What African farmers and processors say about the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns

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Farmers and other key stakeholders in Nigeria, Mali, Niger, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Senegal speak up about how the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting them and what their concerns are as they approach the 2020-2021 cropping season. Digital extension and advisory services, online payments and fund transfers, and virtual learning platforms were among the key needs outlined by them. These need to be fulfilled quickly, not just for the current scenario but also for the future.

About 80-85% of smallholder farmers whom we work with are at risk of losing all their dry season investments as a result of the lockdown due to COVID-19. More worryingly, there are almost no extension services except for the skeletal visit-and-train system. Farmers and processors are left without field demonstrations. They’re unable to apply the critical second-phase urea fertilizers and appropriate pesticides. We fear that they will be unable to feed their families or the nation as food security is dependent on their performance.

In order to mitigate the shock of the pandemic and its related effects on smallholder farmers and processors, building capacities and providing financial and marketing support for the first six months of the closedown would be essential.

E- extension becomes very important as an innovative way of working with extension workers and farmers. Farming needs to be led by information and communications technology (ICT) and should turn into a demand-driven vocation. After the pandemic is over, impact on the nation and the need for Nigeria to diversify from an oil-dependent country to one with an agriculture-led and technology-driven agribusiness systems will need a re-shaping and re-thinking of our *agricultural models.

Ms Stella Thomas, Managing Director, Tecni Seeds Limited, Nigeria: At Tecni Seeds we perceive COVID-19 as a setback for agricultural business. The pandemic is already affecting business because cost of haulage and cost of inputs have doubled due to unavailability of labor. So, we are trying to create an online presence for sales, and increase machines to reduce human labor. It takes almost two weeks to move goods from Kano to Ibadan due to interstate issues and bad vehicles. It is a trying time for everyone, but it will pass. Let’s keep safe and keep looking out for new ways in seed Agribusiness.

Mrs Coulibaly Maimouna Sidibe, CEO of Faso Kaba, Seed Company, Mali: COVID-19 has slowed down our activities and reduced our revenues enormously this year.

With no flights, we have missed many orders of inputs, including seeds, sprayers, pesticides etc. that we import from overseas and due to restrictions in transport, it’s difficult to go into the field to buy inputs.

We’ve had to cancel our annual meetings with farmers as they do not have the means to hold virtual meetings and make online purchases. The process of certification and provision of seeds to be distributed to producers of certified seeds will be delayed this year. This will lead to a lack of availability of seed for the production of certified seeds by individual farmers, associations and cooperatives.

While normally our seed shops are equipped at this time of the year, we are still in the process of collecting samples. We ask our donors to please facilitate access to basic inputs even at subsidized prices. We need support for paying salaries to our staff. We will also need more preventive kits for the farmers’ field demonstrations and trainings this year. Virtual meetings have become essential and our farmers need to be there.

Mrs Fanta Diamoutene, President of women farmers group in Farakala, Mali: Most farmers like me do not have these smartphones and other virtual platforms that those in the cities are using to connect, and we do not have the knowledge to hold such virtual meetings. Therefore, we are very concerned about missing the season’s activities. We hope that partners will help us get some protection kits in the near future, pending a solution to this pandemic.

Mr Yalaly Traore, member of ULPC (Local Union of Cereal Producers), Dioila, Mali: Farmers do not have the same perceptions about the pandemic. While some believe it does exist, others believe it is a government policy to make money. However, they all agree on one thing: this pandemic is affected us, because all activities – planning, meetings, training – have slowed down.

There has been an increase in the prices of agricultural inputs (fertilizers and herbicides) and the shortage of certain products on the market.

Due to the closing of the borders, members of our cooperatives have not been able to sell their stocks while these cooperatives have taken loans to build up their stocks.

At ULPC we have not yet succeeded in equipping our farmers with masks or handwashing kits. We are actively in contact with partners, including NGOs, to see how they can support our farmers with these essentials. They are very needed by farmers who are producing to feed our communities.

Mrs Nasser Aichatou Salifou, General Manager, Ainoma Seed Farm, Niger: From the start, we initiated awareness campaigns on preventive measures because we noticed that our producers were not informed enough about the pandemic. Currently, their concern is whether they can go to the field when the rains come. In my opinion, awareness campaigns should be increased through community radios and posters/flyers to better inform farmers. There is still a lot of prejudice because producers are not informed enough about the disease and then those who have access to social media have wrong information or fake news.

As for the pandemic, we are feeling the effects on marketing of our produce and this could have an impact on our turnover. We have put some kits at our administration office and at our production site. However, our financial means do not allow us to reach producers or distributors with the kits. Although, right now, the marketing of food products is not too impacted by the pandemic, our worry is that the isolation of the city of Niamey prevents us from setting up inputs shops at our points of sales.

Also, the training sessions that we generally offer our producers, agro dealers and technicians is being affected in particular because of the social distancing restrictions. We must continue to collaborate in order to adapt our solutions for meetings / training with farmers while respecting preventive measures. And, finally, we need our donors support to help raise more awareness about the pandemic.

El Hadj Abdul Razak, Director General, Heritage Seeds Company, Ghana: We cannot go to market to sell our seeds and it is difficult to reach our farmers. Also, because of social distancing, we cannot engage many workers for weeding and/or applying fertilizers, etc. If this continues, we may have to decrease our acreage in production.

Planning for the future is very difficult because we don’t know what will happen in the next moment. We had clients coming from Accra city in the previous years but not this time because of the lockdown in Accra. Everything else can wait but production cannot, we need enough seed in the system. Even if there is one man in the earth, he will still have to eat. Seed is feed security. We need to maintain that.

Bougouna Sogoba, Director General, Malian Awakening Association for Sustainable Development (AMEDD), Mali: This pandemic is a major health and economic crisis that can have a negative impact on the rural economy. We lack the manpower for cropping season activities and also difficulty in getting services to inputs by the private sector and extension services. The donor countries of most NGOs and foundations being strongly impacted, it could have repercussions on financing.

For our NGO, the main challenge has been to carry out our activities while putting in place preventive measures against contamination. We hope that, in Mali, the cropping season and the production will not be much affected.

However, this pandemic is also an opportunity to explore new ideas such as the use of digital solutions. We must use this crisis as an opportunity to refresh our approaches and technologies.

Mr El Hadj Ibrahima Diouf, President of the GIE-Jambar (Groupe d’Interet Economique), Meouane, Senegal: In Meouane, we are well aware that this is a global phenomenon and we are trying our best to keep ourselves safe with preventive measures such as lockdown and social distancing. We also perform prayers to ask for divine grace. Due to the geographic location of our village (about 150 km from Dakar) and the scattered distribution of the houses in the village, we strongly believe we will keep safe from the pandemic.

The GIE usually receives pre-basic seeds of millet and peanuts from ISRA (Senegalese research institution). Due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Senegal in early March, we have not yet received the seeds. Also, the seeds we produced last year still need to be certified, packaged and distributed to farmers. All the processes have been stopped due to the pandemic, while the rainy season is about to start.

Although the number of people tested positive has unprecedentedly increased (100 people per day, on average, since 1 May), the government of Senegal has recently decided to unlock the containment, allowing the seasonal workers to travel to rural areas. We are worried that this decision may favor the propagation of the COVID-19 in rural areas.

Roger Kabore, Minim Sông Pânga Association, Burkina Faso: In the beginning, farmers had lot of fears of being contaminated by people coming back from cities especially since there are no remedy. Today there is less fear. Farmers are mainly informed via radio and TV on the Covid-19. However closings of markets, borders and gold panning sites have cut off the sources of income of some producers. We are concerned that insufficient and high cost of imported agricultural inputs may affect production. Therefore, our association has put lot efforts on producing and using of local inputs (compost, seeds, and phytosanitary products). This pandemic is a real threat but there are opportunities to be seized for the future by building a strong local economy network and safety nets for the benefit of producers.

Recently CORAF has recommended that a concerted effort be made to ensure availability and access to certified seeds of major staple food crops in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Permanent Interstate Committee for drought control in the Sahel (CILSS) region to avert the looming consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on agricultural production. Like several other nations, around the world, the African Union (AU) is also exploring a plan to support farmers. As Ministers of Agriculture from around the world and the FAO discuss the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for food security and nutrition in Africa, the concerns expressed by farmers need to be heard and considered.

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