A Call to Action of Presidential Task Force on the need for Farmers Support During COVID-19

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

We, members of civil society and non-government agricultural stakeholders, write to express our concern regarding recent efforts to strengthen the economy following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.

We applaud the government’s prompt efforts at ensuring that the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill was signed into law. We also applaud the Central Bank’s unveiling of its plans to inject N3.5 trillion to support the economy through a stimulus package. We acknowledge the priorities accorded these various efforts, namely to: give tax relief to corporate bodies who keep the job of their employees intact during a window period of January to December; put a moratorium on mortgage plans enjoyed by Nigerians; and suspend import duties on medical equipment, medicines, and personal protective gear; reduce interest rates from 9% to 5% on its existing intervention programs over the next year; plans to create a N50 billion targeted fund from which households can access a maximum of N3 million and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) can access a maximum of N25 million; and introduced credit support for the healthcare sector.

Most recent Federal Government guidelines for the movement of agricultural produce to curtail food shortages and ensure effective 2020 crop production is appreciated. However, there is still silence on how smallholder farmers who have already suffered losses can be compensated. We observe that these palliative and recovery windows may well work for the manufacturing and other sectors, but we are concerned that they do not adequately cover the needs of agricultural sector stakeholders let alone meet the nations needs of smallholder farmers who presently face the challenge of feeding the nation during the lockdown and immediately afterwards.

KEY OBSERVATIONS

Agriculture has been termed a key sector for years, but none of the relief efforts explicitly take note of the issues facing agricultural sector stakeholders. Farmers Associations are not strictly termed as SMEs, so will likely not be eligible for SME financing from the CBN. Yet, these funds are very much needed

While we understand the reason for the lockdowns, we believe that people are a vulnerable group that need to be taken care of in this time. Farmers, already hampered by challenges with access to market and the lowest levels of access to finance of any key sector in normal times, now find it even more difficult to sell their harvests in a period marked by lockdowns in many of States. This is affecting incomes of local farmers, and driving more people into poverty

The lockdowns and Police intimidation as a result are affecting our ability to access inputs, especially in States far away from ports where trailers have to travel long distances in order to reach farmers. This is especially important as we consider the needs of farmers in the rainy season planting period.

The fall in oil prices further highlights the need for improved economic diversification in the country to ensure our economy’s resilience to external shocks. Smallholder farmers make up the vast majority of food producers in the country, and we need the support of government to be more viable economic actors.

To address these various challenges, we seek that the government:

RECOMMENDATIONS

Adherence to the Federal Government directive to all government officials at all levels to work within the framework of the Federal COVID 19 Emergency Action Response Plan.

Work with smallholder farmers associations and farmers support organisations like us to come up with ways in which access to finance facilities can effectively support agricultural value chain actors, especially male and female smallholder farmers.

State Governments across the country should set-up measures to avoid any form of disturbance to the supply chain while maintaining security and food safety. Key actors within the supply and value chain must be permitted to continue working

Federal and State-level Ministries as well as the CBN should work with farmers and processors throughout the Country to use this opportunity to better improve working relationships with farmers. Too often, agricultural support does not reach “real farmers” and this reality cannot hold if we are to ensure food security in Nigeria

Police and other Security checkpoints set up throughout the Country should be sensitized on the need to facilitate seamless access to agricultural inputs and produce to the markets, especially given that these are part of the essential commodities included in the list of Mr President’s COVID-19 Directive, and for which a Presidential Committee chaired by the Honourable Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment has been set up.

Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) should intensify efforts at reaching farmers in all the different agro-ecological zone with seasonal rainfall predictions to enable them operate their farms in ways that respond to the expected rainfall

Ministries of Agriculture at State and Federal levels, as well as the Central Bank of Nigeria, should consider facilitating agricultural insurance especially for small scale farmers in order to forestall losses occasioned by climate change induced flood, drought, erosion, etc.

Now more than ever, State Ministries of Agriculture should facilitate farmers’ access to inputs so as to optimize their harvests, be more resilient to climate change, and guarantee food security post-Covid-19 era in the Country

Small household grants should be extended to poor farmers at scale to enable them stay afloat in this uncertain period, and effort should be made to ensure that these reach real male and female farmers

Extend access to finance facilities to ensure that farmer cooperatives and processing companies are able to procure technologies and inputs that will make their businesses grow.

Generate more demand for farm products and open more market channels for movement of food from rural areas to cities.

Farmers recognize that transparency and good governance benefits us all. We therefore also call on the Nigerian government to work with civil society to ensure transparency in the distribution of all the stimulus funding to be provided. This is because the efficacy of distribution to all sectors if done well will help ensure that there is money in the hands of the average Nigerian and help ensure that masses of people are not unemployed. As food producers, we know that more money in the hands of more Nigerians will mean more access to food for all.

Bridget Osakwe: Protem Professor G. B. Ayoola

Chair, VFS Chairman, Right to Food Group, VFS

Endorsed by:

Voices of Food Security (VFS)

All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN)

The Association of Small-Scale Agro-Producers in Nigeria. (ASSAPIN)

Ogbonge Women Farmers’ Association

Small Scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON)

Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria. (RIFAN)

Cc:

Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Aso Villa, Abuja

Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Federal Secretariat, Central Area, Abuja

Federal Ministry of Interior

Federal Ministry of Defence

Nigeria Police Force

National Union of Road Transport Workers

Contact information: