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COVID-19: Women farmers seek special palliative, want FG to off-take farm produce to reduce gluts

WOMEN farmers in Nigeria are calling on the federal government to include them among beneficiaries of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) palliatives through the provision of grants, improved seeds and credit supports.

The farmers under the umbrella body of the Small Scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON) said the support becomes vital to prevent looming food crises, particularly post-COVID-19 pandemic.

Mary Afan, National President of SWOFON, made the call during a virtual media briefing on Monday.

She said food items in the nation’s grain reserves are being depleted due to the decision of the federal government to open-up the silos to provide food supports to Nigerians during the compulsory lockdown, particularly in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Afan observed that local farmers are also experiencing gluts in their farm produce due to the movement restriction, thus the need to commence a buy-off scheme to off-take the produce from them.

“As a result of the COVID-19 lockdown and lack of access to markets, farmers are experiencing massive post-harvest losses on fruits, vegetables, fresh products, and other perishables,” Afan said.

“Smallholder women farmers are unable to move their products from their farms to the market or from their rural communities to semi-urban and urban markets. They are also losing income from staple food like maize, rice, wheat, potatoes, cassava, soybeans, yams, sorghum, and plantain, etc. Those engaged in livestock farming, especially poultry, are faced with a lack of access to poultry feeds they usually buy. Fisheries and aquaculture farmers are also affected by the closure or low patronage of hotels and skeletal operations of restaurants.”

According to her, prior to COVID-19, smallholder women farmers were struggling with difficult access to credits, essential inputs, improved seeds, and seedlings, including organic and non-organic fertilisers.

However, the spread of COVID-19, she noted, has exacerbated the situation as the farmers no longer have access to farm inputs at all.

“Being a planting season for farmers, it is pertinent to say that the food crisis is already looming in Nigeria,” she added.

The federal government’s intervention, she noted, would therefore prevent post-harvest losses and restore farmers’ confidence.

“We call on the federal government to announce clear policy interventions during this pandemic to ensure that there is sustained local food production and supply. This also presents an opportunity for us as a nation to become self-reliant in food production and completely wean ourselves from excessive food imports,” Afan added.

Here are the farmers’ demands: “Special community local produce buying and transportation should be arranged to buy produce from smallholder women farmers to ensure the food supply is maintained.

“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.

“Agricultural extension agents should be exempted from the movement restrictions, so they can provide extension services support to the 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.”

On April 13, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) to work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 among other relevant stakeholders to ensure the pandemic does not affect 2020 farming season.

On April 26, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Muhammad Nanono inaugurated a joint technical task team on emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the meeting, he met with the committee chairman, Assistant Inspector General of Police, (Operations), Austin Agbonlahor, who promised to ensure free movement of food, livestock, and agricultural inputs nationwide, in order to avoid food shortages.

In her remarks at the briefing, Ene Obi, Actionaid Country Director, identified a need for an insurance cover for the women farmers.

Describing ActionAid as an organisation working to eradicate poverty, promote social justice and gender equality, she promised to ensure issues affecting women farmers are always placed before the policymakers.

“We have deemed it fit to draw the attention of Government to the continual loss of income and livelihoods in the agricultural sector especially for smallholder women farmers, arising from the continued lockdown and restriction of movement.”

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