The impact of COVID-19 on food distribution is gradually taking its toll on farmers, traders and consumers. In Nigerian markets, especially those in the South-Eastern part of the country, the prices of staple food continue to change. The problem here is that the prices of agricultural produce cultivated within a state are ridiculously low, while that of those “imported” from other states are high. That is not the only problem. There is scarcity of some staple foods that are not cultivated within the state.
In Enugu local markets, vegetables such as bitterleaf, spinach, ugu and other ones cultivated within the state are very cheap and in abundance. The price of grains like rice, beans, maize, bambara seed (okpa), among others that come from other states have shot up. Some favourable varieties of beans and okpa seeds are no longer found in the market; the situation is currently more like “making do with what is available”. Fruits are also expensive; and so are many other food items that are not cultivated within Enugu State.
It is quite disheartening that while there is scarcity of some staple foods, there is wastage of others. For instance, there were viral photographs that showed heaps of rotten mangos dumped by roadsides in Benue State. The person that posted these pictures explained that people dumped those fruits because they saw no buyers. There were also video clips that showed that rice millers in Benue State have lots of paddy rice, which they will not mill because they didn’t have demands. This is similar to a speculation that farmers in Ebonyi State are lamenting that their farm produce is wasting because nobody buys from them. Because of the shortage or lack of demand, these farmers either sell at very low prices or watch their sweats go to waste. Funny enough, most of them didn’t even see who to sell to at that low price.
This calls to mind the fact that COVID-19 is creating an imbalance in food production and consumption.
But it will be wrong to blame only COVID-19 for this. It should be remembered that the lockdown did not affect movement of essential goods, one of which is food. This makes one wonder why food should be scarce when farmers have agricultural produce that will go round, at least to some extent.
It may be presumed that traders do not want to move in search of goods, or that farmers have withdrawn into the hinterland all in a bid to avoid COVID-19. But from all indications, COVID-19 may be ravaging the land, but it has not stopped people from searching for income and food. So, COVID-19 is not the direct cause of this simultaneous scarcity and wastage.
A little inquiry from the traders revealed that security agents are the causes of food scarcity in different parts of the country. They set up many roadblocks in order to discourage interstate travel, to ensure the observation of lockdown order, and to extort money from farmers and traders. Sometimes these security personnel harass traders and farmers to the extent that they make their journeys unbearable. The thing there is that a lot of traders are weary of getting near their state borders while those that do, sell at exorbitant prices in order to make up for the stress of the journey and the money spent on bribing the officials.
From what is going on now, if nothing is done immediately to control the situation, the country will be thrown into a food crisis in the nearest future. As planting season has arrived, many farmers should have started planting for the year but a lot of them are yet to sell off the ones they cultivated. And from what I know, most of these farmers store their produce in their farms: they move their crops directly from their farms to the market, or, the traders come to their farms to buy and move them. This means that these farmers will not have the morale to plant right now (because the ones they planted are wasting) and they may not be able to utilise their farms (because old produce is still there).
In addition to these, these farmers need money to purchase seeds, chemicals and fertilisers as well as to hire labourers and machinery. Their only source of income is wasting right before them and they are powerless to stop it. This is poverty staring these people right in the face and they can’t help it. This will not only affect the farmers, but also the people that depend on their produce for their livelihood. Who knows what will happen if these farmers do not plant this year.
It should be understood that no state in this federation is self-sufficient in food production. This is why the movement of food items should not be disrupted by corrupt security officials. The concerned authorities need to look into this; people should not starve because some officials want to reap out of the pandemic. They are throwing the country into an avoidable food crisis.