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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

COVID-19: Experts urge pathway to build resilient agriculture sector

A call has gone to the authorities to develop a pathway to build a resilient agriculture sector during and post Covid-19.

Women farmers
Female smallholder farmers

This formed part of the resolutions at a webinar held on Thursday, June 4, 2020 courtesy of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Nigeria (AGRA). It was themed: “Securing the 2020 Cropping Season in the face of Covid-19 Pandemic”.

The pathway, disclosed participants, includes the introduction of tech-based communication network among stakeholders, distribution of stimulus packages to farmers/households and issuance of permits to farmers to enable continuous farm operations at the local government level.

According to experts, the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted efforts to guarantee food security in Nigeria, Africa, and the world at large.

With the present geometric increase in world population, it was predicted by the World Population Prospect (WPP) that in 2050 Nigeria’s population is estimated at 402 million, which is more than double the present population; a situation that calls for an urgent action to sustain the growing population through resilient agricultural framework.

Therefore, the urgency to develop a resilient pathway to ensure food security cannot be overemphasised with the present pandemic outbreak, stated participants.

Prior to the pandemic, AGRA said it funded projects to increase productivity through enhanced agro-processing practices, adding that although in current times, the success of ongoing projects seems to be threatened due to the pandemic.

In a bid to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Federal Government of Nigeria initiated a lockdown to prevent further spread of the disease. This impacted food supply chains negatively, stakeholders along the value chain were stranded with agricultural produces on transit and farmers faced challenges accessing their farms. These have brought up key questions in the agricultural sector focusing on the pathway to mitigate crop loss and build agriculture resilient practices to achieve food security during the pandemic and post Covid-19.

The challenges associated with smallholder farmers’ empowerment, access to agricultural inputs, resilience of extension service programs and improvement of agro-processing practices has to be addressed to achieve food security both during and post Covid-19 period. Though these issues are prevalent but there seems to be “a silver lining beneath the clouds”. This outbreak has shown a dire need and opportunity for actual diversification of the country’s economy to agriculture.

To ensure food security, government embarked on humanitarian activities that included the distribution of food items to households and the approval of the release of 77,000 tonnes of assorted grains to farmers. This was done specifically to support smallholder farmers in remote communities.

Transporters were given given formal permits from the government to ensure easy transit of agricultural products to consumers and the price of fertiliser was reduced from ₦5500 to ₦5,000 to help farmers during the planting season. Plans are being made to initiate tech-based coordination to involve all stakeholders in the extension programs to move on with planned projects. Though the issue of under staffing and underfunding needs to be addressed, to some extent this has been mitigated through the Community Based Advisor (CBA) model which is focused on building capacity to ensure a sustainable impact.

Madam Halima Lawal, the Commissioner for Agriculture in Kaduna State, underlined the importance of involving women in the development of an agriculture resilient pathway.

She said that, in a time like this, it is imperative to involve women smallholder farmers who are zealous to go back to their farms to work.

She said: “If you ignore your other half, you are already halfway to your failure. The women should be empowered and put in the front lines to ensure food security in this period. It is also necessary to standardise products of women smallholder farmers to get the value for their processed produces. The issues of flooding and easy transit of agricultural products need to be addressed in the creation of this pathway.”

The stressed that cooperation and implementation of proper communication network among stakeholders cannot be overemphasised in the process of mitigating crop loss and building a resilient agriculture sector to ensure food security during and post Covid-19 era.

This, they opined, calls for responsive action of all stakeholders in the agricultural sector.

Participants at the webinar were Dr. Mua’zu Abdulkadir, Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD); Professor Muhammed Khali Othman, Executive Director National Agriculture Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS); Professor Victor Okechukwu Chude, Registrar and Chief Executive Officer Nigerian Institute of Soil Science and African Soil Partnerships; Dr. Udugmenar Abdul, Mena Programme Lead Agribusiness and Mineral Resource Foundation; Madam Halima Lawal, Commissioner for Agriculture, Kaduna State, Mr. Ayodeji Balogun, Chief Executive Officer, AFEX Nigeria Market Creators; and Mr. Mezuo Nwuneli, Managing Partner, Sahel Capital Agribusiness Managers.

The panelists discussed the current trends affecting achievement of food security in Nigeria specifically Covid-19 and flooding.

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