The novel Corona Virus is here and it looks like something that would sit here for a long while. From December 2019 in Wuhan China, affecting more than 199 countries as of March 2020 with a totality of 3.5 million cases. This knee jerk situation has caused countries to spend heavily in emergencies, economic activities have all been brought to a halt, health care systems have been stretched thin and the agricultural sector is not left out.
The agricultural value chain has deeply been affected in that some key stakeholders have been taken off the chain and developing countries that depend heavily on imports are struggling for the survival of their citizens and are far from attaining food security. The supply chains of these developing countries have severely been disrupted with their suppliers trying to create new channels to meet the needs of their clients.
In Nigeria, the rainy season has arrived and worries have been raised as to the rainy season being wasted due to limited input supply for this year’s planting season. Most inputs supplied to farmers be it seeds, agrochemicals, equipment are currently unavailable because the logistics to get them from the point of production to the farmers are dysfunctional courtesy of the pandemic. The ripple effect of this would be a reduction in the production, hence low harvest which in turn reduces the chances of attaining food security. Commodities exchange companies are also affected as they would be a drop-in spot trading in markets where the buyer gets farm produce from the producer. A survey by AFEX (African Exchange) Commodities Exchange Limited found that Nigeria’s fertilizer stocks are currently 20% below normal levels and there are only enough seeds and accumulation of other inputs to farm 1 million hectares of roughly 300 million hectares typically farmed. Mobility of labor has also affected production due to the border closure and restrictions placed on inter-state movements which have also led to a sharp decline in the demand for energy generating resources. All these, in the long run, have an effect on employment affecting the overall demand for food as families are forced to live on a tighter budget.
In addition to this, the interstate restriction has led to a snag in the supply chain of locally processed foods. For instance, in Abuja, tons of Rice and Garri have all failed to make it to their consumers, they are being tied down by security officials thereby reducing the shelf life due to its exposure to high temperature. Some in a bid to move their already harvested produce, processed goods, risk their lives, exposing these foods especially processed livestock to unfavorable conditions, making them unhealthy for human consumption. Poultry farmers have had it rough due to a reduction in the demand for eggs as the channels of consumption have reduced. They have taken to social media to sell the excess which has helped them get rid of this glut and this just brings to play the power of media in marketing agricultural products.
The Federal Government of Nigeria gave a directive on how the agricultural sector should be handled as food is the number one means of survival but this seems to be going in the opposite direction due to the closure of all interstate borders.
Low-Income Countries in Africa form about one-third of the continent’s population and the pandemic has had an impact on food consumption which takes more than 60% of the total consumption of the household of the middle-class income earners. This poses more danger for LICs as they have not acquired the capacity to produce and are heavily dependent on imports, making them the most vulnerable to food insecurity in this pandemic. Egypt has been accelerating imports on several commodities such as rice and wheat which could lead to stockpiling thereby affecting trade flow. Hoarding has also become an order in the pandemic as the government of several countries are putting measures in place to ensure that the interest of their citizens come first even before any profit motive. Trade restriction from point of production to the point of consumption have driven supply way higher than demand due to continuous production before the pandemic, this applies mostly to farm input and this is harming food security in importing countries. Meanwhile, scarcity has driven up prices beyond the reach of some families since the lockdown has been effected in Africa. In Tanzania, the private sector has been forced to shut down its production due to the inability to source raw materials from China. In Sierra-Leone, Niger, and Burkina-Faso, food insecurity is said to affect about 2 million people by June due to heavy snags on supply chain and high dependency on imports along with the season being a lean one according to the World Food Programme.
In Kenya, there have been reported losses of $300,000 in a day at the Kenya Flower Council, operations have been below capacity as only 10% of the total workforce are needed on the field after recording a 70% drop in sales from Europe alone. The personnel needed on the farm only harvest the flowers or destroy them. Here, the impact is immediate, unlike the manufacturing companies that have the option of halting production. With the children out of school due to safety reasons, the household budget gets stretched as they have to factor in the lunch of their children which has been sorted out by the schools in Kenya.
According to ACToday , Senegal with a quarter of its population suffering from undernourishment with agriculture employing over 78% of its total population which contributed 311.70 Million FCFA in the fourth quarter would witness a significant reduction in the contribution due to the challenges the pandemic is posing on supply chains, mobility of labor, even consumer behavior.
As the situation stabilizes in some countries, we see stakeholders taking proactive steps to ensure that they are still on track with their set goals for the year, although this might not be fully attainable due to the kneejerk shock this pandemic came with, forcing countries to make rapid adjustments within a short space of time.
To circumvent the effect of the pandemic and to minimize loss, the Kenya Flower Council have begun tripartite discussions with the government, freighters and the exporters, sensitizing the freighters of cut flower and spices that products are available for shipment to Europe and other countries that might be interested in their products. Discussions are also ongoing with the government to relieve charges on logistics to encourage logistics activities. Kenya is the third exporter of cut flower in the world is already positioning herself to ensure that she is ready to meet the rising demand across Europe as several countries are making plans to ease off the lockdown. And with this progressive thinking, they probably would become the number one exporter as they are strategically positioning themselves to meet the demand. Also in Kenya, this pandemic gives a boost in a way to smallholder farmers as their children are available to help out on the farm, which reduces expenses on labor as some smallholder farmers have revealed.
Meanwhile in Nigeria, the lockdown has been eased off in some states, still with interstate movement restriction. The Minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Mohammed Sabo Nanono claimed that Nigeria has 38,000 tonnes of grains in government-controlled strategic reserves intending to replenish with 100,000 tonnes to meet the nutrition needs of her citizens which would only have little or no effect in tackling food security when compared to the population and its consumption pattern. Speculations have been raised that this method might not be as effective as projected. To ensure food security, there have been several interventions by the Federal and State government of Nigeria who have invested millions of Naira in providing food items to her poor and vulnerable citizens to mitigate the effect of food insecurity. To this, several complaints have been laid as food items do not reach its target consumer; often they are being hoarded by some officials leaving the citizens undernourished.
There have also been several interventions by the World Bank, debt service relief of some countries by the IMF to help them focus their scarce financial resources towards emergency health care, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Jack Ma, and several medical supplies from countries like Israel and China. All these have been done to help minimize the effect of the pandemic on struggling countries.
In its totality, we can see that countries in Africa are heavily impacted by the novel Coronavirus and this only opens up the loopholes that need to be filled with well-thought-out policies followed with proper implementation. In the case of over-dependency on imports, capacity building in the Agricultural sector in terms of production and post-harvest technology need to be looked into. Though there is room for importation, proper accountability in terms of stockpiling reserves of imports should be a priority in the case of any other event beyond our control.
Also, processing companies should receive the same attention as production companies to keep the monies of the economy within the economy. For instance, the Cacao processing companies should be properly funded and operated to prevent the export of raw materials and the import of finished products. Cutting off unnecessary supply chains i.e. sourcing of materials locally would go a long way to reduce imports and improve savings, thereby reducing excessive spending on foreign currencies; this will, in turn, help the local currency to gain value against foreign currency. Providing more loans at a reduced interest rate would go a long way to aid the development of agribusinesses. Also, investment in research for the development of agricultural input like seeds, agrochemical, and technological innovations, this would ensure that agricultural production continues in the face of any other world-changing event.
The Coronavirus is still ravaging the continent and countries are preparing and gearing to ease off the lockdown trying to restart the economy while also trying to curb the spread. Farmers have been urged to go to their farms despite all factors pointing to low productivity in this planting season. Are we ready to deal with the aftermath of this virus? it seems like we are not ready, do you think we are?