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Unlocking fresh opportunities in agriculture post-COVID

Agriculture is a proven path to social and economic prosperity in Nigeria. No region of Africa has developed a diverse, modern economy without first establishing a successful foundation in agriculture. This is going to be critically true for Nigeria where, today, close to 70% of the population is involved in agriculture as smallholder farmers working on parcels of land that are, on average, less than 2 hectares.

Although Government and private sector actors are devising appropriate responses to the challenges posed by Coronavirus pandemic for Nigeria's food systems. Agriculture has always been a risky business in much of Nigeria, but the health disaster is worsening the problem. This situation threatens to reduce average crop and livestock yields, while also increasing the risks of major seasonal losses. These production shocks also have repercussions along value chains, affecting the supply and prices of foods, the viability of many SMEs, and the welfare of many poor people.

Despite all these current challenges, there lies a lot of opportunities that the post-COVID era will usher us into. The new economy will have enormous opportunities because food production has dropped and the demand is huge to meet. Emerging value chains are gaining more attention; food systems are transforming; review of policies aimed at mitigating shocks on food security and food crisis; international organizations and institutions will roll-out more agricultural programs to support farmers and sustainable agricultural activities.

To position young members of the community to leverage these needs for business success, YPARD Nigeria under the Osun State chapter organized an online seminar themed "Post Covid-19: Opportunities in the Agricultural value chain" on 29th April 2020. The seminar lead facilitator was Mr. Olawale Ojo, the YPARD Nigeria Mentorship coordinator. Olawale emphasized the necessity of food for everyone, he gave an overall analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on the agricultural sector in Nigeria. The pandemic has affected the internal movement of agricultural produce, feed, inputs and processed commodities. There has been total closure of food companies, processing sites, food markets and restaurants. This scenario has caused a price hike and difficulty of access to quality food materials.

In the course of the seminar, participants to shared highlights about how they are coping in the lockdown period. Most participants said their business and livelihoods have been disrupted with low chances of it picking up soon. The major constraints stated by the participants were the suspension of transportation and logistics services and restriction of movements which slowed down their farm operations.

Mr. Olawale Ojo stressed the need for youths to rethink, strategize and explore ways to enhance their active participation in the Agricultural value chain. He highlighted some opportunities that youths can research and explore. Some of the agribusiness opportunities he highlighted include:

Delivery Services: Remote working has opened our eyes to outsourcing tasks to others. Delivery service tailored for agricultural products is something worth exploring, having bikes, minibuses/vans, or trucks that can help get farm produces, feeds, and finished goods from one place to the other for agribusiness will go a long way.

Sale produce to major buyers by aggregating from small farms through contract farming and out-grower schemes—scaling up may require working more with intermediaries like marketing cooperatives or farmer associations

E-commerce: Allowing customers to place their orders online, especially for those in urban or semi-urban areas, is an opportunity that can be explored. It can be started with as little as using the catalogue option on WhatsApp Business and advance up to a full E-commerce site.

Agricultural Input Services: farmers will require farm inputs, usually most smallholders depend on the retailers in their villages or travel to nearby towns or villages. Developing an extension service product and using it as a marketing tool to showcase and sell inputs to farmers will be a viable opportunity to explore. Developing and then helping small farms comply with quality and safety standards. Developing supply chains for certified seeds, fertilizer, finance and insurance that serve small farms—this will typically require networking with SMEs along value chains.

Agribusiness Services: Agribusiness services such as proposal writing, business plan, and bookkeeping services is another service that is worth exploring. There is going to be an inflow of new people into the agribusiness space. If you have the relevant skills set and experience to provide these services, then it will be good to offer this service to others in need within the sector.

Research and Data Science: if you have research and data analytics skill, it would be useful to research bodies and other relevant organizations as there will be quite a lot of assessment work to be done in the post-COVID-19 economy. So you might as well get a short term field assessment work or desk role analysing data. investing in farm advisory services for small farms and developing market information systems for small farms using the latest information technology and communications technologies.

Turning smallholder young farmers into profitable businesses that generate wealth is not only the best way to achieve national food security; it also offers a path out of poverty and hunger. This is especially critical in Nigeria where an agricultural transformation is still urgently needed to sustain the recent economic gains we are witnessing. Changes in diets and the urbanization of many food chains are creating even more opportunities for adding value and creating youth employment within the broader agri-food system.

Photo credit: Businessday.ng