By Fatai Akorede
The recent COVID-19 outbreak in the world has significantly dealt the global economy a serious blow, such that even the much respected developed economies are now gasping for Oxygen to survive. Going by this trend, the hitherto fragile Nigerian Economy may be badly hit by the impending depression in our economy, if we fail to pragmatically bailout our major primary production sector which is Agriculture, to stimulate the desired growth.
Though we are most likely to be deceived to have the impression that the COVID-19 fatality ratio going by the recent update of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control is put at about 2.5%, which in relative terms can be adjudged as LOW, when compared with African average. The Nigerian agricultural sector pre-COVID-19 era just like in other developing economies forms the backbone of the nation’s economy. The sector has been adjudged as the highest employer of labour, which as of today is estimated to be about 80% in the rural areas and around 60% in the urban areas where agricultural value chain is prominent.
Therefore, the contribution of the sector to food production for Nigerian huge human and animal population can not also be underestimated, while agriculture had also over the years provided both foreign exchange and ofcourse the much needed raw materials for the nation. Thus reducing unnecessary depletion of our foreign reserves through importation of strategic raw materials to drive the nation’s agro based industries.
I wonder what would have become the fate of such multinational companies such as Nestle, Unilever, Nigeria Brewery, Coca Cola, and other food
and beverages companies if farmers should proceed on a forced sabbatical leave brought about by Coronavirus outbreak. To this end, our government at all levels must during this time roll out their plans to defeat hunger and famine in both short and long run. We need to redouble our efforts to sustain food production, with a view to ensuring its availability, affordability and security even in the face of present challenges.
The biggest risk during this crisis thus, is for the country to run out of food, which if we aren’t careful would be experienced soon. Yes, we keep releasing foods from our national strategic reserve which is a normal thing a nation should do during unexpected situations like this, i.e during disease/pests outbreak, draught or when there is war. The food crisis situation which may arise as a result of our inadequate strategic plans to replenish the exhausted food reserves could potentially result in widespread looting, robbery, and even escalate into civil unrest/violence and death of citizens.
Consequent upon this, the roles of our peasant/small holder farmers in this situation can not be over-emphasised. The aggregate contribution of these categories of farmers is put at about 70% to the Nigeria’s food balance sheet and they should at this crucial time be supported by the government. They demographically live in rural and sub-urban areas where population density is scanty and where the chances of the deadly disease outbreak is low going by the ongoing lockdown to curtail the virus.
To achieve this, the government at the centre and those at the state should re-double their Agricultural intervention programs perhaps now and in the coming months to reinvigorate Agricultural Extension/Advisory Services to enhance the skills of the farmers. Agricultural financing schemes of the federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria should be made more accessible and available to peasant farmers and not the political farmers and money bags who may not likely make use of the money for the purposes it’s meant to serve. More incentives should should be given to farmers in pre-planting, planting and post planting operations as much as possible.
The attendant looming food crisis that might follow this deadly virus disease outbreak would not be palatable for us as a nation and we may not be able to cope with upsurge that might arise from it as a nation. I see a situation where the rich will suffer more from the upsurge because the poor would rise up against them and they the rich won’t be able to sleep. No one will be spared. A stitch in time saves nine.
While I have to commend all tiers of government, particularly the federal and state governments for their individual and collective efforts so far on the fight against COVID-19 in the country. It is Pertinent to note that, the provision of food is just as important as the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. In this situation, the government at the centre should be keenly interested in how to minimise the potential negative impact of the current problems on the production and distribution of food in the country. If we aren’t so careful the consequences on food Production, availability, affordability and security would be so devastating in the coming years.
We should realise that every country in the world is presently facing its challenges and might not have such opportunity in the short run to be able to have succour in the importation of foods and raw materials from our International trade partners. Owing to the devastating effects of COVID-19 in their own economies too. For instance, Germany is presently seeking for employment of 120,000 Agricultural Workers even with movement restrictions from Romanian and other Eastern European Countries and they’re even considering issuing work permits to migrants to boost food Production. Spain on her own is looking at about 90,000 farm workers also to mitigate against food insecurity despite the fact that they deploy advanced Agricultural technologies in the running of their Agribusiness. What are we doing as a nation?. One needs not to be a prophet to foresee the global food crisis that may follow this disease pandemic.
Fatai Akorede is an Agricultural Economist from Imeko in Imeko-Afon LG, Ogun State.