Oladipupo: “What is your assessment of the impact of the current novel Coronavirus pandemic on Nigeria’s economic sector?”
Dr. Agbugba: “The pandemic has presented an opportunity for total consumption of home-grown food. It has also reaffirmed the need to develop our agricultural sector. Due to the lockdown, there has been a climb in prices of agricultural commodities. The demand for food has also increased because people are now more at home, and there is a greater need to consume. On the negative side, labor has been left redundant as they have also been forced to stay at home. Farmers might have to lay off staff, and labor supply at this point is very low as opposed to how it was pre-COVID-19.”

'Dr. Ikechi Agbugba, Rivers State University'

How has the rising cases of confirmed infection and various adjustment initiatives changed agronomy or agricultural practices so far?
“It has forced farmers to make less contact with those in the allied fields. Patronage has also dwindled because there is now less freedom due to government restrictions on movement. This has affected the distribution and supply of agricultural commodities. Also, the shortage of labor has made farmers depend more on technology or mechanized farming for the cultivation of their large farms.”

The threat to the agriculture sector, as the largest employer of labor, is a threat to livelihood. What are the key things to ensure sustained labor force for agriculture?
“One of the ways to tackle the threat of this pandemic on agriculture is to make agriculture attractive, to increase training and empowerment of the workforce. Agric workers should earn a decent living to make them appealing to the public.”

There is a huge prospect for agriculture – which would be a huge force in reviving the economy post-COVID-19
What is the fate of Nigeria’s agricultural economy in the face of the looming global recession, especially in the post-COVID-19 era?
“More people would fall back to agriculture and it would be a huge force in reviving the economy. The oil sector has proven not to be a good mainstay of the economy because it is susceptible to fluctuations as international market forces determine. The agriculture sector, on the other hand, is more reliable because agricultural goods and commodities are indispensable. There is a huge prospect for agriculture – which would be a huge force in reviving the economy post-COVID-19. People have come to realize how volatile our oil prices can be facing health crises like this one.”

The Nigerian Export Promotion Council has recorded falls in export earnings from agro-commodity, and predicted more plunges for the country in the international agro-commodity market, especially for cocoa. What can be done to manage the situation on the ground?
“To manage this situation, the government has to foster policies on agriculture. There should be concrete policies and development plans on agriculture. Before this time, we had agricultural programs and policies that were renowned nationwide, people understood what these things were- the goals and objectives – but we no longer have them. This would be a good avenue for these things to come back again.”

“Also, the government should improve on standardization. Our produce here are not standardized. That’s why when they see that our produce does not meet their standard, they send them back. Nobody wants to buy a substandard product. So, the standard of our produce, whether packaged or processed, has to meet global best practices. Also, our bilateral relationships with other countries have to be visited. Usually, Nigeria has a deficit in trade engagement; our balance of trade is not healthy.”

“In this regard, our agriculture sector is a huge strong point for us. Also, the government should encourage investment into agriculture, provide soft loans for farmers and strengthen the capacity of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council. With soft and single-digit interest loans, agricultural production will increase, subsequently leading to increase in export.”

Do you think the recession and dwindling investment power would affect agro-industrialization projects including the Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zone project in Nigeria?
“Yes, it will. Post-COVID-19, other sectors of the economy will also be demanding for the scarce resources of the government. It will take a government that has the interest and understanding of the importance and efficacy of the agriculture sector in sustaining the citizenry to provide funding for agricultural projects. We have Boko Haram and the military expenditure is increasing, and they are all demanding for resources – there is even the health sector. These would affect agricultural projects across the nation.”

How can the government make the agriculture sector sustainable during and post-COVID-19?
“In the times of COVID-19, the distribution of agricultural produce must be given the ease of passage across the country, especially inputs and food items from the farm. Farmers should be provided with incentives to keep farming in times like this when people are indoors. Post COVID-19, the government should immediately revisit dead or moribund agricultural agencies. There are many agencies – especially extension agencies – that used to be active but have become moribund.”

“These agencies should be revived because they are pivotal in passing key or relevant information on government policies and actions from the top or the center to the grassroots, that is, the farmers. Also, research institutes should be re-equipped. Furthermore, the budget for the agricultural sector should be revisited and increased. If this budget is not increased, it means the government is not paying keen interest in improving the sector.”

About €420 million (183 billion NGN) was allocated to the agriculture sector in the 2020 budget. Do you think this allocation is sufficient enough to cause a significant change in the sector?
“This is not sufficient. It is not even sufficient to transform agriculture in two regions of the country. We should understand that at this point, the value of the Naira has dropped with respect to the dollar. And some of the processing equipment and facilities used in our farms are imported. We also need to consider the exchange rate and trade policies. For me, if the government means serious business for the agriculture sector in the country, a minimum of €1.1 Million (1.2 Million USD or 500 Billion NGN) for agriculture should be our budget. That would go a long way in solving many of our problems in production, distribution, marketing, etc. Agriculture has a long value chain. If agriculture must be properly harnessed to deliver good dividends, absorb a lot of unemployed people from the labor market, then we should create a more reasonable budget for it.”

Carrot Farmer, Nigeria

Could you give some insight into what Nigeria should expect in terms of the market price of agricultural commodities post-COVID-19 era?
“This will all depend on how long the pandemic lasts. The longer it lasts, the more our food banks, reserves, silos, and barns, will diminish in terms of storage capacity. If it doesn’t persist for long, then the farmers can easily fall back on the existing capacity to continue with production. But if it persists for a long time, stock capacity could diminish, leading to a dire strait where things would be very hard in the country. I do not see much of a rise in price because, after the pandemic, the economy would be at a recovery stage.”

The global pandemic situation has changed the world’s narrative and ordeal in the past six months with people advised to maintain social distance and stay at home to avoid contracting the virus
“Some persons would have lost their job, so the aggregate demand would be lesser. Also, due to the fall in the price of oil, the government would have a much smaller spending power; so there would be lesser amounts of money chasing after available goods. Albeit, the way forward will be far-fetched owing to the white elephant projects of the government in the sector and much would not change with the fall in oil price cum dwindling purchasing power of the Naira. On this note, I wish to propose that farming communities of practitioners under the aegis of farmers’ cooperatives, farmers’ unions or associations, etc. aggregate resources and control influx of produce in their respective domain via regulations on the activities of their members; thus, forging a controlled pricing system and access to the production needs of individual members. This may not be a long-term solution but is a better palliative measure than what we have on our hands at present.”

Final questions, what is in your opinion positive about the IFAMA2020 conference going digital. How could IFAMA2020 be of positive influence on the development of agriculture in Africa?
“It is worthy to note that the pandemic has colossally disrupted learning activities in the educational calendar of nations. In other words, the global pandemic situation has changed the world’s narrative and ordeal in the past six months with people advised to maintain social distance and stay at home to avoid contracting the virus. Different sectors of the world's economy, livelihoods, institutions and lifestyles have taken an adjustment to cope with the rhetoric change that has befell it; one of such is the educational system of which the research agencies such as IFAMA is categorized. As a matter of fact, this societal development has resulted to a new and advanced types of e-communication such as e-presentations, e-teachings and e-learnings, which is greatly practiced in developed nations such as the US, UK, and the Netherlands. Globally, through the help of computers, attendees and participants (ranging from researchers, professors, other educators, government representatives and policy makers) of IFAMA2020 could access the conference proceedings, plenaries, technical sessions and conference resources making meaningful contributions as it were.”

“Moreover, the positive part of IFAMA2020 conference going digital is that it will entail digitally and timely registering, as well as connecting or hooking-up to the conference link on Zoom, Webinar, Instagram (IGTV), Facebook, Youtube and WhatsApp as means to transmitting the presenter(s)’ research results, findings and information to the relevant sessions. This, to a large extent, will give researchers (especially of the developing nations of sub-Saharan Africa, the fortuity to upgrade their technological skills to adapt to new platforms of e-presentations, e-learnings and e-delivery of research information.”

“On the side of the international delegates and attendees who may have issues with the initial plan of attending IFAMA2020 with respect to the traveling expenses and immigration bottlenecks, one of the major merits and positive parts of IFAMA2020 is that the presentations from the speakers and participants will be delivered from their convenient zones with negligible cost compared to physically attending the conference which will require costs for visa, exorbitant flight tickets and accommodation.”

Food security has become an important indicator of progress in Africa's agriculture development
“Contrarily, a disastrous bane to the achievement of such e-goals at this pandemic could be the unequal access to technology considering that the e-participants living in remote areas that do not have access to strong a network would be unable to connect or hook-up to participate in the conference. However, the reality unfolds before our very eyes, and the will to have accepted it proved a good point of growth and advancement especially in developing nations.”

“Regarding African agriculture sector development through IFAMA2020, the conference theme ‘Food for the Future’ is clearly noted. Food security has become an important indicator of progress in Africa's agriculture development. It is also important to note that apart from Africa, food production when measured in absolute terms, as well as per capita, has increased dramatically in all parts of the world. The development of the African agriculture sector initiated in the newly independent states in the late 1950s, which was interrupted at the end of 1980s, when the World Bank supported the many donor countries. However, by mid 1990s, some improvement in the general economy was discernible. This was followed by a long period of continuous per-capita growth, since the 1960s and the expectation that a number of African countries will be able to meet the first UN Millennium Development Goal (1st MDG), to cut world poverty in half by 2015. It is no longer news that Africa is grappling with poverty, food insecurity, political instability, among other developmental issues. Prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity was already a serious concern throughout sub-Saharan Africa. According to the FAO’s report from 2018, about 239 million people in Africa were undernourished. Since long before the COVID-19 pandemic, these chronic food crises have been driven by a variety of factors, including economic shocks, climate change and conflict.”

“From the foregoing, I reckon that IFAMA2020 is a forum for knowledge-sharing and meaningful interactions amongst the various participating academia and researchers globally on food for the future with a focus on COVID-19 Pandemic. Attending the epoch-making conference will provide participants, as well as the global audience, especially stakeholders of African agriculture sectors, development and ongoing opportunities to improve their critical thinking skills in understanding the global food system to necessitate, as well as develop operational frameworks with government, academia, research and development, community, among other stakeholders, thereby actualizing Africa’s food security status. Interestingly, Africa is diversely endowed with next generation of thinkers, who could help strategize platforms for entrepreneurial development by driving innovation and ensuring creative ideas and discoveries to reshape the agriculture or agribusiness sector, ensure biodiversity and biosecurity and attainment of succession in food system of Africa.”