IKECHI AGBUGBA, PhD
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in conjunction with other stakeholders of Nigeria’s agriculture sector transformation such as the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Feed the Future Nigeria Agricultural Policy Activity, World Fish and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in a One-Day workshop held a technical session discussing findings from research studies carried-out by the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics, Michigan State University on ‘’the impact of COVID-19 and associated shocks and policies on smallholders (SMEs) along the poultry and fish value-chains’’ on Monday, 6th December, 2021 in Port Harcourt City, Rivers State.
The knowledge-sharing research dissemination workshop was facilitated/moderated by Dr Ikechi Agbugba from the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Rivers State University on the theme, “COVID-19 and Agri-Food SMEs in Nigeria: Evidence from Fish and Poultry Value Chains.”
During the workshop, the lead researcher and principal investigator from Michigan State University, Prof. Saweda Tasie, who participated via zoom stated that the USAID has expressed commitment toward supporting policy processes via scientific research to enhance skills and mentoring through training and Institutional Capacity Development in Nigeria. She further explained that the initiative is aimed at promoting policy-driven collaborative research and analysis, as well as supporting Nigerians and partners to provide evidence that would guide policy processes in the agriculture sector.
NATURE OF RESOURCES IN ATTENDANCE
Among other stakeholders from Artisan Fishermen Association of Nigeria (ARFAN), National Fishers Association of Nigeria (NFAN), crops and livestock farmers, as well as selected youths and students of tertiary institutions in the agriculture space in attendance, heads of department at the Rivers State Ministry of Agriculture (RSMOA) also attended and they are: Dr Godswill Ukoikpoko (Livestock and Veterinary Services), Mr. Promise L.Y. Birah (National Agricultural Research and Liaison Services, NAERLS); Mr. Bestman U. Wokele (Fisheries and Aquatics) and Bestman Wokele (Poultry Association of Nigeria, PAN).
More so, Dr Benjamin Otene from the Department of Fisheries and Environment, Rivers State University (RSU) was in attendance. Other participants present include: Dr Ebitari Binaebi (Agricultural Economist, RSU); Dr Ekwueme Ifeanyi-Amos (Agricultural Economist, Ignatius Ajuru University of Education); Mr. Sunday Agbagwa (RSU); Nari Lebe Monday (ARFAN); Tammy Barango (ARFAN); Faabel Tombari (ARFAN); Billy Thankyou (NFAN); Offumbu Nelson (State MOA); Bibi Adeleye (Fisheries Dept., MOA); Mrs. Blessing Ohaeri-Chigozirim (Farmer/Immigration Officer); Benita Ogbuehi (Fish Farmer); Dagogo Blessing (Artisan Fisher);Lebelage Barisere Chris (Artisan Fisher); Emmanuel Akumuko (Fish Farmer); Desmond Chizunum Wali (Agricultural Economist, RSU); Prosper Kagbara (Agricultural Economist/Corper).
FEED THE FUTURE NIGERIA AGRICULTURAL POLICY ACTIVITY NOTES 1 TO 3
Presentations were made on the findings and recommendations by team members on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on Agri-food, small and medium enterprises in Oyo, Niger and Abuja.
For Oyo State, the study findings as reported by Abagyeh-Igbudu et al. (2021) are as follows:
• Even though the state did not implement a full lockdown in response to COVID-19, SMEs were still significantly impacted by disruptions to their input and output supply chains, largely due to their interdependence on other states for inputs, output markets and other supporting services.
• The challenges firms faced in the state changed from supply chain disruptions (due to lockdown in other states) to financial challenges due to lower demand and increased default in payment among customers and the increase sales on credit adopted by SMEs in response to the early challenges with market access.
• Only three percent (3%) of the study sample received any assistance. Of those who received any assistance, 100% of it was from their social networks and not government and the FCT.
For Niger, the study findings as captured by Muhammad et al. (2021) are that :
• The COVID-19 pandemic and associated policies severely affected the operations of small businesses along the poultry and fish value chains in Niger State. The number of small businesses in operation declined in the months after the lockdown period, indicating a medium to long term effect.
• There was a steady decline in the number of regular workers employed by small businesses after the lockdown. This may be an indication of a severe long-term effect of the pandemic and associated policies on business operations.
• Employment of daily laborers was also disrupted. Both small and non-small businesses experienced a decline in the number of daily laborers contracted in all supply chain segments, except for small businesses in the downstream supply chain (fish, chicken, and egg retailers).
• Businesses along the fish and poultry value chains faced increasing challenges during and after the lockdown. Numerous businesses faced financial difficulties in the months after the lockdown.
• No assistance was received by the value chain actors from any of the Government agencies during the period
From the research findings for Abuja, Sule et al. (2021) submitted that :
• Lockdown policies in the FCT severely restricted the operations of SMEs in the midstream and downstream of the poultry and fish value chains
• While the impacts of the restrictions appear to be temporary for non-small businesses generally, we find some evidence of longer-term effects on small businesses in the midstream
• The COVID-19 lockdown policies significantly affected firm employment decisions with important differences between male and female owned enterprises. While employment by male owned businesses appear to have partially recovered, employment levels remain extremely low among female owned enterprises
• Very few SMEs received any assistance to support their response to COVID-19 and the few that did only received assistance from friends and family.
Technical Session with Poultry and Fish Dealers and Selected Stakeholders of Agri-Food Transformation in Rivers State
With respect to the points raised at the Port Harcourt Zonal Workshop Group, that fish production is going very low, ineffective and inefficient is as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, as well as black soot which, in the last quarter of 2016 has become an environmental issue for residents of Port Harcourt City, state and region. The increased presence of this airborne particulate (soot) in the environment is suspected to come from illegal refining, bunkering and gas flaring activities are the major sources of soot in the State around the City.
The question of what can be done to remedy the situation was raised and there is room for an efficient increase in fish production in Rivers State. Indeed, the issue of soot has made life less-abundant for artisan fishers and that has drastically and severely affected their farmlands, fishing resources and even sources of drinkable water. For instance, one of the participants complained that buyers and consumers of fish have found black soot inside fish guts whenever fish is cut.
According to one of the stakeholders in attendance, ‘’that there are no clear distinctions regarding rural and urban farmers as rural farmers are mostly affected,’’ was not captured in the research papers.
In addition, that the feed price for both poultry and fish is skyrocketing due to the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer news and that issue was raised by a lady poultry farmer. She further suggested that Nigeria’s government need to show more concern in providing some assistance to smallholder poultry and fish farmers in the form of grants, loans, subsidies, more cultivable land to site their farms. According to an NFAN member in attendance, recommendations was made to provide some medium for farmers in accessing funding sources as that would go a long way in sustaining the fishers.
“It is not just COVID that is responsible for the decrease in poultry and fish agribusinesses, but the policies enforced by government,” commented by one of the academic stakeholders Faculty of Agriculture, Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Port Harcourt. The high price of fish, chicken, egg, among other poultry products in food market is described as outrageous and that government, private investors, Nigerians in diaspora and other stakeholders can do more to support farmers to scale-up poultry and fish production. With respect to fishers accessing funds and grants, Head Fishery Department at Rivers State Ministry of Agriculture suggested that farmers be registered at their appropriate departments in the ministry as that would go a long way to structuring out a framework for channeling information, interventions or palliative for farmers especially for fishers.
A fish farmer in Rivers State who participated expressed her pains over the high cost of fish feed as it is closing down catfish farms in the state; and her question was what will be the assistance of government to bail-out fish farmers and save their businesses. On the other hand, a poultry farmer attendee lamented that there is over 100% increase in the price of poultry feed. However, in the market, buyers are unwilling to pay higher prices. She further pointed-out that palliatives made available during COVID-19 for farmers was inaccessible to them implying that loans meant for farmers are diverted by persons who do not practice farming and this is an aberration in the system. In the course of the workshop, a general question which was raised by majority of the participants is what is the Federal Government of Nigeria doing to ensure poultry and fish farmers, as well as other agrifood practitioners in providing meaningful assistance for them? More so, a follow-up question on what can be done by the government to bring down the price of poultry and fish feed, so as to salvage those agribusinesses from closing down.
As recommended by head of the department, Livestock and Veterinary Services, RSMOA that: “as farmers, there is every need to more innovative in thinking particularly as what to do for government.” The practice of good farm management such as biosecurity is of great essence to ensure disease prevention in and between livestock/animal farms. He stressed that all farmers especially poultry and fish farmers must encourage themselves by forming or joining a recognized farmer cooperative to enhance their chances of securing loans, grants, subsidies, interventions, among other support pills from government and other funding agencies. Enrolling in a cooperative could also be a strategy for the farmers in minimizing the shock Furthermore, he stressed that there is need for mindset change by farmers on what they can and would do for government and ‘not just’ what government can/would do for farmers. Still on that, another participant suggested that farmers be encouraged to register with agricultural cooperatives as that could be an antidote to the ‘no data issue’ for farmers; and would definitely help in these times of a dearth in data for real farmers.
More so, it is recommended that Rivers State Government in conjunction with stakeholders of agriculture transformation should welcome initiatives in establishing chicken hatcheries in the state as that would go a long way in cushioning the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.
However, regarding the policies meted by the government during and after COVID, strategies adopted in improving the concerns, farming conditions and livelihoods of poultry and fish farmers, as well as prospective entrants in the agri-food value-chain agribusiness can be actualized since they are a veritable strategy in generating employment opportunities, increasing income, reducing farming/farmers’ risks, developing agri-infrastructure and improving the quality of rural life.
Therefore, in line with the research conducted, such conversation and knowledge-sharing session will essentially help policy makers in identifying true farmers since the findings indicated that significant numbers do not receive any form of assistance during COVID-19 pandemic.
ABOUT THE FACILITATOR/REPORTER
Ikechi Kelechi Agbugba, PhD is an Agro Economist Professor in the Faculty of Indian Ocean Sciences of the University of the State of the African Diaspora (USOAD). Since 2003, he has been carrying-out researches on food and agricultural marketing in sub-Sahara Africa (SSA). He earned PhD in Agricultural Economics and has gained Postdoctoral Research Experience on a collaborative study between South Africa’s Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and the University of Fort Hare, Alice Campus. Currently, he is a Professor of Agricultural Sciences and Agribusiness at the Cavalla International University (CIU) and also features as senior academic/researcher playing mentoring roles to university students, African youths, teenagers, as well as engaging with international networking volunteer organizations across Africa and outside, as either senior advisor or director in championing Africa’s transformation through the agriculture/agribusiness and education sectors. He is one of the Advocates of the European Technology Chamber (EUTECH) focusing on possible and easy solutions how to deploy business ideas, as well as relevant technology to targeted African communities. According to Dr Ikechi, “moves to industrialize the agriculture sector must be vastly encouraged especially in this era of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).” To mention a few, Dr. Agbugba is an Advisory Board Member with the African Continental Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCCI); Director, Research & Development/International Coordinator for Africa Agriculture Agenda (AAA); Senior Advisor, African Youth Diaspora Organization (AYDO); Senior Adviser, Tomatoes and Orchard (Horticulture) Producers Association of Nigeria (TOPAN); Advisor, AgriEn (an agribusiness and agri energy initiative focused on accelerating development and delivery of innovative and sustainable interventions in food security, among other initiatives. Also, Dr Ikechi is the Technical Adviser to NutriCare, Malawi (an initiative developing strong farmers’ links and networks with the agriculture sectorin specific regions thereby identifying farmer/farming needs, as well as building networks, partnerships and relevant opportunities in line with the vision of actualizing food and nutrition secure communities through empowering women to increase availability of affordable nutritious foods.
Dr Ikechi is a Faculty Member in the agribusiness management program of Rome Business School, as well as a Senior Academic/Researcher, Department of Agricultural & Applied Economics, Rivers State University (RSU). Moreover, he is a selected academia/researcher stakeholder in the Feed-the-Future initiative of the USAID Global Food Security Strategy Whole-System Workshop and has led plenary sessions on Food Security and Agribusiness especially at International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IFAMA) World Congress which held at St Paul Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. Moreover, he is the recipient of the excellence award ‘Agro-Economist of the Year’ in the 2017 Conference of the Pan African Agricultural Journalists (PAAJ) at Ikeja, Lagos State, Nigeria.