdown continues. PAN also called on government to remove restriction on interstate movement on some essential items for poultry production such as Maize, soyabean, poultry products, wheat offals and poultry feeds of all types. Also, very essential are Day old chicks (Docs), Eggs, frozen chicken, drugs. Finally, in a statement signed by the Director General of PAN, Onallo Akpa, PAN appealed that all poultry farm workers should be exempted from the movement restriction as there is a relationship between food producing companies and farms that are considered system relevant with other infrastructural sectors that are tightly connected, and without which the food supply chain cannot work.

What needs to be done

When it comes to maintaining food systems during the pandemic, Africa may have some advantages over other parts of the world such as its relatively younger workforce and more robust urban and small-scale agriculture. Nonetheless, it will certainly face significant challenges in the coming months that will require thoughtful attention from policymakers. Early warning systems for famines – and associated emergency food provisioning systems – will have to be adjusted to increase attention on urban areas. These initiatives traditionally focus on rural areas and food crises precipitated by droughts or insect infestations. They are much less effective at monitoring reduced food access in urban areas due to declining incomes. A big part of efforts must also be focused on stemming the spread of COVID-19 itself. Crucial preventative measures – from promoting hand-washing and social distancing to imposing restrictions on gatherings and movement – will be essential to slowing the impacts of the virus including on food systems and producers. In this, it will be important to recognize the capacity of African governments. 

Some government capacity could be enhanced if debt service is suspended and COVID-19 related multilateral assistance come without unnecessary strings attached. Renewed calls for structural reforms in a period of crisis are not helpful. More broadly, the global community must realize we are all in this together. While it will be tempting for some countries in the Global North to look inwards as they deal with their own crises, disease and associated food insecurity rarely respect international boundaries. Existing problems will persist during the COVID-19 crisis and still have to be addressed., Many African governments will have to continue dealing with ongoing challenges such as the desert locust infestation in East Africa. These crises must continue to receive the attention they deserve if domestic food production is to be maintained.

Finally, in combatting against the food production and international agricultural trade threats, nations must take both short and long-term approaches.

Food Production Threat:

In the short term, African governments should designate agriculture as an essential service and provide safety guidelines for stakeholders in the agricultural sector involved in on-farm production, processing, and logistics to operate amidst the lockdown of the general population. This will all but guarantee a steady supply of food across the region and prevent future food shortages, whilst reducing the risk of the potential spread of COVID-19 in the continent. Countries like the United States, Australia, Denmark and New Zealand have deemed their entire food supply chain as an essential service, which is exempted from the current lockdowns, whilst adhering to strict protocols to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. In addition, the approved agencies in charge of price regulations should provide oversight and ensure that private individuals and organizations do not take advantage of the pandemic to engage in indiscriminate price hikes and exploitation. Also, grains and stored products in the silos of African nations should be quantified and strategically released to markets according to need at regulated prices. Both private and government-owned facilities must cooperate to make this possible.

In the long term however, African governments should provide subsidies to smallholder farmers for the rental of mechanized equipment to help them cope with fluctuations in agricultural labor, save time and massively boost productivity. Also, large commercial farms should invest more in precision agriculture technologies such as agricultural drones that can reduce costs linked to agricultural labor and inputs. Farmers cooperatives across the continent should also enter into long-term partnerships with private companies that provide agricultural drones and other cutting-edge technologies and innovation in the agricultural space to boost their productivity and reduce cost. In addition, African nations should invest in the modernization of defunct and under-performing silos as well as establishment of new ones in strategic regions to provide food buffers in times of scarcity. Finally, national stored food products research institutes should be well funded to enable researchers to come up with novel ways of storing key food products of each country, which can be implemented by the available facilities.

International Trade Threat:

To guard against the potential loss of revenue from international trade of agricultural products, African nations should adopt the recommendations of a 2016 study by the Food and Agriculture (FAO) on the Ebola viral outbreak in West Africa, which highlighted the need for countries that close their borders for health reasons to consider the option of maintaining cross-border trade corridors in order to maintain agricultural trade flows. Leveraging the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), African nations that have ratified the agreement can explore the markets of other member nations to replace agricultural markets that they have lost due to the viral outbreak.

In conclusion, the drive for continental food security will be useless without a well-functioning agriculture value chain that will guarantee the flow of agricultural products from the farm to the final consumer. Left unchecked, the COVID-19 outbreak could have devastating impacts across the entire agriculture value chain in Africa, undermining the food security target in the continent. African leaders and relevant stakeholders need to give serious thought on appropriate measures that must be put into place to ensure that the recent gains in the food security drive on the continent are not eroded by this deadly pandemic and the time for action is now.


Author: Ijeoma
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