The farming season is underway in much of West Africa and farmers are feeling the impacts of COVID-19 in new and unexpected ways. Many face challenges accessing markets or accessing and affording inputs. Some farmers believe COVID-19 exists, while others believe it is a government policy to make money.
Physical distancing measures make it difficult to go to market to sell seeds or crops, and reduce the number of workers who can work in the fields. Market and border closures make it difficult for some to earn income and buy inputs. The lack of extension services for farmers leaves many without field demonstrations, though some argue that technology could alleviate the program. While farmers face varying challenges, they all agree that COVID-19 is changing everything.
According to Yalaly Traore, a member of the Local Union of Cereal Producers in Dioila, Mali, some farmers continue to doubt the existence of COVID-19. But its impacts are evident. He says: “Farmers do not have the same perceptions about the pandemic. While some believe it does exist, others believe it is a government policy to make money. However, they all agree on one thing: this pandemic has affected us, because all activities—planning, meetings, training—have slowed down.”
For many, this slowdown has led to an increase in the prices of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and herbicides, and, in some cases, product shortages.
Nasser Aichatou Salifou is the General Manager of Ainoma Seed Farm in Niger. She recognizes farmers’ need for information about COVID-19. She says: “From the start, we initiated awareness campaigns on preventive measures because we noticed that our producers were not informed enough about the pandemic. Currently, their concern is whether they can go to the field when the rains come.”
When people have the right information about COVID-19, they are less likely to believe fake news, misinformation, or prejudiced ideas about the disease.
In addition to information, Mrs. Nasser Aichatou Salifou knows that farmers need meetings and training. She encourages farmers to collaborate and adapt these kinds of events in order to respect preventive and social distancing measures.
El Hadj Abdul Razak who is the director general of Heritage Seeds Company in Ghana see social distancing as a challenge in the markets. He says that social distancing measures make it difficult to go to the market to sell seeds.
He adds that social distancing has reduced the number of workers who can work in the fields and if this continues, he may have to decrease production.
Roger Kabore is a member of an agricultural association in Burkina Faso. He says that farmers are less fearful of COVID-19 now because they are being well-informed by radio and television programs. However, market and border closures make it difficult for some to earn income and buy inputs for their crops. He is concerned that this will affect production.
Mr. Kabore says: “Our association has put a lot of effort into producing and using local inputs [like] compost, seeds, and phytosanitary products. This pandemic is a real threat but there are opportunities to be seized … by building a strong local economy network and safety nets for the benefit of producers.”
Hajia Salamatu Garba is the executive director of the Women Farmers Advancement Network in Nigeria. She says that a majority of the smallholder farmers she works with in Nigeria risk losing their dry season investments because of COVID-19 lockdowns.
She says that the lack of extension services available to farmers leaves many without field demonstrations. To make these services possible during COVID-19, Ms. Hajia Salamatu Garba encourages the use of technology.
She says: “E-extension becomes very important as an innovative way of working with extension workers and farmers. Farming needs to be led by information and communications technology.”
Fanta Diamoutene is the president of a women farmers group in Farakala, Mali. She agrees that technology is a powerful tool but says it must be made more accessible through equipment and training.
She adds: “Most farmers like me do not have these smartphones and other virtual platforms that those in the cities are using to connect, and we do not have the knowledge to hold virtual meetings. Therefore, we are very concerned about missing the season’s activities.”