The lock-down policy across the country in the past few weeks as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic currently ravaging the world has prevented farmers, who are supposed to be preparing for the 2020 planting season, from accessing direly needed agro-inputs due to the disruption of inputs supply logistics within the Southwest agronomic service market. This disruption, in the long run, will affect the food production cycle and eventually, the availability of food in the Region.
It is in anticipation of the impending food crisis that DAWN Commission hosted a webinar on Saturday May 9th, 2020 with the topic; ‘BEYOND COVID19 PANDEMIC- OPTIMIZING SOUTHWEST AGRICULTURAL POTENTIALS’. The webinar brought together agricultural stakeholders ranging from governments, organized private sector and development agencies to collectively brainstorm and collaboratively work on strategies for mitigating the impending crisis, in the short, medium and long terms.
Mr. Seye Oyeleye, Director General of DAWN Commission, gave the welcome address, while the Head of Agriculture and Agribusiness Desk at the Commission, Ibukunoluwa Ajao, set the tone for the conversation as she highlighted the opportunities and challenges in the Southwest Agricultural sector.
The session moderator, Mr. Aderemi Osijo, kicked-off the conversation by requesting the Commissioners for Agriculture from the six Southwest States to share the strategies engaged in mitigating the negative effect of COVID-19 as it relates to the responsibilities of their Ministries. As in; how they sourced and distributed palliatives to citizens, the development of protocols for ensuring free movement of essential agricultural related services, the support for smallholder farmer and how they have been engaging with private sectors to galvanize agricultural production within the Region and Nigeria as a whole.
The problem of food insecurity was underscored in all of their presentations as they highlighted the inadequacy of their food reserve and thus scampered everywhere to procure some of the food they shared as palliatives. Logistics issues was also identified as one of the major challenges in implementing the States initiatives as conveying the palliatives from the point of production to designated locations for distribution was a bit difficult. However, stakeholders recommended that trade associations like Lagos State Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) who have strong network with farmers can be engaged to mitigate the logistics issues.
The need to focus attention on optimising Southwest agricultural potential became the focus of the session and many participants deliberated on it, but the need for the Region to leverage the existing agricultural infrastructure to improve production as a medium term strategy was emphasised. The Region was also advised to map and leverage existing infrastructures. As many are aware, the Southwest Region is vast in agricultural assets and resources such as commercial warehouses, farm estates, dams which are currently being under-utilized and unfortunately there is no structure for operationalising the assets.
However, one of the policymakers at the session stressed that the Southwest Region currently has no comparative advantage in agriculture because most of the land resources are forest lands rather than farmlands, hence, the land is not investment ready. According to him, just 10% of the 100,000 hectares land designated for farm settlement is being cultivated. This informed the plan by the Southwest States Governments to set up a private sector led regional agricultural investment vehicle to drive investment into the sector by coordinating the assets and transforming them into investible assets.
The participants that contributed to the conversations however advised that the said organisation should endeavour to collaborate with all relevant stakeholders and develop inclusive strategy that will involve existing smallholder farmers and youths in their activities.
The discussants at the end of the session recommended that the Southwest State governments immediately implement strategies that will safeguard the food security in the Region by supporting farmers with the necessary agro-inputs working with trade associations and cooperatives and that efforts should also be made to renovate the moribund warehouses and silos through partnership with the private sector to store produce for emergency as we experienced with the lock-down.