By Peter Uzoho
Worried by losses recorded by farmers resulting from inability to move their produce to the market due to the lockdown of some states, ActionAid Nigeria and women farmers under the aegis of Small–Scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON) have called on the federal and state governments to wade in to avoid food crisis in the country.
ActionAid and SWOFON made the call during a joint virtual press conference held yesterday with the topic: “COVID–19 and its Implications on Food and Agriculture; Smallholder Women Farmers and Averting the Looming Food Crisis in Nigeria.”
The conference was jointly addressed by the Country Director of ActionAid, Mrs. Ene Obi and the President of SWOFON, Mrs. Mary Afan.
According to a post-conference statement by the two bodies, farmers are experiencing massive post-harvest losses on fruits, vegetables, fresh products and other perishables.
“As organisations working to eradicate poverty, promote social justice and gender equality, we have deemed it fit to draw the attention of government to the continual loss of income and livelihoods in the agricultural sector especially for smallholder women farmers, arising from the continued lockdown and restriction of movement.
“As a result of the COVID-19 lockdown and lack of access to markets, farmers are experiencing massive post-harvest losses on fruits, vegetables, fresh products, and other perishables.
“Smallholder Women Farmers are unable to move their products from their farms to the market or from their rural communities to semi-urban and urban markets. They are also losing income from staple food like maize, rice, wheat, potatoes, cassava, soybeans, yams, sorghum, and plantain, etc.”
They added that those engaged in livestock farming especially poultry, were faced with a lack of access to poultry feeds they usually buy, noting that fisheries and aquaculture farmers were also affected by the closure or low patronage of hotels and skeletal operations of restaurants.
While recalling that smallholder women farmers were already faced with low and difficult access to credit, essential inputs, improved seeds and seedlings, organic and non-organic fertilizers before the advent of the pandemic, ActionAid and its partner however, said the spread of COVID-19 has compounded the situation as farmers now have no access at all.
“Being a planting season for farmers, it is pertinent to say that the food crisis is already looming in Nigeria. Currently, there is a food price crisis across the country, the poor and vulnerable are facing hunger and malnutrition, and this includes our smallholder women farmers.
“The security agencies and task forces enforcing the lockdown in the states, at the local government and community levels are incessantly harassing and extorting smallholder farmers, especially women,” the groups said.
As part of their recommendations, they called on the federal government to announce clear policy interventions during this pandemic to ensure a sustained local food production and supply, saying this also presents an opportunity for Nigeria to become self-reliant in food production and completely wean itself from excessive food imports.