As a result of the COVID-19 lockdown and lack of access to markets, farmers are experiencing massive post-harvest losses of fruits, vegetables, fresh products, and other perishables, Smallholder Women Farmers Organisation (SWOFON), raises an alarm.
They are particularly worried that they are unable to move their products from their farms to the markets or from their rural communities to semi-urban and urban markets, while also losing income from staple foods like Maize, Rice, Wheat, Potatoes, Cassava, Soybeans, Yams, Sorghum, and Plantain among others.
SWOFON also added that those engaged in livestock farming especially poultry, no longer have access to poultry feeds, just as Fisheries and aquaculture farmers are affected by the lockdown owing to low patronage by hotels and skeletal operations of restaurants.
ActionAid Country Director, Mrs. Ene Obi, and the President of SWOFON, Mrs. Mary Afan, said these during a joint virtual press conference, Monday, on COVID-19 and its implications on Food and Agriculture, Smallholder Women Farmers and averting the looming food crisis in Nigeria.
The farmers further decried that security agencies and task forces enforcing the lockdown in the states, at the local government and community levels are constantly harassing and extorting smallholder farmers, especially women.
Obi pointed out that prior to the emergence of COVID-19, smallholder women farmers were already faced with low and difficult access to credit, essential inputs, improved seeds and seedlings, organic and non-organic fertilizers, which are now completely frozen with the spread of the pandemic.
She said: “Being a planting season for farmers, it is pertinent to say that food crisis is already looming in Nigeria. In addition to the food price crisis across the country, the poor and vulnerable are facing hunger and malnutrition, and this includes smallholder women farmers.”
The group however called on the Federal Government to announce clear policy interventions during this pandemic, to ensure sustained local food production and supply, saying the period is an opportunity for Nigeria to become self-reliant in food production and completely wean itself from excessive food imports.
They also opined that special community local produce buying and transportation should be arranged to buy produce from smallholder women farmers to ensure food supply is maintained.
They also urged that Smallholder farmers especially women should be exempted from the movement restrictions while observing precautionary measures, so that they can go to their farms for work and transport their produce to the market.
The group also stressed the need for grants, credit, essential inputs, early maturing livestock, improved seeds and seedlings, and fertilizers preferably organic to be provided for smallholder farmers especially women to avert the looming food crisis.
They further stressed the need to exempt Agricultural extension agents from the movement restrictions, so they can provide extension services and support to farmers while maintaining physical distancing and other precautionary measures.
“Special palliatives targeted at smallholder farmers especially women should be designed to provide for the needs of farmers, as they are amongst the poor and vulnerable, also smallholder women farmers should be provided with agricultural insurance services.” they stated.