COVID-19: Agriculture in East Africa takes a hit

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has severely impacted economic activities in Africa’s Rwanda. Agriculture is one of them.

Despite official claims that agriculture must continue even with restrictions in place to curb the COVID-19 spread, farmers have been facing difficulties.

Jeremie Ruhirwa, a Rwandan agro-dealer could not buy di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) fertilizer, despite multiple efforts.

“Inputs are prepaid to an accredited wholesaler. I traveled around an hour on my motorcycle to get to the office, but it was closed. I called up their employees, but they could not come due to lack of public transport,” he said.

People who needed DAP were resorting to other fertilizers potentially harmful to their crops, he added.

In principle, services including veterinary pharmacies, livestock feeds, fertilizers, harvesting, transportation and trading of farm produce, agriculture extension services, and agro-processing, as well as the marketing of processed foods and beverages, come under essential services.

“Essential services continue to be delivered so that food chain is not disrupted,” a statement signed by Gerardine Mukeshimana, Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Rwanda, read.

Despite guidelines, experts said the ban on movement has affected multiple sectors, including agriculture.

“Some people earn from non-agricultural businesses to get investment, which is now shut. Others who sent money to their relatives for agricultural purposes are now using it for their own survival. Most fertilizers and seeds retailers use public transport, which is currently unavailable,” said Teddy Kaberuka, an economist.

According to Africa Agriculture Status Report 2018, about 70 percent of the continent’s population work as smallholder farmers on land less than two hectares. The lockdown has dealt the most severe blow to them.

“The money I earned from cleaning at a school used to help me cultivate crops. But schools are now shut and I am unable to earn. I don’t have the money to get seeds and fertilizers,” said Theogene Bahanugira, a smallholder farmer.

“We employ several daily wagers but have stopped in lieu of social distancing measures. When I wanted to transport bean stakes for my farm, I was told that I will have to get permission for the same. So I decided to hire people to do the job. This increased the cost of production,” Joseph Gafaranga, farmer and secretary-general, Imbaraga Farmers Organization said.

To cope with the challenges, Director-General of Rwanda Agricultural Board, Karangwa Patrick, advised farmers to shift to mechanized farming.

“A tractor is more affordable. Most providers charge around 100,000 Rwandan Franc (FRw) ($110) per hectare, while you may need 150 people for a hectare, which may cost you over FRw 180,000 ($190). We have over 115 tractors countrywide owned by private companies,” he said.

However, the Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, QU Dongyu said on March 28 that restrictions of movement may impede farming processing.

The shortage of fertilizers, veterinary medicines, and other input could also affect agricultural production.

Source:  DOWNTOEARTH      Christophe Hitayezu

 

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